New York, New York!

Benjamin spoke and performed for three Camphill communities in rural New York, after spending six days in NYC (mainly Manhattan) taking in a hectic jumble of amazing sights and cultural experiences. Our escape to the countryside, with wonderful autumn colors painting its landscape, was a perfect follow-up for digesting our city impressions (separate posting w/ photos to follow).

A two-hour train ride up the Hudson River brought us nearby; then, a half-hour drive by car eastward (nearing the border of Massachusetts) brought us to Camphill Copake, the largest of these intentional communities in the U.S. Here, neuro-typical co-workers and volunteers live alongside differently-abled persons with both mental and physical challenges, in a cooperative village of about 22 houses, plus additional buildings, workshops, etc., clustered amidst 615 acres of woodland and meadows. Everyone works and contributes to village life, both in daily chores such as meal preparation and housework, as well as in artisan workshops which produce lovely goods to be sold in gift-shops and such, along with being used for life on the estate.

To me, Camphills exemplify the dedication, cooperation, and work involved when creating a place of health and beauty that nurtures soul and spirit, while providing a satisfying and well-grounded life for all its inhabitants. (Posts focusing on Camphill Hudson, NY and Camphill Triform, NY to follow. Also, see post about Camphill Kimberton, PA for further village life impressions.)

During our week at Camphill Copake, we lived in “Orchard House,” one of the original two buildings on-site when the estate was purchased and Camphill established in 1961. Each day, Benjamin and I hiked through the estate’s hilly woods or explored the surrounding countryside (walking about 10 miles round-trip on country roads to enjoy Copake Lake, as we had no car).

Benjamin put his energy into three full performances, and we had just enough time left over to visit the various workshops, marveling at the quality and beauty of the work done by both challenged and neuro-typical people working together in harmony, with the particular strengths of each person coming to the forefront and being applied. Below, a summation:

Step into the candle workshop, and the heavenly sweet scent of beeswax envelopes you. Rows upon rows of wicks and candles in various stages of production hang from hand-dipping racks. Hot, liquid wax awaits in vats of different shapes and sizes; some have added color (shadings in every color of the rainbow can be produced), one contains a pale, creamy wax for special celebratory candles, and several reveal the natural rich brownish-gold of wax as it comes from the hive… Shelves are filled with silicon molds for other types of candles, ranging from the majestic to the whimsical. You find everything from tiny hand-dipped birthday-cake-candles, to Hanukah candles, to majestic tapers, from mold-poured birds to pinecones to angels – many almost too pretty to light aflame.


The bookbindery charms with lovely hand-made papers, collections of decorations, ribbons, pressed-flowers and leaves, paints and pastels, colored pencils and hand-stitched embroideries – all being used to produce unique cards, journals, whimsy-boxes, paper jewelry, and more. We admired the hand-painted and marbled papers, each sheet different from the next, watched die-cut decorations being produced on-site, quietly tiptoed around absorbed artists in the midst of creation, and stood fascinated in front of the heavy iron book press.


The weavery is filled with looms of various sizes, and we delighted in the array of beautifully colored yarn organized on floor-to-ceiling shelves – all inviting, no garish neons to hit you in the eyes… On the looms, you can find in-process table-napkins with interesting and beautiful patterns, baby-soft shawls in jewel tones, wider fabrics to eventually be tailored into aprons, table-cloths, pillow-cases, or whatever need might come up. Each design is unique – you won’t ever find the feel of “mass-production” in a Camphill.


The tool-filled wood-working workshop produces high-quality items of lovely hardwoods gleaned from the surrounding forests. Sturdy trivets of rich brown wood, gleaming like silk from finely sanded surfaces, durable toast-tongs and drawer pulls, simple toys and trinkets…goods ranging from practical to playful are created here.


The delicious scent from the bakery had my mouth watering, and I gaped at the stone-walled, wood-fired oven with its enormous rotating internal disc where dozens of loaves together are baked at high heat. The resulting chewy crust on delectable sourdough is a taste-treat not to be missed. We admired a rack of split logs, ready for the fire-box – all chopped, aged, and split from trees grown on the Camp Hill property!


In the adjoining café, we saw additional cakes, cookies, and varieties of bread on offer, along with other menu items utilizing the abundance of vegetables grown on the estate’s several gardens and in their two greenhouses.


Biodynamic farming practices are followed throughout, and the community enjoys meals cooked from seasonal vegetables, fruits, and berries; the herb garden is focused on cultivating plants used in various tea-mixtures and medicinal recipes, and the seed garden is specifically for producing heirloom seeds.


The seed-sorting workshop was beyond fascinating. The preservation of heirloom genetics in flower and vegetable seeds is vital in today’s world of GMO’s and hybridized seed; we must maintain the robust plants of yore, with their wonderful taste and depth of nutrition. Small, simplistic, yet effective machines with blowers to separate seeds and chaff had me shaking my head with wonder at their cleverness, but the painstaking work of hand-separating the best seed stock from any substandard seeds or chaff cannot be avoided: for truly high quality, you must put in the effort! Having acquired some packets of these heirloom seeds, we can hardly await our next planting season in Boulder. (Visit for a seed catalogue.)


We watched the small herd of cows being ushered through the village to their various grazing-meadows (carved out of the surrounding woods), and met several of the folks trained in hand-milking (no machinery here); an ongoing responsibility – cows must be milked both morning and night, on a regular schedule. Apropos, during meal-times, I swooned at the rich taste of raw milk, cream, yogurt, and cheese. Small flocks of sheep (kept for their wool, which is used for knitting, weaving, and other crafts) are found on greens amongst the houses, their grazing spots being rotated regularly, enclosed by easily-moved electric fencing. A few cheerful pigs are kept busy eating peelings and left-overs from village houses (each has a “piggy bucket” in the kitchen, alongside a container for the compostable scraps that aren’t pig-appropriate). The Camphill sugar-maple-trees are tapped in autumn, and their sap boiled down to highest-quality syrup once per year: a precious commodity which is sold in the gift-shop, with an allotted amount first being distributed amongst the community. Delicious!


Of course, not everything can be produced “in-house,” and there’s a small co-op where you can shop for toiletries, further groceries, and other needs. The main office building inspires – walk into the main meeting room with its beautifully painted walls, high ceiling, and ample windows offering lovely views, and you feel it would be easy to think, and to brainstorm good ideas, and to work together in relative harmony.

The large building named “Fountain Hall” has a bell tower (hand-ringing calls the community to 6:00 o’clock supper each day, and to special meetings as well), and Benjamin loved giving his autism presentation and singing in its soaring space with exquisite acoustics. (Years ago, before recording studios became so common, musicians would often rent this space for their sound-sessions.) I loved the various approaches to this elegant building: walking around a calm lake with cattails and ducks from one side; following a short lamp-lit trail through woods and ravine (with running stream and small bridge) before making my way uphill from behind; or walking through the neighborhood of village houses on the other side.

What incredible fortune – people having the choice of living in a place like Camphill! How many times during our visit did I hear Benjamin say, “I love it here, if I didn’t already have such a strong circle of friends and family at home, this is where I would go to live…Mom, I feel that Camphills are a place I want to come back to, again and again throughout my life, even if I stay living in Boulder – they feel like a spiritual home to me…”

In recent years, the push towards integrating differently-abled persons into their community has made great strides, and growing up in Boulder, Benjamin and I have benefited greatly from this attitude. (Huge difference from when I was growing up in the late 60’s and early 70’s with a severely disabled sister whom my parents insisted on caring for themselves, at home, rather than giving up to an institution. In comparison, Benjamin has had the good fortune of helping out in adaptive classes during high-school, where evenly severely impaired kids like my sister might be present, regardless of wheel-chairs and feeding tubes. Equally important: the spurring of compassion and helpfulness in neuro-typical students exposed to persons in need.)

During conversations at Camphill, though, I became aware of an unexpected flip-side to the inclusion/integration movement. Eye opening to me: in some minds (ie. people in city offices who haven’t actually visited a Camphill and seen its lifestyle in action), such a community may be classified as an insulated, isolated institution, and the assumption may be made that “disabled” persons need to be part of a city or town for a connected community life. Thus vital state-funding may be at stake – the choice of living in a calm setting like Camphill may diminish – bureaucracy may overlook individual need and desire. Increasing amounts of daily documentation and paperwork required in tracking/assessing each disabled person in a Camphill setting may reach a tipping point, interfering significantly with the simple daily process of living and working together, in true community and relationship.

Over time, requirements like the traditional model of “staff” and “case-workers” being hired (rather than choosing this communal lifestyle in a volunteer capacity) and “employees” who go home at 5:00 pm each day (rather than continuing the feeling of familial support throughout each day) may erode the heart of Camphill community intentions. Here’s a shout-out to anyone who might have interest and influence – please support and educate people about the Camphill model!

And for me, an essential point: personal growth is a two-way road and choice in any Camphill: co-workers and challenged persons together learn and grow, celebrate life and benefit from one another, all stretching to become better, more conscious human beings through living closely and striving for harmony!

2 responses to “New York, New York!

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