Back to nature: Roger Ulrich, founder of Lake Village Homestead Farm in Pavilion Town by Back to nature: Roger Ulrich, founder of Lake Village Homestead Farm in Pavilion Township, tends to chickens in coops next to his home. He created the cooperative to provide a place for people and animals to co-exist with nature. Photo by Mark Bugnaski,
to nature: Roger Ulrich, founder of Lake Village Homestead Farm in
Pavilion Township, tends to chickens in coops next to his home. He
created the cooperative to provide a place for people and animals to
co-exist with nature. Photo by Mark Bugnaski, Kalamazoo Gazette
"You've got to experiment, and
experiment with your own life! Not just sit back in an ivory tower
somewhere as if your life weren't all mixed up in it"." B.F.
Skinner, Walden Two
Lake Village (near Kalamazoo, Michigan) began as an experiment in "getting back to the Earth." Now in
its 40th year, it sees no end in sight.
In fact, members of the group believe the
Homestead has become more relevant than ever as more and more area
people want its free range meat products raised without chemicals,
antibiotics or growth hormones and its vegetable crops that are grown
without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides.
While food production is one important
aspect of the farm, Lake Village is much more.
"It is a place of peace and healing and it
provides me with opportunities to learn about connecting to Nature and
getting along with all kinds of people," said Tony Kaufman, 42, Lake
Village farm manager.
It's also about animal care, politics,
business, education, environmental issues. Kaufman has been living at
Lake Village for 20 years. His 10-year-old daughter, Ella, who was born
on the farm, lives with him.
Traci Ulrich Seuss, 48, was nine years old
when her family moved to Lake Village and she has lived there ever
since. An avid lover of horses, the certified massage therapist has
appreciated the freedom to ride and roam the 350-acre property that is
also home to her daughter, Della, 11, and 50 other people of this
Although by definition, utopia is not a
definitive place, Seuss argues that it exists inside a person.
"I love my life. It's perfect," she said
The man behind the Lake Village experiment
is retired WMU psychology professor Roger Ulrich. Inspired by B.F.
Skinner's novel, Walden Two, he has combined his Mennonite
background, Native American spirituality and a love for baseball into a
practical philosophy that he sums up in two brief sentences:
"There is no experiment other than
the real situation. Until you get into the earth and grow a real
tomato, there is no real education."
Before he founded the homestead in 1971,
the Skinnerian behavioral psychologist used to experiment with rats and
"I thought I was doing the right thing for
science," he said. "This is what was happening at the time, what we
were taught to do and what we taught our students. But it was kind of
mean and I stopped torturing animals and apologize to the pigeons and
rats that took that pain."
His vision of Lake Village was to create a
place where people, animals and all of Nature lived together peacefully.
"We have been conditioned as children to
see ourselves as different and separated," said Ulrich as we sat on the
deck of his house that overlooks Long Lake. Chickens clucked one floor
below us and a cardinal beckoned Ulrich to put some seed out on the
One of his most important influences was
his contact with Rolling Thunder (1916-1997), a Native American medicine
man who advocated for the care of the environment as well as the
togetherness and inclusiveness of all peoples. He and his wife, Spotted
Fawn, founded an inter-tribal, inter-racial, non-profit community on
262 acres in northeastern Nevada near Carlin to teach white people
Ulrich visited Rolling Thunder for a week
while he was on his way to a professional psychology conference in San
Francisco and it proved to be a life-changing experience.
"I learned that I'm not separate from
Nature," he said, "even though our culture conditions us as children to
see ourselves as different and separate. I'm one with the squirrel and
the blackbird. I'm an undividable part of all of life."
Ulrich, who doesn't define himself by any
particular religion, has adopted this "natural spirituality" where he
believes that all that's here was present in the beginning and will
Ulrich, who will be 80 in August, was born
to Mennonite/Anabaptist parents in Eureka, IL, where he learned to live a
simple life. His father was a farmer who used plow horses but whose
off-farm income eventually led him to become a John Deere tractor
This was a seminal moment for Ulrich--and
for America--because it signaled a changed brand of agriculture and a
society dependent on oil and consumerism, both of which Ulrich believes
are this country's biggest problems.
"We're conditioned at birth that we need
all this stuff. We could do well with less," he said. "We have to undo
what we have been taught even though it's not easy to turn around a
Ulrich's Mennonite roots also taught him
pacifism, which created a dilemma for him when the Korean War broke
out. Because he had a college education, he chose to enlist in Officer
Candidate School in the U.S. Navy. After a short time there, he found
that he didn't fit the military framework so he asked to be a regular
seaman. For two years he sailed the Mediterranean Sea and coastal areas
all around the United States.
He left the military with many questions
about aggression, and this led to a lifetime of research.
"Shooting at people just escalates the
conflict," he concluded. "You can't stop aggression through
Later the U.S. Navy commissioned Ulrich to
conduct research on aggression as a strategy for containment. However,
his report did not conform to the Navy's assumptions, so it was
summarily disregarded and dismissed.
"We live in a country with many blessings
because we fight," said Ulrich. "I pay taxes to this larger machine
that assumes "might makes right.' However, the problems we face are not
solved at the human level."
Consumer products and the means for
procuring them has left us not only with air, water and land pollution
but with more violent storms, floods and drought, he said. The
increased use of oil is the main culprit.
"We're in the days of purification where we
can't keep using our scarce resources as we have been," said Ulrich.
"Nature will determine what comes next and we'll be a part of it
[because we are part of Nature]."
Watching television and flipping on lights
contributes to this problem because it takes coal, oil and other
resources to generate the electricity, he said. Lake Village members
attempt to be mindful of their use of energy and to seek alternatives.
Ulrich's house, for example, is heated with
wood and built into an earth berm. Its abundance of windows brings in
natural light. Eighty percent of the food Lake Villagers eat is either
raised or purchased within 100 miles of the farm.
"You try your best to do what you can do
and live a life that you feel will be sustainable."
But Ulrich also sees consumerism and
sustainability in spiritual terms with the Golden Rule ("Do unto others
as you would have them do unto you") as a guide not only in our
relationships with each other but with the Earth.
"It's not so much me as a human being as
it's the Earth that is the nurturer," said Ulrich. "Our life here is
all tied up in the soil, sun, water, air. The way we treat the Earth is
the way we treat each other."
More Americans are now capturing the
essence of taking care of themselves and the Earth such as the Eat Local
Kalamazoo group and the organic food movement, said Ulrich.
"The way plants and animals are treated
affects us. You are part of their life."
Focusing on raising food more cheaply,
efficiently and in greater quantities without considering health issues
for humans or the animals, land, water or air is counterproductive to
good living. Current farming practices put animals in confined animal
feeding operations (CAFO) where they experience stress and pain.
"This makes the animals mentally ill and
crazy and when we eat them. We take on that craziness," he said.
Actually, scientists are finding
connections between people's food and their susceptibility to medical
problems like asthma, autism and diabetes.
Living close to one's food source is
another angle to his natural spirituality, however, Ulrich realizes that
not everyone needs or wants to live on a farm to be more intimate with
Nature's cycles and processes. They can grow a garden or even raise
chickens--as is now permitted in Kalamazoo and Portage. What's important
is that they connect to Nature for good physical, mental and emotional
"All is sacred," said Ulrich. "We are all
part of the life force."
Ulrich's philosophy of life also stems from
his love of baseball, which inspired him to go to college so he could
keep on playing the game. He subsequently tried out for the Chicago
Cubs. Although he didn't make it, he played ball all his life including
years with the Kalamazoo Warriors senior softball team until he was 76.
Nevertheless, he did find academe
engaging and stimulating enough to continue it through to the Ph.D.
level. He taught in the university where he also served as a professor
and assistant dean of students at Illinois Wesleyan. At Western
Michigan University, where he stayed for 30 years, he was a department
head and a researcher.
Sports taught Ulrich the quality of
teamwork to achieve a goal. He transferred this idea to Lake Village
where everyone, residents, animals, vegetables, trees and all living
things live together.
Ulrich claims he never planned his life but
instead indulged himself in whatever was available to him at the time.
"Have fun. Be joyful. Enjoy the ride," he
said. "If you can make the ride more comfortable, do it."
Perhaps that's the grandest experiment of
them all and Ulrich invites everyone to indulge in it!