Nestled in the rolling hills of southeastern Pennsylvania
lies an intentional community striving to restore vitality
to our land and society. Camphill Village Kimberton Hills
is a land-based community of 120 people living in 14 homes
as extended families. Together they work the land, supporting
a successful raw milk dairy, a vegetable-growing CSA, a community
orchard, an apiary, and a medicinal and culinary herb garden.
But the work here is also socially therapeutic. Roughly one-third
of the residents are developmentally disabled, with conditions
ranging from Down syndrome to autism.
Kimberton Hills is a member of the international Camphill
movement, which is dedicated to enhancing human understanding
and dignity through community building with children, youth
and adults with special needs. Today there are over 100 Camphill
communities in more than 20 countries throughout the world.
|When asked about life on the farm,
Kimberton member Larry Adler simply replied, “I
love it here.”
The first Camphill community was founded in 1939 near Aberdeen,
Scotland by Karl Koenig, M.D. Dr. Koenig’s medical and
scientific research led to a vision of a “healing community”
that would be therapeutic not only for individuals with disabilities,
but for the earth and the whole human condition. Dr. Koenig,
a pediatrician, was deeply influenced by Rudolf Steiner.
Rudolf Steiner, Ph.D. was born in Kraljevec (then in Austria,
now in Croatia) in 1861 and died in Dornach, Switzerland in
1925. He completed degrees in mathematics, physics and chemistry,
and later a dissertation in philosophy. Late in his life he
laid the groundwork for a new organic agricultural movement.
After his death, these organic practices came to be known
as biodynamic agriculture.
Biodynamics originated in a course of lectures given by Steiner
in 1924. They were held at the request of a group of farmers
concerned about the destructive trend of “scientific”
farming, such as diminishing seed vitality and soil fertility.
In these lectures, Steiner describes the forces that create
soil and plant health. Instead of turning to artificial fertilizers
and pesticides, Steiner brought forth the concept of the “agricultural
individuality,” or self-contained farm organism. Steiner
was critical of reductionism and agricultural science’s
emphasis on inputs from outside the farm. Rather, Steiner
urged each farmer to find the ideal balance of mixed crops
and livestock to create a self-fertile agricultural system.
Kimberton Hills was originally the estate of Alaric and Mabel
Pew Myrin, who worked to create a model biodynamic farm. In
1972, after the deaths of Alarik and Mabel, their home and
360 acres of Kimberton Hills was given to the Camphill movement
to continue the biodynamic impulse. The property of Camphill
Village Kimberton Hills now totals 430 acres.
Kimberton Hills is working to emulate Steiner’s vision
of the whole farm organism. Kimberton Hills’ Land Association,
consisting of representatives from each of the various areas
of the farm, meets weekly in order to coordinate the mutual
interdependence of the land. “The mission of the Land
Association is to unify us as an agrarian community,”
explains head gardener Sebastian Kretschmer. The dairy provides
the garden with organic cow manure for composting. Cheviot
sheep are rotationally grazed through the orchard, controlling
weeds and improving the soil. Compost made from Saanen dairy
goat bedding is applied around the orchard’s fruit trees.
Recognizing the inherent exploitation of the land through agriculture,
Rudolf Steiner prescribed biodynamic preparations made from
mineral, plant and manure extracts. These are used, essentially,
as homeopathic remedies, replenishing the subtle forces needed
to sustain life. In the fall of each year, Kimberton Hills Land
Association hosts a biodynamic-preparation-making workshop,
joined by the growers and farmers of neighboring Kimberton CSA
and Seven Stars Dairy. The materials are sourced as locally
as possible. Each group returns home with enough preparations
to support another year of biodynamic agriculture.
||"Rotationally grazing the sheep
really cuts down on mowing," orchard manager Ruben
Travis says with a smile.
Training biodynamic farms
Kimberton Hills’ interconnectedness extends to its
biodynamic training program, designed and implemented by Kretschmer.
A native of Germany, Kretschmer participated in a traditional
agricultural apprenticeship at Camphill Village Oaklands Park
in England and continued his journeyman years on an organic
farm in New Mexico, where he grew seed for organic seed company
Seeds of Change. Greatly influenced by the European apprenticeship
model, Kretschmer also works as a consultant and project director
for the New England Small Farm Institute, coordinating an
apprenticeship network across the Northeast.
At Kimberton Hills, SABA (Spectrum Apprenticeship in Biodynamic
Agriculture) provides vocational training in a specific land
area with learning sequences in other agricultural areas of
Kimberton Hills. For example, the Kimberton Hills Dairy and
Sankanac CSA each provide apprentices vocational training
in their field, while the orchard and herb garden provide
short learning sequences. Regular general seminars provide
a theoretical agricultural overview, and work-stays in other
areas of the farm offer exposure and hands-on experience throughout
the spectrum of biodynamic agriculture.
Sowing seed, cultivating, and harvesting according to cosmic
rhythms is one aspect of biodynamics that fascinates most
people (and turns some heads). Kimberton Hills is home to
the experimental garden of Sherry Wildfeuer, editor of Stella
Natura Biodynamic Agricultural Planting Guide and Calendar.
Wildfeuer has been an active member of Kimberton Hills since
1973. She studied gardening under Allen Chadwick in Santa
Cruz, California and at the Gotheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.
Being called to teach, Sherry produces the calendar to provide
inspiration and practical advice to growers coordinating their
work with the movements of heavenly spheres as prescribed
by biodynamic agriculture. Briefly, biodynamic growers strive
to coordinate their work, especially sowing, with the moon’s
relationship to the zodiac, though other cosmic movements
and the weather complicate matters (and make for an ever-interesting
From a raw milk dairy to an orchard:
Kimberton's diverse enterprises
Kimberton Hills may be best known for its raw milk dairy.
The Kimberton Hills Dairy consists of 250 acres of hay fields
and rotationally grazed pastures. Roughly 50 cows are milked
in a stanchion barn with an addition 50 head of young stock.
The majority are Brown Swiss, with a few Milking Short Horn
and Jersey. The past couple of years manager Steven Clee has
chosen to keep a Jersey bull with the cows. “I hoped
that the smaller head of the Jersey would ease calving,”
explains Clee. When asked about the possible dangers of keeping
a Jersey bull, renown for their aggressive nature, Clee replied
“I run my bulls with my cows all the time. The bulls
aren’t confined in a pen. That’s important in
keeping the bull’s behavior under control. They’re
quite content to run with the cows.” With one of the
few raw milk licenses in Pennsylvania, milk is bottled and
direct marketed to the local Kimberton Whole Foods store and
other Camphill communities. The rest of the milk is sold to
neighboring Seven Stars Dairy to be made into organic yogurt.
Clee’s economic view is “grazing keeps costs low
and the premium for bottled raw milk equals financial viability.”
Clee, a native of England, has lived in the community with
his wife Sue for nine years. They and their two Children,
9-year-old Ella and 7-year-old Lilly, live as an extended
family with three special-needs adults. They both express
that they feel a social calling as well as an agricultural
calling. “My wife and I are committed to life-sharing
with people with special needs,” Clee says. “That
is something that we think Camphill stands for.”
Kimberton Hill’s houses the Sankanac CSA. “Sankanac”
was the name used by the American Indians of this region to
designate the French Creek River, which flows adjacent to
the northwest side of the Kimberton Hills Property and encircles
the 10-acre garden. The garden supports more than 40 varieties
of vegetables, flowers, and soft fruits to feed a 150-member
CSA. At Sankanac CSA, families from inside and outside the
village can purchase a weekly share of seasonal produce from
May through October.
Kimberton Hills’ Orchard consists of 268 fruit trees
and 156 grapevines in silvopasture—rotationally grazed
by a flock of Cheviot sheep—and provides the village
with apples, pears, peaches, grapes and berries. “Rotationally
grazing the sheep really cuts down on mowing,” orchard
manager Ruben Travis says with a smile. “Not only that,
it saves gas while improving the soil.” In addition
to building fertility, the sheep provide wool for Kimberton
Hills’ textile workshop. Fence lines and untamed areas
are also maintained by the herd of Saanen dairy goats. The
goats’ browsing instincts are used to keep down the
poison ivy, invasive multiflora roses, and the excessive amounts
of burdock in and around the orchard spaces.
The herb garden supports a variety of culinary and medicinal
herbs for the village and for market. The Apiary provides
pollination for the gardens and orchard while producing honey
for the village and for sale.
Since each of the agricultural areas is a branch of Camphill
Village Kimberton Hills, commercially oriented biodynamic
agriculture is combined with social therapy. Social therapy
consists of everything that is done to create an environment
that benefits people with disabilities. They learn a variety
of skills and achieve a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Each person knows that he or she contributes to the village
in a significant way. It is in this true sense of working
together, drawing on the abilities of each individual and
channeling it into the stewardship of the land and animals,
that the community’s mission is given life.
In Kimberton Hills, the special-needs adults range in age from
23 to 82 years old. The co-works who support them range in age
from 19 to 80. Including the co-worker’s children, the
population of Kimberton Hills averages 120 people.
"I would say that I am truly
blessed to be here and this is the best place for me.
In a community like Kimberton, you can really have a
life." - Lawrence Sherma
Generally the adults with special needs move to Kimberton
Hills and settle there. A few co-workers have been in Kimberton
Hills since its inception. Others have been there almost that
long. Still others serve shorter periods of time. Generally
a year is the minimum length of time people are invited to
live and work in the community.
Some of the special-needs adults take on considerable responsibility,
becoming integral to the operation of the workshop. Larry
Adler, 46, came from New York and has worked on the land since
arriving in Kimberton Hills on December 2, 1979. He’s
now foreman of the crew responsible for cleaning and preparing
the milking barn six days a week. Because of Adler’s
vital contribution, dairy manager Steven Clee considers him
a partner. Clee says in praise, “Larry’s high
energy, work-ethic and light-heartedness make him a natural
leader and motivator.” When asked about life on the
farm, Adler simply replied, “I love it here.”
Many of the special-needs adults have multiple work duties.
Lawrence Sherma, 23, of Binghamtom, New York, works in the
garden, dairy, bakery and on the estate landscaping crew of
Kimberton Hills. He is undoubtedly one of the hardest working
members of the community. Sherma finds working on the land
satisfying and rewarding. “I would say that I am truly
blessed to be here and this is the best place for me. In a
community like Kimberton, you can really have a life. It makes
me feel good about myself.”
Other social therapeutic enterprises include a textile workshop
and woodworking workshop. The bakery produces organic breads,
rolls, and cookies, which are sold at the Phoenixville farmers’
market, the Kimberton Whole Foods store, and through the Camphill
Café. The Camphill Café is located in the heart
of village and is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11
a.m. to 2 p.m. The textile workshop spins local wool and uses
natural dyes to produce an array of knitted, crocheted, and
woven items. The woodworking workshop harvests lumber from
the Kimberton Hills property and produces an array of hand-crafted
items sold in the Kimberton Hills craft shop and through Seven
Stars shop adjoining Seven Stars Dairy. The woodworking workshop
also takes special orders.
Kimberton Hills may well be a model for future sustainable
communities. It strives to be inclusive of all fragments of
society, particularly those most often neglected by contemporary
American culture. But it is not simply a residential institution;
it is a thriving, progressive, life-sharing community engaged
in sustainable agriculture. More than that, it is working
to educate and train the next generation of ecological farmers.
More information can be found on the Kimberton Hills website: