Home » All Start Local Episodes » Living, Sharing, and Supporting as a Community with Robert Martin
Living, Sharing, and Supporting as a Community with Robert Martin

Podcast published: July 21, 2023

We learn all about Camphill Village Kimberton Hills from Robert Martin, a retired academic and musician. We begin our conversation with Bob walking us through his storied life and professional trajectory, which saw him move to the Camphill Village in northern Chester County. He then goes into depth about the philosophy and purpose of the village – and its many activities and happenings.

It was such a treat to learn about this wonderful, caring, and beautiful community. Any single sentence or two would be insufficient to describe Camphill Village Kimberton Hills in any meaningful way – so you will need to dig into the full episode.


Robert “Bob” Martin

Camphill Village Kimberton Hills

Great Local Non-Profits

Kimberton Whole Foods

Liam Dempsey: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.

Erik Gudmundson: Hello, and welcome to Start Local, where we connect with local leaders to support local businesses and nonprofits in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. I’m Erik Gudmundson, and I’m here with my co-host Liam Dempsey. Hi Liam. How are you doing today? 

Liam Dempsey: I am doing fantastic, Erik. Thanks. 

Erik Gudmundson: All right. Today we’re chatting with Robert Martin. Robert’s the Director of Development at Camphill Kimberton Village. 

Bob, welcome to Start Local. Thanks for joining us today. And, I wonder if I could have you take a few moments to tell me a little bit about yourself. We know that you’re Bob Martin. We know you’re in charge of development at Camphill Kimberton Village, but how did you get involved with them and how long have you been with them?

Robert Martin: Well, let me start…Well, first of all, nice to meet you both and, I’m very pleased and  honored to be on this. So, let me start at the beginning. 

I was actually born in Philadelphia in 1940. I’m gonna tell you about myself first. 

Liam Dempsey: Please, do.  

Robert Martin: My father was a union organizer. My mother was a high school teacher. My  name Martin, my father’s name was actually Gottfried. He had changed it when he came from Poland in 1923 to Martin. Anyway, I went to, I grew up in Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Mostly, I went to the Curtis Institute to study cello when I was 17. And I also attended Harford College. I majored in philosophy there. Although my main interest was music, I got very interested in philosophy.  And after finishing Curtis and Harford, I actually decided to study philosophy further. So I went to Yale University and did my doctorate there in a field, sort of philosophy of Logic. And then I had a career at various schools. I taught at Rutger, well, Buffalo, SUNY/Buffalo, Rutgers. I was at UCLA.

Over the years, my wife and I lived in Taiwan for a year and a half while she was doing field work and anthropology. 

In 1975, I actually left academic life and joined a String Quartet, which had always been a dream. And I did that for 10 years. And the quartet traveled internationally and recorded it was called the Sequoia Quartet,  and that was a wonderful experience.  

Then after that, I did a bunch of different things. I actually worked for a computer company called Unisys using the logic that I had, material I had learned in graduate school and philosophy. 

And, I taught at Haverford College briefly, and but lived for 19 years in Los Angeles. Then  went to Bard College in 1994, both to do philosophy and music. The music I’ve always played, I played cello. The teaching has been in philosophy. 

And then in 2005, actually we had the great privilege to start a new conservatory of music at within Bard, and it was a program such as the one that I had been happy to be in, which was, well, it was a five year conservatory program where every student has to do an audition to the bachelor of music degree, degree in some other academic field, a second BA. So, that was wonderful. 

And in 2019, I stepped down as director of the conservatory, but continued, we moved to Berlin for two years and I taught philosophy there. And then the story comes to Camphill Village Kimberton Hills. So maybe I should take a breath and see if that made any sense or if you have any questions.

Erik Gudmundson: No, that absolutely made sense. And I’m really curious how this track that you’re on connects with Camphill Kimberton Village? So what brought you there and what inspired you to get started and deepen your relationship with them? 

Robert Martin: Well, what brought us here was really a kind of curious situation. We were actually scheduled to move to our retirement community.  And, but we wanted to have a certain kind of apartment and we were on the waiting list. We thought we’d better do something to get, you know, till so we could get the further on the waiting list and so forth, or closer two. And we were looking actually to spend a year or two someplace else, maybe as volunteers.

And we came to visit Camphill Village Kimberton Hills, we had heard about it. And we found out soon that the short term volunteers who come for a year or two are young people who work extremely hard. It’s wonderful. They volunteer, they work in the fields and the dairy, in the craft shops there. Extremely vital, but it really wasn’t, we weren’t the right age to do that work. So however we liked it so much and we came up with an idea, made a proposal that we would make a gift large enough for the community to build a small house that would be useful, especially for retired long-term coworkers. I can say more about. Those terms. But, I guess it’s self-explanatory.and that we would make that gift, but we would then ask for the right to live in the house for the rest of our, as long as we can. And meanwhile we would cover our expenses and volunteer and try to be useful. 

And to answer your question, when it came to what I could do, I mean for my wife it was easy ’cause she offered to help in the Herb garden and she’s very interested in that. And I said I could help by trying to set up some music programs ’cause the community loves music and has a wonderful performing space called Rose Hall. 

And I would also, if I could be helpful with fundraising, I would do that because I had done quite a bit at Bard as Director of the Conservatory and I was also Vice President for a while. So the community took us up on that. And we came here in 2021. 

Meanwhile, the house was built and we were, so, we’re extremely fortunate and extremely happy. We love the house that was built. We love living here. And, so after, so anyway, again, I’ll pause just to take a breath. That’s sort of the basis of our being here. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. That’s such an interesting story. And I wonder if I couldjust deviate a little bit from some of the questions we asked and, maybe just ask you over a couple of minutes to talk about the village and what it is and what its ethos is because I know a lot of people in the Greater Chester County area have heard of it, and it has a very positive reputation. But I don’t think people really understand what exactly it is. And I was lucky enough recently to come out and visit you and meet some of the folks in your community and get a tour. And that was really eye-opening for me in a lot of different ways.

So, again,I’ll invite you, if you don’t mind, just spend a couple of minutes and tell us really about what the village is, what it does, and what its purpose is? 

Robert Martin: Oh, thank you. I would love to. 

As you said, people we meet here have heard of it, but don’t know much. And it’s such a wonderful place. So I’m very, very happy to have this chance. 

I would start by saying it’s an intentional income sharing, life sharing community of about 115 adults, especially including adults with disabilities, intellectual disabilities. I think roughly half of the population.  It just celebrated Its 50th birthday last year. We had a wonderful celebration. It’s part of the International Camphill Movement. 

There are more than a hundred Camphill  Sites, Camphill around the world and, you know, many in the UK and in France, Germany, South Africa, Korea, Vietnam. There’s, I think 19 in the US or in North America. It was founded the movement. 

The Camphill Movement was founded in 1940 in a town in Scotland called Camphill, and that’s where it got the name. So it’s one word, it’s not nothing to do with Camphill, Pennsylvania in Western Pennsylvania. It was founded by a man named Carl Kish, who was a pediatrician who was interested in curative education of children with disabilities. 

They had to, he and colleagues had to flee Vienna in 1938 when the Nazis came. I don’t want to take too long, but it’s a fascinating story. The, Kig and his, this movement was inspired by the writings of Rudolf Steiner, another perhaps best known in organization that Movement that was inspired by Steiner is the Waldorf School movements. It’s quite well known around the world. So the Waldorf schools are also owe their heritage to the writings of Rudolf Steiner.  

The anthroposophy was the sort of philosophy that rural Steiner developed in the early 20th century. And,  that’s the basis, ideolog for that and the ideas of Camphill. So maybe that’s too long an account, but,  people here are volunteer. They live here. There are, as I said, the villagers who are people with  intellectual disabilities. They, many have been here since it was founded in here in 1972. And they will live here all their life. And then there are the long-term coworkers who live here and have their families and live their lives here.And then short-term volunteers who come from all over the world. That’s one of the, was one of the attractions for us, this wonderful mix of young people from Germany and France and South America and,  Korea and so forth, who come for a year or two and many then decide to stay longer. 

So that’s only the beginning. This is, oh, I should just say one more, a few more things. It’s very much connected to the land and to care of the land. There’s a big agricultural production here where with a community supported agriculture program. There’s a dairy of about a hundred cows and milk and cheese is produced. There are crafts and all of these things. So there’s a herb garden. All of these production workshops sell what they make, and that’s a large part of the support for the organ for Camphill. And it’s also important because everybody is working for the good of the community, and the community supports all the people who live here.

Erik Gudmundson: I was glad to hear you explain all that in detail along with the background because someone driving past your facility sees your signs, sees that there’s something going on up there, but I think a lot of people don’t know exactly what’s happening there. So you know, not only is there the gardens and orchard, there’s a bakery, there’s a cafe, there’s craft studios, and they’re open to the public to some extent.

And I saw you even have a craft store available online right now. So how does the community get involved with the outside community and, you know, part of the larger Chester County community as a whole? And how does that tie with the wisdom of the human being in the philosophy that’s there and threaded through the community?

Robert Martin: Well, first I wanna say that, I’m…Well, give you just my thoughts, but there are people who have lived here much, much longer and are much wiser and understand better. So I just give that caveat. But I think our connection to the local community for one thing, very importantly I would say, is the protection of open space and water quality, making the community, this area a better place to live. This is a 432 acre piece of land that is farmed in a biodynamic way.  The attention to the land and the quality of the French Creek, which borders the community is extremely important.

Then the products of the farm and the dairy and the herb garden, which are sold here and onlin, the craft products, we have residential, pro and day programs for people with disabilities, and that’s a support for the community. 

We have cultural events here. I mentioned that when I came, I offered to set up some musical things. I set up something called the Chamber Music Residency Project, and we’ve had one season with public concerts open to the free concerts here in Rose Hall. I bring young, small ensembles for periods of four to seven days and they live in the community and participate, have meals here, open rehearsals and rehearse every day. And I have a mentor who comes in to coach them. 

And at the end of the period, the ensemble gives a public concert. And that has been really wonderful. We had a group from Julliard. We had a mixed Chinese and Western instrument ensemble. We had a jazz improvisation ensemble and a trio from Manhattan School in New York. And we’re gonna do another season of that next year. And besides those concerts, there are so many others that Kimberton Arts Alliance holds events here. Many, many,  cultural events which all are open to the public and we wanna do a better job of making making thos,e making everyone aware. 

In that connection, we’re going to host a Harvest Festival on September 23, very much hoping to bring in public from Phoenixville and the surrounding area. 

And I’ll say a few more things of the community relation, by bringing volunteers here, local volunteers as well as from around the world, I think that’s a terrific opportunity for people to spend time here. It’s used by many as a gap year after college or after high school. And those opportunities to be here and to be with young people from around the world. 

And then finally, and perhaps most broadly, I see this as a kind of  as a radical social experiment. After all, people are here not being paid, right. They’re working to, as part of a community and learning what it means to help others and be helped by the community. So it’s a different model. I don’t want to wax political about it, but it’s a very important I think model of a possibility of social life. 

Liam Dempsey: That last point about social life as I shared earlier in the conversation, Bob, I was lucky to come visit you folks and tour the village and see the fields and see the farms and drive by French creek and the whole concept of shared everything. I feel like I could do a show with you on that alone and maybe a whole series on that. It was a lot and it’s very, very different. 

And I also wanna touch on one other thing that you shared with me, and perhaps ’cause I asked about it, was around giving the villagers who have disabilities, who agency and control in a safe place. And they really are free to roam is the bad, is bad phrasing. You know, they have somewhere where they can safely go about their day and their business and their work and their role without needing to be shepherded for their own safety. And I found that really profound that there’s right in our own little neighborhood. If you will, there’s this place where folks like that really do have the opportunity to flourish in ways that perhaps the rest of the world does not afford them. That was, again, I’ve been thinking a lot about that as well. 

Robert Martin: Yeah. The, it’s, I’m glad, you know, each thing you mentioned makes me think things that I wish I could say more clearly. The unit is the house is like a family. There are, I think 12 houses, and there’s a householder, usually a couple with children often. And then maybe three or four or five villagers living there, then three or four or five coworkers, the young, the short-term coworkers and the meals are there and, everyone lives there. And everyone goes to work at 8:30 in the morning until noon. Except on Friday when there’s a meeting,  you know, of the neighborhood to discuss issues and whatever.

 And then they would go home for lunch and people walk to their work site. It’s very healthy. And then after the lunch meal, there’s a rest period, and from two 30 until five, again, working either in a craft shop or in the farm or in the dairy or people clean houses or make the meals or work on the estate cutting firewood or cleaning logs or clearing trails. I mean, there’s a huge variety, but everyone works together and feels important and needed.

So yes, it’s really extraordinary. I mean, we’re still almost every day my wife and I say how lucky we are to be because the people here are, it’s just so nice for one thing.

Erik Gudmundson: Yeah. As you talk about all the ways that people from the community get involved and all the things that you offer to the community, tell us what the community can do for you. What can the community do to help your organization? 

Robert Martin: Oh, well that’s interesting. I do wanna mention in about our connection to the community that there in our party, our 50th anniversary party last October, we picked out a group of I think eight  community organizations that we wanted to honor, that we, whose work we appreciate. 

And I just wanna mention the ones and there, I’m sure it could have been others, but these organizations sent representatives to our celebration and spoke briefly, and it was quite wonderful to have that feeling that we recognize their work and they like us. It was the Aliza to Phoenixville Ann’s heart, the Chester County Community Foundation, the Chester County Food Bank, something called Partners Creating Community,the Theater Company People’s Light, the Phoenixville Area Community Services, the  Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, and Orion Communities. So all of them. And we want to do more partnering because we’re all in the same business of trying to have a good life and make other people’s lives better.

As to what we could, what we could need help with, I would like to be better, that we should be a little better known. I mean, now I have my development hat on, but we need to raise funds. And the first thing is to have people know about our work and to know us. And we want to be known. We want people to visit. I mean, we’re very busy with what we do here, but we are gonna work on setting up programs where people can visit and have tours and have activities for children and so forth.

Also, we’re looking to have business partners, corporate, I don’t know quite what the word will be, you know, corporate friends or partners, but, the local contractors and banks and stores, I mean, one very good example is Kimberton Whole Foods, because Terry Bread is a very good friend of our community. But those  relationships are extremely important to us.

And also say that volunteers, people who have, who would like to get involved, This could be, you know, coming for a day or so to help. It could be a more regular volunteer opportunity. Maybe even helping on committees, finance committee, development committee. So there are really many opportunities for people to be involved and to help us. 

Erik Gudmundson: And I’ve seen some of your foods that you’re creating and local baked goods available in local stores that individual can purchase, right?

Robert Martin: Yes, absolutely. So that’s of. To patronize those stores and buy those brands is a great help for us. We sell our milk not only here locally, but also in New York City. Every or I’m sorry in Philadelphia, not in New York. Every week a truck goes, or maybe twice a week with this whole milk that’s sold. So yes, all of that’s important. 

It really starts with, yeah, knowing, knowing who we are. And knowing that we’re eager to connect.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. We’ll certainly put links to the locations where folks can buy your products and we’ll,  put links to your website. And the different ways where they can buy either your crafts and the other things that you’re the Village offers for sale online. 

Liam Dempsey: Absolutely.

We’ll also go ahead and link up all those great organizations that you mentioned. If anybody wants to learn more about them, they’ll be able to find links on the show notes over at [startlocal.co].

Robert Martin: Our website  is  [camphillkimberton.org.] 

And so all the cultural events I mentioned that will all be posted and sort of course, a lot of information that,  would be useful.

Liam Dempsey: I would like to ask Bob a little bit about this, because, when I was visiting Bob, it was such a different environment and I don’t necessarily just mean grassy, lovely rolling hills and trees and fields, but it was a very, very different environment in the way that it felt the way that people looked at each other, talked to each other, engaged with each other. And because the village is both home and work, right, that, you know, in some ways a lot of us who worked from home during Covid is that was something new to us. But you’re a guy that’s, you know, you’ve traveled the world with I’ll call it your band. I’m sure you didn’t call it the band, but, you know, you traveled the world that way. You held academic positions. You know, you spent a long time up at Bard in a variety of teaching and administrative roles. 

If you had to narrow it down to kind of one big thing about that makes Camphill in Kimberton Village so unique and so different as compared to all the other experiences of living and working that you’ve had, how would you, what would you put that on? Where would you, where would you point us that? it’s a big question. I appreciate that, but I know you’re a deep thinker. You’re into your philosophy, you’re into logic. You’ve written books on it, and I expect that in your two years while actually living on site in the village that you’ve probably been pondering, if not that question, question’s not far from it.

Robert Martin: Well, it’s, yeah. It’s a very good question. The idea of trying to find, you know, a single concept or phrase or difference is difficult. 

No, it’s a very reasonable thing too ’cause then it makes one try to dig deep to figure out, you know, what’s at the core. But in a way, I’m so struck by the variety, by this idea that the place is really about so many different things. Just to say that it’s a place where there are people with disabilities who live life of that’s useful and dignified and free and wonderful. That’s absolutely true and inspiring, but it’s really only one, one thing. There’s so much else this care of the land and this idea of this social experiment, people not, you know, there people don’t own cars here. The house has a car or several cars, the community has cars. The community makes trips and goes the, you know, on beach trips and vacations. But it’s all done. It’s not, anyway. 

So there are so many aspects that I haven’t maybe. I gotten my head around all of it. I really, it’s really extraordinary. We, as soon as we were here a couple days, my wife and I just said, we wanna be here. We wanna live here. So it’s, maybe it’s, from my point of view at my age is maybe instead of selfishness, we just thought, this is a really cool place. We’d like to be here, but I don’t know if I can, you know, find the essence. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah, that’s a great answer. And I knew going in that, that was gonna be a perhaps impossible question. So, thank you for entertaining it and responding to it. 

Bob, before we say goodbye to you today, please go ahead and just share where folks can find you online and learn more about you and perhaps more importantly more about the village.

Robert Martin: Yeah. So our website address is [camphillkimberton.org] and I’m the development director. I would love for anyone who would want to learn more or talk about connections to give me a call. You know, my number can be found easily at the website. 

And thank you so much! This was really a wonderful opportunity for me personally. And I think it’s good for for Camphill Village Kimberton Hills to to be on your podcast and to connect with our local community. Thank you for the work you do. 

Erik Gudmundson: Thank you very much for spending some time with us today and sharing everything that’s going on at Camphill Kimberton Village with us and our listeners. And I suspect I say everything, but I suspect there’s even more that we didn’t have a chance to get into today. So I’d encourage all of our listeners to check out your website and hopefully dive in. Check out an event in person and for me personally taste some of the food because it’s very delicious. Thank you. 

Robert Martin: Thank you!

Liam Dempsey:  And thanks everybody for listening to today. Really appreciate your support of our show.

For any links or anything else that we talked about during the show, go on over to [startlocal.co].

And while you’re there, take a minute to subscribe and we’ll send you an email when a new podcast episode comes out. Thanks, and take care of yourself out there.

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