Camphill Village Minnesota residents live in harmony with the land and nature

The sun rises on a new day over Camphill Village cattle. Life is lived in an intentional, therapeutic way at Camphill, in recognition of the interrelationships of the soil, plants, animals and humans.


By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Camphill Village began in Scotland in 1939 when Austrian Dr. Karl König put his spiritual ideas into practice at the first Camphill community.

Combining his love of children in need of special care with his view that every human being has a healthy inner personality that is independent of their physical characteristics, including developmental or mental disability, Camphill soon expanded to the United States.

There are now more than 115 Camphill locations on four continents, including 11 in North America. The Camphill Village east of Highway 71 North between Sauk Centre and Long Prairie was established in 1980.

Camphill Minnesota is a community of 50 people  living in seven homes. It is the second largest Camp-hill in the United States based on acreage, but one of the smallest in number of people.

“We are from all sorts of backgrounds and range in age from babies to age 83,” said Nathan McLaughlin, one of Camphill’s coworkers. “We live together as equals. We do not live for the residents with special needs; we do not live above them — we live with them.”

Camphill Minnesota is licensed for adult foster care, which is not typical of Camphill communities. McLaughlin previously worked at a Camphill school in Pennsylvania. “I was so inspired by the work I did there,” he said. “When you work with children, you can see the results pretty quickly.”

McLaughlin and his peers do more than work at Camphill, they live there. “There are no shifts and no salaries. It’s not a job — it’s life. We are all friends sharing life together.”

The focus at Camphill is on community. While a few of the residents have personal DVD players, there is no cable or satellite service, and no television in the homes. There is one television in the community building to watch movies.

The community operates by consensus, while major financial decisions are made by a board of directors.

Each day is formed by routine. “The day begins with breakfast and time for reflection. Work is from 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. People have time to get to their appointed eating places and washed up by noon,” said part-time worker and non-resident Sheryl March. “There is a rest hour after lunch, with work from 2 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. A light evening meal is at 6 p.m.”

Part of the therapeutic nature of how life is lived at Camphill includes everyone working together to raise food, to run the business and to raise families.

Camphill is both a residential facility and vocational program. There are domestic work areas such as cooking and cleaning. There are the artistic areas of weaving and baking. There is the land, which is tended by an estate crew, a garden crew and those doing the main farm work with the trees and orchards, beef and dairy cattle and chickens.

Camphill occupies slightly less than 500 acres, of which about 150 acres are tillable. Most of the tillable acreage is dedicated to beef production. The main crop planted is hay with some barley and buckwheat.

Biodynamic agriculture is the farming philosophy at Camphill. It is a method of organic farming that affirms the interrelationships of the soil, plants, animals and people as a self-sustaining system. One of the first modern ecological farming models, it emphasizes a sustainable approach to agriculture.

“Camphill recognizes that we are working with a whole organism, and we use methods that enrich the soil,” McLaughlin said. “No chemicals are used and there is much less tillage. We use composted manure for fertilizer.”

In addition to the commercial bakery at Camphill which sells baked goods, the arts group makes and sells handcrafted items to the public. Rugs, scarves and placemats are created in the weavery.

Another aspect of maintaining harmony with the environment is the use of solar panels. One of the homes already utilizes them, and Camphill just received a grant through the University of Minnesota for funds from Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERT) for more. The new panels will be installed on the house where McLaughlin lives with his family.

“The work done at Camphill is so essential,” McLaughlin said. “Regardless of a person’s disability, inside that person is a complete spirit. We create a space for that spirit.”

“It’s a healthy way of living,” said March.