Set in extensive grounds and with an eclectic mix of people, the Camphill Village Trust scheme at Oaklands Park in Gloucestershire privileged me with a truly memorable visit.
Camphill Village Trust is a long established and progressive charity supporting adults with learning disabilities. The charity creates community homes for people who such difficulties and then supports them in their home life, work, social and cultural activities so as to enable them to both exprience community and lead independent lives. One major activity in the village sites is food growing using the biodynamic methods of Rudolf Steiner.
Camphill Oaklands Park is a 150 acre farm with an 8 acre market garden, wood workshop and forestry, along with cafe and shop on the edge of the Forest of Dean. Whilst the 150 acres is a sizeable farm in its own right, it is also the location of a magnificent Victorian mansion which houses a library, games room, meeting room, hall and coffee bar. Most of the 48 residents with special needs live in the mansion organised into nine households. Alongside is accommodation for residential employees, their families and volunteers. One of these is Miriam Schoen, the head grower, who is responsible for overseeing the growing of vegetable, fruit and flowers for use in the site’s kitchens and for sale in the shop and other local outlets. As with all Camphill communities, this is grown with no chemicals or artificial fertilisers following the biodynamic principles set out by Rudolf Steiner.
Oaklands Park also hosts busy local businesses on site which include a florist, blacksmith, cider maker, tanner and the Dean Forest Food Hub, whilst Oaklands Park itself, in addition to the on site shop, services a weekly organic box scheme run by Dean Forest Food Hub and which supplys fresh produce to around 80 local families. Oaklands staff also manage a café, art gallery and weaving studio, along with a bookshop in the village of Newnham–on–Severn
During my visit only one resident was working in the garden, Colin, who was busy with fork and spade preparing ground for pending plantings. This spacity was more than made up for by the lively company of a range of other people working in the gardens. In addition to Miriam, two biodynamic apprentices, one from Spain and one from Germany, were planting out of the first seedlings of the season, whilst three volunteer workers from Yorkley Court Community Farm were carefully finding the young beetroot amidst a burgeoning weed growth of early spring in one of the glass houses. Yorkley Court Community Farm is a near neighbour set up by a ‘squatter ‘ community in search of a low impact and socially conscientious way of living. My meeting with the three was to result is me being offered an invitation to visit Yorkley Court itself, something I managed to add to the itinerary of my travels in the south west a week later. Meeting these guys can only be described as inspiring. Living as a squatter community, they were living in rough self built houses on the disputed farm of Yorkley Court and with a final eviction notice having been served a few months previous. Not only were they reportedly dug in but they were continuing to both grow on their own site and work with neighbouring communities. More in a few posts time!
In the meantime back to Oaklands Park. Its a place where life is based on the land with a particular care that makes it feel very closely aligned with nature, and where people of all kinds can find a fulfilment and meaning, and where in particular the opportunity is provided for adults with learning disabilities to live and work somewhere where their contributions to the life of the community are truly valued. I hope the photographs do it justice.
For more on Camphill Oaklands Park see the Camphill Village Trust website
For more on biodynamic growing see the website for the Biodynamic Land Association
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC]