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"It seems ironic saying that, seeing as I've left now, but I still love our culture."
June 18, 2012 1:11 PM   Subscribe

19-year-old Kelly Hofer grew up in a Hutterite colony in Manitoba, and his photography captures his life as a Hutterite. Recently, Kelly left the community to start a new life in Calgary.
posted by Catseye (51 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
I looked at these pictures for a while and I could not for the life of me tell what was off about them, and then I realized it: everyone is fit.

It turns out when you have a rural community centered around growing, reaping and preparing your own food, that's just what happens.
posted by griphus at 1:16 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by jquinby at 1:27 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I looked at these pictures for a while and I could not for the life of me tell what was off about them, and then I realized it: everyone is fit. It turns out when you have a rural community centered around growing, reaping and preparing your own food, that's just what happens.
posted by griphus at 1:16 PM on June 18


I would have made a similar hypothesis before I traveled to Bulgaria. There seems to be a tipping point ('round about 22) at which the boys there transform from skinny things to quite bulky and stocky men (and rarely just muscular). My traveling partner explained that bigger men are far more useful for the often strenuous and weight-bearing work they have to do all day. To say nothing of how rich Bulgarian food can be - lots of dairy and fatty meat...
posted by mykescipark at 1:34 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting. According to Wikipedia anyway, the Hutterites aren't really big on photos.
posted by JoanArkham at 1:34 PM on June 18, 2012


Having grown up on Eastern European food, yeah, that shit will make you round if you're not following it up with hauling lumber through the snow.
posted by griphus at 1:38 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's certainly a talented photographer. I think the overall set of Hutterite photos could use some editorial guidance because some of them are much better than others (both in terms of technical expertise and subject matter), and they could perhaps be presented in an order that tells a story in a more coherent way. But some of them are very striking, and cumulatively they are quite powerful.
posted by oulipian at 1:39 PM on June 18, 2012


Interesting. According to Wikipedia anyway, the Hutterites aren't really big on photos.

I actually found that to be the most interesting part of the last link:

Yet Mr. Stanton said Mr. Hofer's work is problematic for more than just religious reasons. Most Hutterites are actually not opposed to photography.

Rather, their communal philosophy is anathema to the self-promotion that has become endemic to Mr. Hofer's computer-savvy generation. To see one person elevated through such exposure seems prideful. His success is problematic in a culture that restricts individual expression and personal property, Mr. Stanton said.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:40 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I didn't realize that Hutterite culture has become so accepting of computing and mobile technology. Considering that TVs and radios are generally shunned, I'm surprised that even the most liberal of colonies have decided that, yes, the Internet is OK and our kids can totally text each other.
posted by asnider at 1:48 PM on June 18, 2012


If you only focus on the men, you could be looking at any group of rural suspender-enthusiasts. I found this comment interesting:

In some communities, females are starting to outnumber males [due to desertion by males].

Maybe, in a generation or two, the balance of power will shift and the male Hutterites will take their own 500-year turn hiding their bodies and hair in shapeless garments.
posted by gurple at 1:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


JoanArkham: Interesting. According to Wikipedia anyway, the Hutterites aren't really big on photos.

That's an odd way to put it. The CBC News article cited by Wikipedia noted:
The colony had argued that the government's rule violated its charter right to freedom of religion. Members believe the second commandment in the Bible ("Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image") prohibits them from willingly having their picture taken.
But it seems that there are more liberal communities, some embracing (amongst other things) media and technology. It looks like he's not the only one using a camera: young boy with a camera, older man with a camera. But they might have been pointed away from people, as to avoid making graven images.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:51 PM on June 18, 2012


It turns out when you have a rural community centered around growing, reaping and preparing your own food, that's just what happens.

People make fun of American food (to the point where "American Style" in supermarkets outside the US is shorthand for "fat laden") but it's a culinary tradition arrived at honestly. People in the US were working much, much larger agricultural plots than their countries of origin provided. That scale of manual farming requires a huge number of calories for fuel.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:53 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


My interaction with the Hutterites and Mennonites around here are always certainly interesting.

When there is a big yard sale, men in huge vans pull up and out come the Grandmas to whisk away ever single last piece of childrens' clothing. At our last one, the clear leader of the pack put all of our stuff in two piles: One they would pay for, and the other we were expected to donate 'for the orphans and children in Africa'.

Out shopping, you find similar scenarios. The women are always wearing their headscarves and under the watch of one or two men who carry the wallets. The women seem happy enough, but you never quite shake the feeling that between the prescribed adornments and the watchful eye of the men that they while they aren't exactly oppressed, they aren't as free as they should be either.

Finally, when our son needed some bloodwork and testing at the childrens hospital in the last year, we were sent to the genetics area since the lab was not that busy at the time. The waiting are was 90% or more Hutterite. I know that the gene pool is fairly small here, and marriage within the colony is the norm. It never occurred to me before then, but genetic issues are surely becoming problematic.

Having said that, once you know people on the colony, you'll never find a better source of amazing poultry for thanksgiving and hardwood for your woodshop.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:53 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's a culinary tradition arrived at honestly. People in the US were working much, much larger agricultural plots than their countries of origin provided. That scale of manual farming requires a huge number of calories for fuel.

Truth. My grandad never stops talking about how much better the orange cheese sauce and 32oz sodas were in his day.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:59 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


We're a bit south of WinnipegDragon here, but encounter a number of Hutterites and Mennonites on a regular basis, with similar experiences. My main negative experience is one I was warned of, but thought it was based in bigotry, until I got first-hand experience, that one of the local farms are big shoplifters. Working at a big-box office store, one gentleman walked out the doors and set off the alarms. He pulled a printer cartridge out of his pocket, then was out the door before the nearby worker could reset the alarm, which after the fact I remembered is a trick people use to steal the stuff still in their other pockets. When he wrote out the check for (something like) $25.50, he wrote in the numbers correctly, but in the long-writing blank he wrote "Twenty Zero and 50/100", I suppose hoping that some inattentive banker will treat the check as $0.50 instead. For as often as I know they shop in town, acting like they don't know how retail stores work gave off a creepy vibe. For being only a week on the job, unhappy and underpaid, it wasn't worth confronting a religious group about ten dollars or possible shoplifting, which I suppose is what they count on.

On the other hand, the Hutterite county near my Grandpa's farm (not the same one as above) is my Grandpa's best friend. My grandparents buy a lot of meat from them, and when Grandpa is restoring his old tractors, the Hutterites -- who use tractors, but nothing younger than 30 or 40 years old -- have the skills, eyesight, experience, and tools to do specialized work that Grandpa can't do anymore. That farm was one we toured once during school, and even then, in the mid-80s, they had a phone and television, but we were told it was for emergencies and keeping track of dangerous weather and not for entertainment.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, we're all waiting for the Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 to chip in...
posted by ouke at 2:15 PM on June 18, 2012


I didn't realize that Hutterite culture has become so accepting of computing and mobile technology. Considering that TVs and radios are generally shunned, I'm surprised that even the most liberal of colonies have decided that, yes, the Internet is OK and our kids can totally text each other.
Well, there is a huge difference between passively watching TV and communicating with each other electronically. Texting other members of the 'community' is still within the community.
posted by delmoi at 2:16 PM on June 18, 2012


There's a pretty fascinating reality show on the National Geographic channel right now about a colony of Hutterites in Montana. On the one hand you have the younger members texting and even using Facebook (to find a boy from outside the colony!), and otoh, you have the elders shunning a mother for letting her sons stay and finish high school.
posted by book 'em dano at 2:19 PM on June 18, 2012


Cool. I went to middle/high school with kids from a Hutterite community (since relocated). They mostly kept to themselves, but they were all really nice people as I recollect...
posted by rollbiz at 2:26 PM on June 18, 2012


Now that it's been mentioned, speaking of schools (thanks for the set-up, rollbiz) the other thing I found super-interesting from this story was from Kelly Hofer's flickr profile:

I went to school via the huttarian HBN-IITV system, an interactive television experience.

I would love more details about this but initial Google queries tell me nothing. (I'm not so lazy that I won't look elsewhere eventually but have been busy.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:56 PM on June 18, 2012


There's a pretty fascinating reality show on the National Geographic channel right now about a colony of Hutterites in Montana. On the one hand you have the younger members texting and even using Facebook (to find a boy from outside the colony!), and otoh, you have the elders shunning a mother for letting her sons stay and finish high school.

From one of the links in the FPP:
This week has been weirdly pivotal in Hutterite history. In response to the airing of the National Geographic reality television show American Colony: Meet the Hutterites, a collection of Hutterite bishops released their first ever press release. The religious leaders said the show was contrived and portrayed them negatively and inaccurately. It featuring the devotees drinking, swearing and arguing.

"The Hutterites are absolutely up in arms. They are so hurt and betrayed by the way they've been depicted," said Mary-Ann Kirkby, who left a colony with her family in the 1970s and has since wrote a memoir about growing up Hutterite.

"The producers made a mockery of our people, our culture, our way of life. They were promised the National Geographic treatment and instead received some foolish, scripted Hollywood treatment that has no relationship to our actual life," the Saskatchewanian said.
posted by junco at 2:58 PM on June 18, 2012


Since we're recounting personal experiences with Hutterites, I once got the hard sell from an old Hutterite woman at a local farmers' market. I intended to buy some carrots and I ended up walking away with not only a bag of carrots but also: "The best, freshest apply pie you'll ever eat; only one left!"
posted by asnider at 3:04 PM on June 18, 2012


Huh... I recently got off on a tangent that led to this lovable school website from there to Hutterites in general. How weird that it comes up again like this two days later. It's interesting that Hutterite children are taught almost exclusively by non-Hutterite teachers.
posted by rodii at 3:04 PM on June 18, 2012


If the outcome of your interaction with someone is a delicious apple pie then I think it is a win for everyone involved, tbh.
posted by elizardbits at 3:07 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Looks like a lot more smiles on male faces than female faces. Is that my imagination?
posted by yoga at 3:17 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


For me, in a country where I've only read about these communities (Nancy Drew introduced me to the Amish - when I first saw an Orthodox Jewish man on a plane, having also never grown up around a Jewish population, it confused the hell out of me) it looks like a sort of Amish kibbutz, with both old-fashioned clothing and leisure habits and technology. The photograph of women together outside a house, in the long dresses and skirts, makes it look like they're almost wearing school uniform - I can picture the single pattern making the rounds of the houses of women needing new outfits, or perhaps there is a community seamstress who scales it up or down.
posted by mippy at 3:18 PM on June 18, 2012


I don't know his colony at all but I do have some suspicion that what he still loves is the idea of Hutterite culture more than the actual culture as it exists today, at least from the colonies I have seen.

I am Mennonite and also spent my high school years working weekends at various Hutterite colonies in the area. What I saw on the colonies was, for the most part, not a very good example of the cultural ideas I believe he is referring too.

And the shoplifting thing, yeah, just a bit. "Kerchief alert" meant someone get on the Hutts, quick.
posted by Cosine at 3:20 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the one hand you have the younger members texting and even using Facebook (to find a boy from outside the colony!), and otoh, you have the elders shunning.

I've been watching the series, as well as the other National Geographic show Amish: Out of Order, the producers behind the documentary Devil's Playground and the MTV reality series Amish in the City. The NeoGeo series features ex-Amish Mose Gingerich who was also in the MTV series.
posted by ericb at 3:59 PM on June 18, 2012


I used to have a romanticized view of Hutterites and Amish people. Then I read this. I have no idea how true to life the novel is, but it definitely sheds a different light on some of the traditions.
posted by tuesdayschild at 4:15 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Growing up in Central Alberta, I had similar expereinces to Winnipeg Dragon, and also spend some time as a neighbour working the odd sunday (there is some interesting parrallells b/w the work culture of mormon and hutterite albertans)

The best story I had was one weekend, where I was working two or three sundays in a row, and this teenage about my age dragged me into a spare room/storage room--began pulling out this drawer, and showed me hidden in a spare compartment, a small walkmen and three or four tapes, plus a t shirt. he wanted more tapes, and another tape, and batteries. he didn't have any money, or at least he didn't offer any money, but it was the beginning of my smuggling career.
posted by PinkMoose at 4:31 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it is interesting that the Hutterites pronounce their name "HOOTerite, but the voiceover on the Nat Geo show pronounces it HUTTerites. In case we think they sell chicken wings on the side?
posted by Isadorady at 5:05 PM on June 18, 2012


Great photos, including this lovely family portrait. Thanks for linking them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:22 PM on June 18, 2012


Since we're recounting personal experiences with Hutterites, I once got the hard sell from an old Hutterite woman at a local farmers' market. I intended to buy some carrots and I ended up walking away with not only a bag of carrots but also: "The best, freshest apply pie you'll ever eat; only one left!"
posted by asnider at 5:04 PM on June 18 [+] [!]


Oh yes, Saturday morning in the summer = Farmers' market and Hutterite/Mennonite honey and baking!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:03 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not just fit, but a completely lack of billboards, ads and other commercial clutter.
posted by DU at 6:34 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the outcome of your interaction with someone is a delicious apple pie then I think it is a win for everyone involved, tbh.

Well, yeah, but it still seemed kind of weird that she basically "used car salesman-ed" me in order to sell a pie.
posted by asnider at 6:56 PM on June 18, 2012


I think it is interesting that the Hutterites pronounce their name "HOOTerite, but the voiceover on the Nat Geo show pronounces it HUTTerites. In case we think they sell chicken wings on the side?

They actually do sell chicken wings on the side. Damn good ones, in fact--I worked in a restaurant years ago that bought whole chickens from a local Hutterite colony, and the wings on 'em were easily twice the size of the Cargill-sourced wings we usually got, and more than twice as tasty.
posted by arto at 6:58 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Strange fetishism of the sectarian farming commune lifestyle from some Mefites here.

If that's what you wish for yourself, surely you can abandon your accoutrements of consumer culture and spend your free time working on a public garden or community farm, or clearing ivy from a public park, or whatever else strikes your fancy, leading others by your meek and humble example.

If you are wishing that upon others, it seems more than a little presumptuous to think that obesity is just a matter of not having a Hutterite's discipline and work ethic. Speck in your brother's eye, etc.

For myself, I have plenty of distant relatives in Eastern Europe who farm or grow or keep things, live in forests, fields, and swamps, eat plenty of rough, fat food, and die of heart disease in their early 60s.
posted by Nomyte at 7:56 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend living near Saskatoon has to go to the local Hutterite community with an RCMP detachment every year to get back the farming equipment that's been stolen. "When Anabaptists Turn Bad ..."
posted by scruss at 8:16 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am getting a kind of strange vibe from some of these posts- a sort of idealistic vision of what Plain people are like. I admit to only knowing Hutterites from reading and watching Nat Geo and traveling through Montana, but I grew up around plenty of Anabaptists in the Midwest.

My dad and sister were what we call a "Yoder Toters", that is, they drive Old Order people on errands that their horses can't get to and I have been "friends" with a few.
Amish,Mennonite and Brethren there have some fairly heavy problems in their communities, including spousal and child abuse, alcoholism and drug use.
They are totally patriarchal communities and children are put to fairly hard and dangerous farm and shop work at an early age. Forget education beyond 8th grade. And if you decide to differ from the rule, shunning is pretty complete. The Jack Amish, those who leave the community , often end up pretty lost out in the English world.
posted by Isadorady at 8:59 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The religious leaders said the show was contrived and portrayed them negatively and inaccurately. It featuring the devotees drinking, swearing and arguing.

I know that 'reality' shows are often anything but, but you can't film people drinking, swearing and arguing unless it's actually happening. It's not inaccurate to show it, it's just not the appearance they'd like to present to the world.
posted by harriet vane at 9:13 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The pictures really are beautiful but also slightly creepy - while there certainly are things to be said for the rural/pacifist kind of lifestyle, there is something very unnatural about the forced conformity displayed. I remember reading a quote from a Hutterite bishop admitting that they operated on a form of religious communism.

There is also another dark side to the Hutterites (many of whom are much less liberal and modern than those portrayed in the photos). Despite their extreme conservatism, they are notorious for getting drunk whenever they go off the farm for business purposes. Apparently, they can't indulge in vices fast enough. I guess all that repression will do that to you...
posted by blue shadows at 9:29 PM on June 18, 2012


OK, I take my comment back. The rampant negative stereotyping of "them" in this thread is easily worse.
posted by Nomyte at 9:39 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it is interesting that the Hutterites pronounce their name "HOOTerite, but the voiceover on the Nat Geo show pronounces it HUTTerites.

I think that it's a dialect thing. Most non-Hutterites around here pronounce it the latter way. That the Hutterites themselves use the former is likely more to do with their unique German dialect (and the resultant accent with which many of them speak English) than with one necessarily being more correct than the other.

Then again, I may be way off base. All of my dealings with Hutterites are business dealings. I give them money and them give me food of various sorts. Also: deer skin gloves.
posted by asnider at 9:45 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing that struck me about halfway down the photos was the prevelance of people wearing glasses, particularly amongst the women. Now I wonder if that's related to this:

I know that the gene pool is fairly small here, and marriage within the colony is the norm. It never occurred to me before then, but genetic issues are surely becoming problematic.

Anyway, great pictures and interesting story, I've never heard of Hutterites so thanks for the post.
posted by like_neon at 2:01 AM on June 19, 2012


gurple: "In some communities, females are starting to outnumber males [due to desertion by males].

Maybe, in a generation or two, the balance of power will shift and the male Hutterites will take their own 500-year turn hiding their bodies and hair in shapeless garments.
"

I goddamn love you.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:20 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


DarlingBri: "It turns out when you have a rural community centered around growing, reaping and preparing your own food, that's just what happens.

People make fun of American food (to the point where "American Style" in supermarkets outside the US is shorthand for "fat laden") but it's a culinary tradition arrived at honestly. People in the US were working much, much larger agricultural plots than their countries of origin provided. That scale of manual farming requires a huge number of calories for fuel.
"

Your theory presumes that American farmers worked harder than Old World farmers, pre-Industrial Revolution. Citation?

I think it's far more likely that the amount of average human work output by manual-labor farmers was the same, and also that my 2012 portion sizes have virtually nothing to do with what my great-grandpa ate in 1912.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:43 AM on June 19, 2012


I rented a farm house from a Hutterite colony in Northern Alberta – long before personal computers. I can only imagine how things have changed!.

I would visit the colony site often. I’m surprised by the photo’s, as at the time I was working as a photographer and taking pictures of the Hutterites was forbidden. However, they had an endless fascination with seeing my photographs. I could take the occasional picture of children and I have some of the women.

There homes were very simple. The walls mostly blank – maybe the occasional knick knack. One phone for the whole colony. There was a larger map in the senior male elders home – tracing their heritage from Austria. He was a fascinating man – full of stories and very dedicated to his culture. Many of the older Hutterites spoke a German dialect.

For people that are so harshly judged – I found them so un-judgemental of others. Very respectful and gracious people. I used to sneek Harlequin romance books in for the women and the young men, when working the nearby fields, would stop by my house looking for beer. Both forbidden “pleasures” back then!. The boys also had walkmans hidden in their tractors.

Meals were eaten in the large colony hall – men all on one side and women and children on the other. Very heavy, German-like meals . They made their own sausages. They had a school on the colony - a school board teacher would come out daily. There were long classes on their religion and culture. Everyone worked hard – they made their own clothes, toiletries and harvested most of their foods.

The oppression of the women was very difficult for me. Especially the younger ones – they seemed very sad. The odd time they got to come to my house (escorted by men, of course) they were full of questions about my travels and independence. Once 17 or 18, the young women would be sent to another colony for marriage. The young woman would be sobbing tears of absolute dread and of absolute dedication to their parents’ wishes.

There was something fascinating for me in seeing a culture so prescribed and orderly.
posted by what's her name at 7:46 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Iamabroom: Your theory presumes that American farmers worked harder than Old World farmers, pre-Industrial Revolution. Citation?

You would like me to provide a citation for something you made up based on a failure of reading comprehension and quoting accuracy?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:27 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


DarlingBri, apparently I misunderstood this quote from you:
People in the US were working much, much larger agricultural plots than their countries of origin provided. That scale of manual farming requires a huge number of calories for fuel."

If you didn't mean "US farmers worked harder than those in the old countries", what did you mean?
posted by IAmBroom at 12:36 PM on June 19, 2012


I meant what I said: they farmed larger farms, requiring a greater expenditure of calories, and thus, a greater intake of food. Family farms of less than 60 acres -- often much less -- were the norm in Europe; in the US, the Homestead Act created claims of 160, 320 or 640 acres. A southern plantation was typically 500 - 1,000 acres.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:30 PM on June 19, 2012


Southerners didn't farm those plantations by themselves, so it's not like they were spending 1000/60 times as much energy. I suspect it's true even of the Homestead Act farms - sodbreaking families needed lots of children to accomplish those big farms.

So, we'll disagree on your assumption. I seriously doubt Americans worked measurably harder than Europeans in similar economic straits and jobs.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:09 PM on June 22, 2012


> The thing that struck me about halfway down the photos was the prevelance of people wearing glasses, particularly amongst the women

I wonder how much of that is because they don't wear contact lenses. If you took a photo of my extended family but made everyone who normally wears contacts wear their glasses instead, about 90% of us would be bespectacled.

Women are more likely to be doing work requiring close-up vision, I would guess, while men are more likely to be doing jobs that would put glasses at risk.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:25 AM on June 26, 2012


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