Community Homestead: Carrying for Community
Community Homestead- Carrying for Community
Formed 25 years ago, Community Homestead was inspired by five people’s experience with a similar program, the world renowned Camphill Community. Camphill is an international non-profit originally founded by Dr. Karl König, an Austrian pediatrician and educator who fled the Nazi annexation of his own country and settled in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1939 with a group of young physicians, artists and caregivers. Dr. Koenig and his colleagues were inspired by Anthroposophy, the teaching of philosopher and educator Rudolf Steiner. These refugees founded the first Camphill community.
Dr. Koenig’s vision was to develop lively Camphill communities together with people who have special needs. His special gift was to understand and focus on the abilities of each person, not the disabilities. A belief strengthened by the Nazi’s attempt to marginalize and eliminate undesirable members of their society, and further strengthened by the culture in Europe at the time to keep children and adults with disabilities “hidden away.” Through teaching and modeling, he turned this gift into an effective approach for improving the lives of people with special needs, an approach based on community members teaching and learning from each other through the experience of day-to-day living.The central premise of the Camphill Community was that “each person is a unique and valuable individual.”
Camphill Communities often center around agricultural production, with the daily tasks being shared by all the members of the community. There are now 100 Camphill Communities internationally, with 12 located in the US and Canada. There are also at least another 25 communities that are directly inspired by Camphill, including Community Homestead, located near Osceola, Wisc.
“Community Homestead was started by five people who came together after experience with Camphill Communities, but wanted a program that was more integrated into the surrounding community,” noted Adrian Werthmann, one of the original five founders.
“I was an organic farmer in Scotland, and had grown up near the original Camphill Community. I moved to the US and worked on a certified organic livestock farm in southern Pennsylvania. Organic is just what I have always done. I moved to the Midwest with the idea to start an organic dairy and a Camphill inspired community.”
“When we started Community Homestead 25 years ago, we were just five people who started with a rented farmhouse, but we were quickly joined by others. The founding members are not the key to our success. Growing was just as important.”
“We had no money whatsoever, well $10,000, but we convinced the bank to finance us. We never mentioned organic during the whole discussion. At the time, banks were not keen on financing organic farming. We bought the cows and equipment on a five year loan, and set the land price to pay off. Unfortunately, we had to spray the fields at first to appease the banks, but we had to go organic.”
“At first we started out with cows, because of my familiarity, and we put in fences, irrigation and trees” said Adrian, “but the garden expanded over the years to become as important. We paid off the chattel loan in five years, and then we paid off the land in one lump sum. Later we built another house, a community center, bought two more houses, and built a processing kitchen/bakery. The community has grown as the farm has developed.”
“We have 12-14 long term volunteers that we call ‘carrying people’. They carry responsibility to the community by organizing activity areas, like the garden, the bakery, or the dairy, and leading a household. Nobody is salaried. Their needs, housing and food, are taken care of by the non-profit,” explained Adrian. “Here we make sure that everyone can participate.”
“The farm is a combination of a lot of different income streams. We are always experimenting,” exclaimed Adrian. The farm, now 280 acres of owned ground, and another 86 rented, has a 14-18 acre garden with a 260 member CSA, 38 milking cows, a one acre orchard, and uncertified beef, pigs and chickens.
“We began our transition in 1993 and certified for the first time in 1996. We were part of the early group that shipped milk to Organic Valley. The CSA started small, and we delivered by hand, but that has expanded to be one of the larger areas of the farm. Our largest CSA pickup site is now the farm. Twenty years ago, we could never do that in Osceola,” remembered Adrian.
“It was always important for us to be connected to the community. We maintain relationships with several Waldorf schools, other schools, and special education community groups. It is important for people to experience people with disabilities in productive roles. Many of those that visit Community Homestead come back, either to volunteer, to donate, or to support our efforts in other ways. We are always looking for like minded people- we grow organically,” emphasized Adrian.
“It’s hard for some people to envision a life without wages and mortgages. We need to work on the bridges. We had amazing experiences with Americorp volunteers. They came in with no experience, stayed for their year, fell in love, and stayed. One third of our carrying group came through Americorp,” noted founding member, Christine Elmquist.
“Ultimately we are a community of teachers (of people) working with people with special needs. Everyone gets really good at teaching. Many come because they love gardening and farming, but they fall in love with the people. Others may come because they like people and teaching, but fall in love with farming.Things feel very comfortable right now, We have a good balance, but we are always interested in finding like-minded people who want to learn, create and sustain this kind of life in the future.”
To learn more about Community Homestead visit: http://communityhomestead.org/