What do you know about the Amish? Is your knowledge limited to their different style of dress or the fact that they use animals to work their farms? To learn more about the Amish, visit Pennsylvania, and spend an evening on a 3-hour, small group tour designed to expose you to the Amish way of life.
Each year, visitors from around the world journey to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania's "Amish Country," made famous by the 1985 Harrison Ford movie Witness. Located in the heart of the oldest Amish settlement in the world, midway between Bird-in-Hand and
Intercourse (yes, those are names of towns) on Route 340, is the Amish Experience, the county's largest, complete interpretive and touring center, and the source for our tour.
Our driver acts as a guide and provides us with an ongoing commentary about the Amish, including their history. Our first stop is at an Amish dairy farm at milking time. We proceed to the barn to observe the milking process and are met by the farmer, who gives us a brief history of the family farm and its present functions. His farm contains 70 acres, an average size for Amish farms in this area. Surprisingly, the Amish do not milk cows by hand. He uses modern milking equipment, and his milk is kept cool in the bulk tank via "Amish electricity" (diesel generator powered). We talk with him about his farming operation as well as wander about the farm buildings to see the animals and equipment used.
A team of mules is hooked up to a corn harvester just behind the barn, and a wagon load of corn cobs waits to be unloaded. Inside a stable are more mules and horses. All the equipment and buggies employ steel and wood wheels rather than modern rubber wheels.
It's interesting to compare modern and Amish life. There is a solar panel on the garage roof, but a buggy and a wagon are parked inside. There is a modern Bobcat parked next to the barn, and the guide tells us that it is needed to load and unload skids of supplies for the farm. The farmer had to get a special dispensation from his bishop to have rubber tires on the Bobcat, as steel wheels cause it to skid. A windmill and tall water tank about 100 yards behind the barn on a small hill provides running water for the house by gravity feed, as the Amish do not hook into the local electrical grid, so no water pumps. His wife runs a small quilt shop in the basement of the house where we could buy quilts and other hand-crafted items. Many women on the tour go there to view the quilts and crafts for sale.
Our second stop is an Amish "cottage industry." With the price and scarcity of farmland, many Amish have started their own small enterprises, making everything from gazebos and furniture to farm equipment and quilts. These "home businesses" have become the subject of books and articles because of the balance they achieve between work and family.
We visit and talk to a former dairy farmer who converted his farm two years ago to growing and marketing gourds for the retail market. These gourds could be used for anything from birdhouses to planters to hanging decorations. He starts the gourds from seeds in the spring; then plants them in May, and doesn't harvest them until the following April. We tour his gourd processing building and see containers of gourds ranging in size from golf balls to beach balls. His daughter displays many decorated gourds for sale.
At our final stop, we meet an Amish family in their home, providing us with a chance to talk informally and visit the way Amish do. Topics range from the children's education to Amish religion, weddings, languages, and Amish home life. The walls in their living room have removable sections to allow large groups of the Amish to gather together for worship, as they do so in their homes rather than at a church. Weddings are also held in the home, and can include 400-500 guests. The lights in the rooms are battery powered, and there are no family photos on the walls, as this is against their religion.
As we return to our tour van, we come away with a greater appreciation of the Amish way of life. It was an insightful, revealing look at Amish lifestyles that one could never get from merely traveling the area.
Gene Chambers is author of three secondary school textbooks on computer studies in data processing.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/