Waiting at a stoplight in Holmes County, Ohio a black horse-drawn buggy pulled up behind us; we had arrived in Amish country.
Smelling freshly cut hay we drove through gently rolling hills with white houses and barns to the town of Mount Hope where we had reservations to stay with an Amish family for the night. After a quick stop at the country living supply store Lehman’s we continued on to our host’s farm.
We checked in and talked with the owners who run a 35 cow dairy farm. The couple and their three children grow all the corn and hay needed to feed their animals and they work the land using horses. Each cow produces about seven and a half gallons of milk per day and they need to be milked in the morning and in the evening.
The soil is enriched through the use of manure, cover crops like alfalfa and periodic crop rotation. When planting, the no-till method is often used; looking at the fields it appears to be working very well. We got to sample the milk the next morning for breakfast and drunk with fresh coffee and a piece of homemade bread and jam it was delicious!
Electricity, solar power and gas are used in addition to horse power and we were taught how to use the gas lamps in our room.
We had a great dinner with homemade chicken noodle soup, pickled beets and blackberry pie at Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen. The Amish originally came from German speaking areas in Switzerland and their delicious food reflects these early roots. With full bellies we walked over to see the range of goods laid out for an upcoming auction. There were all manner of horse drawn cultivating tools and things like washing machines using a minimum of power.
Upon our return we were invited to join the family for conversation around an outdoor fire. A bat flew overhead as the sun set and buggies led by trotting horses clicked by on the nearby highway. “Oh look! There goes a Christmas tree. That’s what we call buggies all lit up with driving lights.” said our hostess in a lightly accented voice.
“What do you think defines you as Amish?” asked my husband. “Well, that’s a good question” said our host settling into his chair and looking up into the darkening sky. “We have a deep abiding belief in God but we don’t have a monopoly on this faith. I think it’s the use of horses for transportation and working the fields. When a couple get married they need to have a horse to pull their buggy. This means that they’re going to need enough land to pasture and stable the horse it also means that we support local businesses; this helps keep our whole community, Amish and non-Amish, strong.”
My husband, a teacher, also asked the question “How does your educational system work?”. Our host responded with a smile “It used to be that most Amish went to public schools but with consolidation in the 1950’s we began to establish our own one room school houses with young Amish women as teachers. Traditionally kids go to school through the eighth grade. After graduation kids often begin an apprenticeship program learning how to farm, do wood and metal working and carpentry. Some kids also go on to get a GED and attend relevant certification programs.
We didn’t talk a lot about religion but we did learn that services are usually held in someone’s home; when the group gets too large it will divide into two groups. Parts of services are in German and children learn this as their first language.