Amish business


Important values for the Amish include the maintaining of their families and their faith. They seek to make decisions that will allow their faith practices to continue and their children to have the opportunity to choose their faith as young adults, as well.

As mentioned in other articles in the Amish Knowledgebase, one of the ways the Amish are able to accomplish this is with their family businesses. In the past their farm based livelihoods allowed them to accomplish several things. One, they could work alongside their children to train them how to work and build relationships. Two, working on the farm would allow their children to contribute to the family financial health by working from an early age, possibly plowing, raking hay, tending animals, helping in the garden, hand or machine milking, etc. Three, it taught their children the farming way of life so they could grow up and continue that tradition with their own land some day.

However, the price and availability of land has forced the Amish community to consider other ways of supporting themselves without compromising their beliefs and practices. The oldest Amish community, Lancaster County, PA, used to restrict their members from owning businesses with shops separate from their farms to discourage leaving the farm based way of life. That has now changed out of necessity, and Ohio Amish businesses are now flourishing.
This is the story of one of those families.

The father began working off the farm buying standing timber, cutting logs and selling them to sawmills. Logs can be sold to be cut into rough dimensions of the finished product or sold as veneer logs. Veneer logs are processed by taking very thin slices of the wood off the raw log. These are laminated to less expensive base wood by-products for use in various types of furniture. Veneer logs bring the highest dollar because they are usually knot free. Most veneer logs are exported to foreign countries.

The logger had three sons who began to grow up and join him in his work. Along the way he acquired a sawmill and began to process the logs he was buying and cutting. In the early days, the slabs, the rounded edges resulting from the first cuts on the log, were sold for firewood and the other waste from the mill was burned. The slabs still retained the bark.

Milling logs is not a simple process of just cutting the log up into slabs of rough cut dimensions. A good sawmill operator knows how to get the best cuts of wood out of a log. The grade of the finished lumber is determined by how much of the heart wood is in the piece and other flaws it might have. Obviously, every tree that looks good in the forest doesn't always prove to be a great tree to process. Invariably, there is waste from rot, logs that are too short, etc.

One of the first economies that a sawmill typically adopts is utilizing the shorter rough cut pieces for pallets. This family began by doing that. They began to manufacture pallets. They further processed their shorter pieces into frame pieces and slats for the pallets. They began by using power nailers to hand nail the pallets together. Today they have three pallet shops assembling finished pieces utilizing automated nailers. They are shipping tens of loads of pallets weekly to various manufacturing facilities in cities throughout the region.

Since most Amish communities restrict their members from hooking up to the power lines and utilizing electricity in their homes and businesses, Ohio Amish businessmen have had to be innovative. In order to run industrial equipment, whether it is in a small chair shop or a large sawmill, they utilize a diesel generator. These generators vary in size according to the power needed by the business. A small backup generator in a typical English home might be 5-10 KW to operate the basic lighting and appliances. Amish businesses such as this sawmill have to have generators that can produce 250,000 KW, plus other auxiliary generators in other shops at the business.

The next logical step for the growth of this Amish family business was to add a kiln to dry lumber. This is critical if the lumber is going to be used in furniture making. If the lumber is used green (not sufficiently air dried or kiln dried) it will tend to warp or distort in other ways as the drying process happens over time. One farmer locally lost his home to a fire. In an effort to rebuild quickly he used green lumber in his home. Over time, the lumber dried out as the heater ran in the winter and the sun heated up the structure in the summer. The result was very uneven floors from the bowed floor joists, bowed walls and sticking doors.

Now they were able to kiln dry some of their lumber and offer it in different markets than just the air drying they were able to do previously.

While they began logging mostly oak because of its abundance in the area, they soon began to process other hardwoods including cherry, maple and some poplar (though hard it is actually considered a soft wood).

Ohio Amish businesses seek to improve profitability, but they also want to be a good steward of the earth's resources. In this case, the family found additional uses for the waste products created by the sawmill. This value of reusing things is found throughout Amish groups. Most mills today debark the trees before beginning the first cuts of the raw log. This is typically ground up and stored to begin the decomposition process. Some six months later the bark mulch is reground and is ready to be wholesaled to a retailer or retailed right from the mill.

The initial slabs that are cut off the round log used to be sold for firewood. Now they are chipped up and used in paper production and other wood products like OSB sheeting for roofs, sidewalls of houses and subfloors. The mountains of sawdust generated by the business are sold to local farmers for bedding.

Soon grandsons and granddaughters grew up to join the business. The girls are working in the office doing accounting, answering phones and handling customers who walk in. The grandsons wanted to be part of the business, so they asked if there was a way for the business to expand to utilize their labor. About four years ago the family began to assemble chairs, utilizing some of their own wood products and allowing the family members to be part of the family business.

Today, this multi-generational family business model is found throughout Amish communities. Ohio Amish businesses offer the Amish an outlet to retain their way of life for many generations.