The Amish Way

Gene Wintersole photo

As few as 50 years ago, 90 percent of all Amish families utilized farming as a means of earning a living. That number has dropped drastically and today only about 10 percent are farming. Competition from agribusiness has made it nearly impossible for the Amish farmer to compete.

Those that continue to farm have done so by adapting. The Amish are not anti-technologists. They have simply chosen not to be controlled by technology. New technology is accepted in the community if it is for business or practical purposes that benefit the community as a whole. With this in mind, the Amish can still use traditional farming methods learned from the generations before them while still utilizing better equipment and more efficient methods to reach their goals.

At one time, not so long ago, everyone farmed the way the Amish still do today. Crop rotation in the fields worked so well there was little reason to change it. Corn was planted every fourth or fifth year, followed by oats, which would be harvested and plowed to make way for wheat. While the ground was still frozen it could be top seeded in March or April with legumes. Techniques long forgotten by agribusiness are still used in Amish farming today for the simple reason that they work.

Like any business, the Amish farm is concerned with economics. If it is not economical, why do it? Developing new tools, equipment, and techniques allows the Amish farmer to improve his bottom line without compromising a 300-year-old tradition of farming to sustain family and community without damaging the very ground, water and air that allows him to do so.

Amish farms still rely on the draft horse to do much of the field work. Draft horses are bred to have thick legs and haunches and can pull enormous amounts of weight. Horses are treated well by their owners and shown great respect.

The equipment used on today’s Amish farms is much like that of years ago, but today the quality is better and the materials used in construction are stronger. Modern plows designed to be pulled by horses are a necessity to the Amish farmer. As design and performance has improved, the farmer has benefited when he can accomplish more work in less time.

The Amish are fortunate to have members of their own community manufacturing the equipment they need to sustain their farms. Plows, harrows, wagons, sleds, trailers, wheels, rims and buckboards are all made within a community, in turn employing a great number of people who are not directly involved with agriculture.

Such manufacturers utilize the skills and resources of numerous smaller shops, and rely on members of the community to fulfill the needs demanded by customers.

Manufacturers listen to the demands of their customers and supply what is needed. There is no point in making items that customers no longer need or want.

The buckboard is making a resurgence as Amish families need a lighter mode of transportation to travel on and off the farm for various purposes.

The Amish have adapted in surprising ways to accommodate the needs of their families and communities. The use of non-electric power to operate common farm and household equipment is accepted in the culture as long as it is for the good of the community.

Propane is used to heat water for indoor use and to operate stoves and refrigerators. Most appliances commonly powered by electricity in non-Amish homes can be powered with alternative sources like compressed air in the Amish home. The use of diesel engines to provide power is widely accepted. Wind power is still commonly used to pump water from wells and solar power is being embraced as a means of charging batteries for buggy lights and pumping water.

The Amish community’s willingness to accept solar power as a means of powering homes and farms benefits them in more ways than one. Not only can they utilize the power generated by the sun, they can benefit from the commerce created when they become solar equipment dealers.

With agriculture as a means of sustaining one’s family declining, members of the Amish community have had to find alternate careers.

Many Amish are in the timber business, both growing and cutting. Construction is common and the Amish bring with them a reputation of high quality work done in a timely fashion. Furniture is widely constructed and sold in Amish communities to both members of the community and non-Amish customers who are looking for the best quality products. The solar equipment industry is yet another opportunity for members of Amish communities to conduct business in a manner that keeps with their traditions.

To the Amish, technology must bring people together rather than tear them apart. It is not technology that is bad, but what it can allow an individual to become if that individual is controlled by such technology.

Family, community and faith hold the Amish together in a way that we don’t often see in today’s modern world. Amish populations continue to rise and that says something about the manner in which they live. We can all learn a little something from these honorable people.