The Amish Way of Life
Sherri S. Archer-Taylor
ANT101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Instructor Jason Gonzalez
January 5th 2012
The Amish Way of Life
The Amish way of life has many interesting concepts and unique beliefs that set them apart from any other culture. While some may see the Amish way of life as a cult, there simplistic way of life and their family values and beliefs make them one of the strongest sects in today’s society. To truly understand what the Amish People and their way of life is all about, one needs to know about the origin of the people, their traditions and values, how they sustain themselves in today’s times, their importance and what they give to society today.
The Amish movement came into existence when Jacob Amman founded it in Europe during the late sixteen hundreds. (Robinson 2005) In the eighteenth century the first Amish people migrated to the United States settling primarily in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There are Amish settlements in as many as 24 states within the United States as well as settlements in Canada. Although many think that Pennsylvania is the largest sect of Amish it really is not. The greatest concentration of Amish is in Holmes and adjoining counties in northeast Ohio, about 100 miles from Pittsburgh. Next in size in the Amish population are Elkhart and surrounding counties in northeastern Indiana, and then the Amish of Pennsylvania (Albrecht Powell 2009).
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According to Powell (2009) there are as many as one hundred and fifty thousand Amish families in the United States today and that number continues to increase, due to the Amish having large families with as many as seven children born in one family and a member retention rate of at least eighty percent on average. The Amish are usually born into the sect and are members for life. There are not many cases where a member joins at an adult age. Members marry into the life and raise their children as members. Not following the (rules) Ordnung of the sect would mean excommunication or shunning from the Amish community. The Ordnung contains all the information an Amish member needs to survive in the Amish life. No intermarriage is allowed in the Amish community.
The Amish people are Agriculturalists. Their primary mode of surviving and subsistence is farming and what can be gained from the land. According to Donald Kraybill(2001) the Amish have always been keepers of the land and tillers of the soil. What sets the Amish apart in today’s society is that they use no modern equipment to get there harvesting or planting done. The tilling of the soil is done by horse plow and the seeds are hand planted. For over three centuries the Amish lifestyle has been centered upon agriculture. (Technology and the Amish farm 2011)Life on the farm also blends in with the Amish peoples religious beliefs. According to the website LancasterAmish.org (2011) “To the Amish toiling with the soil, raising livestock, and growing their own food is seen as cooperating with God’s will. Communing with nature is a form of communing with God. To the Amish, farming is not merely a job but a sacred lifestyle dictated by the Scriptures.” The Amish also believe that hard work, simple living, responsibility, and cooperation between communities are traditions engrained in farming and the simplistic life style the Amish live. In the late nineteen fifties Amish leaders began to fear a new farm development when the tractor arrived to help make farming easier.
Amish leaders were quick to write up an Ordnung that forbade the use of the tractor because they felt it would make the people more accepting of the automobile.LancasterAmish.org (2011)when many Amish farmers saw that tractors were increasing production in there non Amish neighbors they sought a solution. That solution became the Amish Tractor.” The Amish tractor is simply a power unit which consists of a tractor engine placed on a full-wheel cart which in turn is pulled by horses along the fields.”(2011) Today tractors are used on Amish farms but are limited to barn use to power feed grinders, hydraulic systems, ventilating fans; to blow silage to the top of silos; to pump liquid manure. Tractors are rarely used out in the fields. Tractors were seen as a problem for many reasons, the main one being that they are expensive to buy and maintain. The leaders also feared if the Amish started a dependence on tractors they would want to expand their farms and farm land among the Amish community is at a premium because of there ever growing population. Depending on themselves and not modern technology assured the Amish leaders that the family farms would stay small and help maintain community harmony.
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According to Kraybill (2001) use of tractors in the fields would also eliminate jobs in the Amish community. One big fear in among the Amish community is that men are going to run out of jobs and have to seek employment with non-Amish believers which would have a corrupting influence. In today’s times the Amish people have found a way to make their farms prosper without relying on modern technology. Although the use of the tractor is permitted now in barns to supply power and hay balers are allowed in the field but only if they can be pulled by horse power. Although the Amish farmer cannot match the productivity of their non-Amish neighbors, the Amish farmer produces a greater harvest in relation to the amount of energy that is consumed.(Amishfarmer.net 2012) Today there are two basic types of farm technology in the Amish community. First, there is technology that is required to be pulled by horses, second is the technology that the Amish people now make. Machines, tools, and implements are manufactured by the Amish community. By creating their own technology and manufacturing it they have created hundreds of jobs for their community while also generating some income that in these times is very much needed.
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This is also very important due to the fact that farm land for the Amish is rapidly dwindling. Another part of the Agriculturalists life style is that the women of the Amish community all grow extremely large gardens. They rely on these gardens to produce enough food to get their families through the winter months. Children are given the jobs or harvesting fruit trees and berry bushes to be put up for winter or to be made into jams and jellies. The Amish grow or tend everything they eat. There is no need to go to the store for large amounts of groceries. When a young Amish couple marry they are given a small parcel of land by one of the fathers of the couple, this land is given to them so that they can get a head start of taking care of themselves and earn a living while ensuring the land remains in the family.
The economy of the Amish is growing more complex. Where they were once mostly self-sustaining they are now finding it necessary to make and sell durable goods to supplement their income. The Amish now try to grow more then they need so they can sell some of their produce at the Amish farmers market which has been hard on the old order Amish as their traditional belief is that food should never be sold but kept to feed the family. They have also started to mass produce Amish furniture and other wood working items. The women have started making extra quilts to be sold and one of the most shocking turn of events is that the Amish who do not like outside interaction have opened their doors to tourist. According to Dr.George Kreps (1997) Tourism has not affected the core of Amish culture but it has had several lasting impacts. Such as traffic and crowds which make the Amish people shy away from certain areas because they do not like to interact with the common folk. With the establishment of the Amish farmers market it has ensured that interaction with outsiders will be held to a minimum. You can expect to find all kinds of goods at the Amish farmers market, items such as Blacksmithing, knitting, crocheting, basket weaving, soap- and candle-making. As well as jams, jellies, breads, and honey all of which are tended baked or made by the Amish. With the Amish having little expense it would be a hard to explain the need for the additional income, but in today’s world while their farms don’t get any bigger taxes do. And there is also the fact that when land is available for expansion the price tag is large to acquire the land.
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While the Amish have turned their backs on all of today’s technology they still maintain themselves and their culture in the ever changing world around them. The beliefs and values of their culture are core in there society. The Amish have a unique way in taking care of their older citizens you will find no nursing home or skilled care center in the Amish community, they believe in taking care of their elders right to the end with a separate wing built onto the house. Called the Dawdi house the elders live there until there death.. Amish people wear white clothes for a burial and they wear blue to a wedding. When a funeral occurs in the Amish culture there are no flowers, the coffin is plain wood, and there is no singing. A hymn is spoken, there are no eulogies. Holidays observed by the Amish are very religious during certain holidays the Amish people are more religious and family centered than any other culture. Family is the main point of the Amish way of life. According to Charles Hurst (2010) the Amish have survived by being plain and depending on hardly any new technology and with limited help from outsiders. While the rest of the world has progressed with technology the Amish people have tried to progress with social change. The Amish still travel by horse and buggy but now utilize an automobile when they need to go on long trips. They also use modern doctors for health issues. At least one landline phone is in the Amish community. All male members of the Amish community wear beards and all women wear the same style of dress. Generational names are still used, and outsiders are not welcomed into the community as members. Education is done in a one room school house until the child is old enough to help farm if he is a boy and until she is of legal age when she is a girl. Education is not a high priority for the Amish people. And while there are no computers or internet in the Amish communities they do rely on calculators.
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The Amish people are simple folk who rely on the land, themselves and their community to survive. There use of modern technology is limited; their interaction with the other communities around them is limited. They have a strong faith and a good work ethic. They survive by taking care of the land their livestock and each other with a faith that they will survive when modern technology has corrupted the rest of the world. Maybe there is something to be said for their way of life they are growing and enduring with hardly any problems that the outside world experience’s today. With their knowledge and skill of the land the Amish may be around until the end of time.
Albrecht Powell (2011) Lifestyles of the Amish community Para 9 retrieved from
Hurst Charles M. (1998) the religion and family connection 29 (13) 19 Retrieved from //psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&uid=1988-97583-000
Kraybill, Donald B.
Pages: 423 (2001) Riddle of Amish Culture (Revised Edition) Retrieved from
Dr.George Kreps (1997).
The Impact of Tourism on the Amish Subculture Community Dev. J (1997) 32 (4): 354-367. doi: 10.1093/cdj/32.4.354
Technology and the Amish farm anonymous (2011) Retrieved from //www.welcome-to-lancaster-county.com/amish-farm.html