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October 14, 2017 10:18 AM   Subscribe

On a drive though Lancaster County, I saw fields of cornstalks being cut down--sometimes by huge machines, taking big swaths of stalks out, but more often by a farmer and his team of horses, cutting bit by bit. The tobacco crop looks like it's in, and there is something very, very beautiful about the sun hitting the opened side slats of an old barn to reveal the bunches of leaves hanging from the rafters. Slowly, slowly in all things...although the 50-year change has come quickly in some Amish communities, with women talking on cell phones as they weed the gardens. We're approaching the season of the stand at the end of the lane: still a few peppers, lots of apples, and, of course, piles of pumpkins and decorative squash. Meanwhile, closer to the city of Lancaster, Whole Foods approaches...I'm ambivalent about that, because at least some of what I could buy there is already for sale at the end of a lane among the fields (also, because I make a lot of stuff myself). Thanks, infini; I hope that projects like this one will help stem the flow of Amish families from their home state.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:42 AM on October 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Where are they leaving for, MonkeyToes?

(and what a lovely word picture, thank you, I can see it all, I lived in Pittsburgh for four years and have been through the region often, especially in the fall for the leaves)
posted by infini at 10:45 AM on October 14, 2017

"The Amish, with their emphasis on family, hard work and simplicity, have drawn hordes of tourists but also an influx of residents, malls, roads and housing developments. The upshot? Swaths of farmland have been lost, and many Amish are now choosing to give up farming or are leaving the state to pursue quieter surrounding and cheaper land...Where are they headed? To western New York, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Tennessee, parts of the country where the Amish are much more isolated."
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:30 AM on October 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by infini at 11:34 AM on October 14, 2017

Wisconsin like whoa, it's made the price of farmland in the southwest corner of the state shoot up and there's some big tensions there between old dairy farm families and newcomer Amish who are "gentrifying" the farmland and pricing the dairy farmers' kids out, buying farms that have been in one family for 100 years, etc. It's a lot of change pretty fast for small towns that had been stable for a long time, and the Amish don't assimilate to the towns, so it's a tough change. Like any kind of gentrification, there are some major benefits, but also major losses, especially to the incumbents who were there before it gentrified. It's a little unusual in that it's Amish farmers gentrifying dairy country and pricing out Lutheran farmers who've been there for a century, but a lot of the same dynamics apply, where the newcomers don't mix with the old-timers, the newcomers disdain the culture that the old-timers built, the old-timers aren't given access to the newcomers' culture or institutions, etc.

Anyway Illinois and Indiana, who have small Amish communities of longstanding, would both love to snag more of the Amish migration, precisely because it's so good for tourism and economic activity in rural areas ... which is what the Amish are really trying to flee! Another knock-on effect of Amish migration is the Illinois horse market has revitalized beyond what anyone thought possible, because the Amish want draft horses, and a whole industry of farm horse breeders, farm horse trainers, rural horse veterinarians, and blacksmiths (for shoeing) are suddenly making a full-time living at it again. Even kids in 4H have seen prices for their prize farm animals rise; the Amish here mostly farm mixed-use farms with grain, fruit, vegetables, and mixed livestock, whereas most "regular" farmers are corn-and-soy-with-combines or nothing-but-pigs. The combination of the Amish and their traditional farming techniques, and the growth of the local-and-organic market and farms to serve it, has really revitalized those farm-related markets in ways that were very unexpected.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:42 PM on October 14, 2017 [26 favorites]

On the other hand, in Jefferson county, NY, and surrounding areas, the farmland is so marginal that the Amish are really the only ones who can make a go of it these days.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:07 PM on October 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Indiana’s Elkhart/LaGrange area has the third largest Amish community, with approximately 24,000 Amish people. Indiana’s Amish settlements are also some of the largest in the country—the state has the third-most Amish, behind PA and Ohio, but only 23 different settlements to PA’s 55 and Ohio’s 61.

In addition to the states already mentioned, the Amish are spreading out to new states and new Canadian provinces. A few Old Order Amish are even moving in with Old Colony Mennonites in settlements in South America to aid those communities. The Young Center at Elizabethtown college has a fantastic website on the Amish with detailed population data updated yearly. One of my favorite nerd days of the year is the day I learn what new states Amish people have settled in during the past year.
posted by epj at 1:28 PM on October 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

So the Amish are both part of Gentrification, while they themselves are being Gentrified?

Is moving because your town is getting a strip mall to an old dairy farm in the midwest to run a horse-powered farm operation *really* Gentrification?
posted by alex_skazat at 1:47 PM on October 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd be sad if the Amish ever left Western PA, their baked goods are just too good. My wife picked up an apple pie from an Amish stand at the neighborhood farmers' market yesterday and it was amazing as usual.
posted by octothorpe at 2:13 PM on October 14, 2017

Can I just say here that it blew my mind when I found out that Amish people, while generally shunning electricity, are also turning to diesel-powered air-compression tools for their woodworking and construction needs?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 2:51 PM on October 14, 2017

My favorite Amish grocery runs its checkout counters with air compressors, which are also hooked up to overhead fans. There's also a small local market for second-hand compressor-run tools.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:08 PM on October 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd be sad if the Amish ever left Western PA, Well some don't like to follow local sewer laws and have been jailed and/or left.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:31 PM on October 14, 2017

Plenty of Amish use tractors, but most of them I have seen have steel wheels. The reason I heard that rubber tires were forbidden was so the tractor couldn't be driven to town. They use plenty of small gas motors in their farming, doing things like pulling engine driven balers by horse and the like. I've also seen an ad for a gas motor assembly to be mounted on a forecart to provide a PTO and hydraulic remotes.
posted by rfs at 8:36 PM on October 14, 2017

"Can I just say here that it blew my mind when I found out that Amish people, while generally shunning electricity, are also turning to diesel-powered air-compression tools for their woodworking and construction needs?"

I talked here before about how for the Amish the decision isn't "is this modern?" but "does this tend to erode community?"

Electricity hooks you up to a grid and necessarily involves you in Englischer society. Diesel-powered tools can have their power bought on a discrete, one-time, individual transaction with someone you know and trust. (I mean technically you could run your house's electricity on a generator, but there are other issues, like that you can stay up all night reading or dorking around on the internet, instead of going to bed at a reasonable farm hour.)

Anyway, they're not Luddites; they judge technology on whether it helps or harms the local community, and whether it helps or hinders their devotion to God. (And then there are some specific historical things, like no mustaches b/c German soldiers wore them when the Amish fled the German States because they were pacifists and refused to be conscripted, and no buttons because buttons were hand-made and fancy and a huge source of vanity, but zippers are mostly okay because they're super-plain and nobody is impressed by your zipper.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:30 PM on October 14, 2017 [9 favorites]

The Amish run some of the worst puppy mills in the Country. Not all Amish but enough that I would never support them financially in any way. I know people are mesmerized by their way of life but I can't get over the puppy mills.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:01 AM on October 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

cairnoflore: The Amish run some of the worst puppy mills in the Country.

There are other aspects of the culture which are not very nice. They are pacifists, yes, and they believe in the value of community, which is good, but they are also a deeply patriarchal culture and have many of the problems which come with that.
posted by clawsoon at 4:05 AM on October 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

In my neck of the woods, Old Order & Amish use produce auctions.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:55 AM on October 16, 2017

"There are other aspects of the culture which are not very nice."

Yeah, they have pretty much the same problems as any other closed, patriarchal community, and the self-sufficiency of the community can make it desperately hard for social workers and others to reach children and young women (especially) suffering abuse. Some Amish communities are great and awesome and nearly live up to the Amish "bonnet ripper" romance novels that are so trendy these days, and some are basically cults with the level of sexual abuse you expect from cults where old men have absolute control over young girls, and the same difficulty leaving.

Having lived near and interacted with Amish communities for a good portion of my life, I do think it's important to demystify and correct misconceptions and help people understand what the Amish's technology-rejection goals actually are, and about the different kinds of Anabaptist/Plain People communities (i.e., not all Amish, and of varying strictness), etc. But people should also definitely also not romanticize it. I mean, even when it's a healthy and loving community, and even respecting people's right to live as they choose, I don't really think it's a great idea for kids to have no opportunity to go to college, no matter what. And I know not all Amish women find happiness in the limited choices available to them. Etc. There are many aspects of the culture that I can explain, but that I don't want to defend. I think it's good and worthwhile to understand how different cultural groups think and to make sense of their choices within their context (I can definitely tell you why the Amish think not going to college is good!), but understanding doesn't have to mean approval.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:39 PM on October 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

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