Maynard Kaufman


photo of Maynard Kaufman, 2017 Maynard Lee Kaufman was born on February 6, 1929 and raised on a small farm in a Mennonite community near Freeman, South Dakota. Although he cherished many cultural aspects of his religious background, he did very little to practice it or pass it on. He did, however, affirm and respond to its moral and ethnic values.

He was the second of six siblings: Lorraine Ortman, Alice Suderman, Anette Eisenbeis, Lawrence (deceased) and Roy. His education in a one-room country school and in a Mennonite high school and colleges was minimal but adequate for him to maintain an excellent record at the University of Chicago where he received a Ph.D. from the Divinity School. After graduate school he taught in the Religion Department at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Although he began teaching courses on Religion and Literature, he ended as Associate Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies, an interdisciplinary program he helped to organize. He retired from teaching in 1986.

Maynard was married three times. His first marriage was with Marian Kleinsasser in 1951, and they were divorced in Chicago in 1961. They had one son, Karl Morgan Kaufman, born in 1958. In 1962 Maynard married Sally Wright Towne and became a step-father to the three children she brought into that relationship, Mary Michal (deceased), Jonathan and Nathan Towne. Before she died in 1990, they had two sons, Conrad Wright Kaufman in 1963 and Adrian Lee Kaufman in 1966, who died November 29, 2019. After Sally died he and Barbara Geisler were married in 1991.

Very early in his teaching career in 1963 Maynard took his family to live on a small farm near the city of Kalamazoo. This kind of living arrangement may have been an attempt to recover the joy of a childhood on a small farm and it was decisive in shaping the direction of his career. At a time when his departmental colleagues asked him to accept the chair of the department, Maynard decided to start a School of Homesteading instead. This was in 1972, when the first energy crisis was perceived as a threat to the basis of industrial society and many people were moving back to the land.

In order to conduct a School of Homesteading Maynard sought and received a half-time leave of absence from classroom teaching, at half of his regular salary. In 1972 he also moved his family to a 160 acre farm he purchased near Bangor, Michigan which was suitable for a residential learning facility. He had lived on this land since then. His work at the school led to working with other organic farmers and eventually Maynard was recognized as a leader in the organic farming movement in Michigan. He was co-organizer of Michigan Land Trustees in 1976 and organized a state-wide group, Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance in 1991. In 2003 he organized the first organic harvest festival in Southwest Michigan.

In 2000 Maynard and Barbara began building a house they called Sunflower on a part of their land. It was totally dependent on renewable energy for heat and electricity. This allowed for the sale of other parts of their land and buildings to three different organic farmers and retirement from the more onerous farm activities. During this time Maynard published a book, Adapting to the End of Oil: Toward an Earth-Centered Spirituality. He also published several articles on agrarian issues in the context of the end of oil and global warming. In 2008 he ended his work with the Green Politics movement and organized local groups of the Transition Towns Initiative which was designed to help people recognize the threats of peak oil and global warming and prepare for them. He considered these activities as a continuation of his work on homesteading and organic farming. He self-published Autobiographical Fragments in 2011 which includes records of his thoughts and activities.

In 2017 a book he co-edited, The Organic Movement in Michigan, was published. This was followed in 2018 with his Memoir, From James Joyce to Organic Farming; in 2019 with his Collected Agrarian Writings; and in 2021 with Evolution of a Post-Christian Theology, a selection of his theological works.

Although Maynard often worried about whether his farming activities distracted him from achieving his academic potential, he ended up feeling he had done the right thing in the face of the hard times that are coming at the end of cheap oil and the beginnings of climate change. Beyond this, he ended up satisfied that he had done what he enjoyed. The main regret he had in his final years was the fact that he could not live the life he had chosen over again.

Maynard departed this life on July 11, 2021. He has asked that any memorial donations be directed to the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance (MOFFA).