Amish Living: Lessons and Answers

An outsider visits an Amish community, an ecological, small-farm subculture in the American heartland, as part of a four-part series on environmentalism and spirituality.

| July/August 1989

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    Supermarkets highlight the fact that the Amish do interact with the outside, "English" world.
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    Owning a phone is an unpermitted "yoke to the unbeliever." Using a pay phone, however, is perfectly acceptable.
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    Barn raisings symbolize the self-contained, community side of Amish culture.
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    The Amish method of rotating corn with hay and other crops helped lessen the effects of the 1988 drought.

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It happened while Hannah was driving Albert, David, Colt and Claude, four Belgian draft horses that were pulling both the hay baler and the flatbed loading wagon. I was behind on the wagon, grabbing the blocks of fresh May hay the gas-powered baler churned out and stacking them in a 3-3-3-2-1 pattern.

Suddenly Hannah stopped the team, jumped out, walked into the mow of cut hay just ahead and gently picked up two immature Savannah sparrows. She carried them out of harm's way, setting them in a timothy field that wasn't going to be cut for at least two weeks (until the young bobolinks nesting in it were fully fledged).

I rested, wiping sweat and marveling at this Amishwoman's concern for two baby birds. Then I looked back toward the barn and saw 10-year-old Samuel driving the family's peculiar 65-horse John Deere tractor, with its little pneumatic tires up front, but uninflated, bolted-on rubber ones in back. He was bringing out my next empty wagon. Yes, that's when it happened—when I got my first clue into understanding the riddles of Amish culture.

The Amish are the answer to a question, I realized. All the odd, apparent contradictions I was witnessing were part of an overall cultural solution to a broad, basic problem. A horse-drawn gasoline engine? A tractor with two different types of tires, which hauled things to and from the field but did no work in the field? The fact that I could see the farmer next door loading all his hay loose and then baling it—with an identical gasoline baler—only after it was in his barn? Somehow these things were all answers to the same question.

What was the question?  

Ah, that's what I still had to figure out. 

Heidi Hunt_2
4/3/2007 3:04:19 PM

Christine, check for that washing machine at

3/30/2007 1:49:09 PM

Hi, I have a question rather than a comment: wondering how to find a manual washing machine - one that is truly "Hand"-powered and can handle more than just 1-2 pieces of clothing. I know they are out there but I'm having no luck finding.. Any help would be great. Thanks christine

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