My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Selling Walnuts

Did you ever wonder where your grocery-store walnuts come from?  They may have come from Amish Indiana.

I have an Amish friend who we’ll call Lily, who cleans a few wealthy people’s houses for extra income.  At one of them, one of her yearly tasks is to remove the hundreds of fallen walnuts from the lawn.  This year, she collected them in old feed bags and brought them home.

A few days after this task was completed, Lily phoned me, and we loaded six or seven bags of walnuts into the back of my SUV.  Off we went to a nearby Amish farm located between Middlebury and Shipshewana, Indiana.  (Or should I say, she loaded them—I’m a city girl by birth and I have about one-tenth the strength of the average Amish woman!) 

The farmer had an ancient Hammons black walnut huller – a big green machine that could crack the tough outer hull but leave the inner shell that we’re all familiar with, intact.

So, the gas engine was fired up, and the bags were unloaded into the machine one by one.  The walnuts went up a conveyor belt and into the depths of the machine. 

Down a chute on the left side came the walnuts 
and into green bags.

Out the other side came the shredded hulls, which went by conveyor belt into an old wooden farm wagon, to be spread on the fields.  Nothing is wasted! 

In the end, Lily sold a little over 200 pounds of walnuts, so at $15 per 100 pounds, she was written a check for $32.  I remarked that it was a lot of work for $32—but as she pointed out, the homeowner she cleans for had paid her by the hour to pick up the walnuts, so this was just frosting on the cake! 

She said that sometimes, on Amish farms with walnut trees, selling walnuts is a nice project for the children of the family—they can all help gather up the walnuts into bags, and then the money can be used for something special and fun.

By the time we were ready to leave, there were two Amish buggies in line behind my SUV.  The owner said that last year on the last day of walnut season, there were buggies lined up all the way down the gravel driveway and then down the road—a three-hour wait!

The walnuts are then sent off for further processing along the farm-to-table food chain.  So think of that next time you buy a bag of walnuts!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Day Before the Wedding

Several months ago, one of my Amish friends was one of a group of women who were cooks for a wedding.  It takes a large team of cooks to get this done, since a typical all-day Amish wedding event involves serving around 1,000 meals over the course of the day!

The other cooks had arrived by buggy, but my friend lived too far away, so when I drove her there, I got a chance to look around.  One farm building and a large rented tent were used as the food preparation areas.  I wanted to stay out of their way (and I couldn’t have taken pictures of them anyway), so I headed over to the building being used for the post-wedding dinner.  Here the tables were already laid out:

Nearby were racks holding additional rented china—after the first seating, there would be two more later in the day.  Everything needed for such a large event can be rented.

An Amish bride and groom choose ten single young men and ten single young women to be “servers” for their wedding dinner.  This means a long day of work, but it is considered a great honor to be chosen to be a wedding server.  Each paired-up couple has specific assigned tasks.  I saw ten of these signs all over the room, at the different serving stations, helping the servers know what to do.  Notice the menu varies slightly for the first sitting (for those who attended the three-hour wedding ceremony) and the two later sittings (the first one for guests who didn’t attend the ceremony earlier in the day, and the last one for the young Amish singles).  The servers responsible for each station also change.

I stopped to look at the area where the wedding party would sit—bride, groom, and two pairs of witnesses (similar to our best man and maid of honor).  It had been done up beautifully in silver and white.

How is so much food cooked in a farmhouse kitchen?  It isn’t.  A wedding wagon (or two) is rented, which contains multiple stoves, refrigerators, and sinks.  The day of the wedding, the hot food can be prepared there.  I got a chance to take a peek inside the wagon while the women were doing the food prep in the other building.

The entire farm was a beehive of activity, as the men did their part to prepare for parking many dozens of buggies, bicycles, and probably a few cars, and finished other outdoor tasks, and the women prepared the food.  The bride circulated around, taking time to introduce herself to me before heading out to the lane to talk to her groom.

I was amazed at the organization, the teamwork, and most of all, the overall atmosphere of calm!

I wrote about attending an Amish wedding here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Favorite Dozen

Happy New Year!  Here are a dozen of my favorite photos from the last year, taken and posted on my Amish Indiana facebook page during 2019.


Happy New Year from My Amish Indiana!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Christmas Letter

I got this Christmas letter today from a dear Amish friend.  Her letter describes Christmas among the Amish in Northeastern Indiana so much better than I could...

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Turkey Feathers

I know an Amish family where the father and sons love to go hunting!  They make regular trips out west to hunt elk, but they also hunt other things, including wild turkeys.  Their home has a trophy room where there are all kinds of hunting trophies and souvenirs -- I'll have to take a picture next time I'm there.

The one and only time I've tasted elk in my life was at their house, for Old Christmas dinner.

A while back I noticed these sets of turkey feathers laid out to dry in the utility room, with borax sprinkled on the bases of the quills:

Recently the lady of the house was showing me the finished product, hanging on their wall.  Notice the three arrowheads attached to the base of the top one. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Italians

I present here a delightful guest post by my Italian friend Frederico.

He has been a follower of my facebook page and blog, and a while back, he and his wife Stefania came to America for a visit, and they stopped in Amish Indiana for a day or two on their way to visit relatives in Iowa. 

Earlier this week, Frederico got around to writing up his visit, and below I present his story (and pictures) of their experience.  It’s a wonderful look at Amish Indiana from the viewpoint of someone from a very different culture—Italy.

A couple of young European tourists visit Amish Indiana

Some time ago I happened to travel through Amish Indiana with my wife Stefania. It was a splendid opportunity to discover a different culture.

Susan Mosey was our personal guide there, and thanks to her help, we could visit some Amish farms.

As I am an organic farmer in Italy, I was really curious to know more about ancient agricultural techniques.   The visit was very enjoyable and allowed us to see some interesting farm machinery which was abandoned 80 years ago in Italy, but can still be very useful today.

When I returned to Italy I bought this old piece of machinery called a “rompegara.”  It looks like a large iron comb and breaks the surface of the ground when pulled by a horse. Of course I don’t pull it by horse, but with my small tractor—but it is still a very ecological tool; since then I have stopped using a plow on the ground of my farm.

This was a nice consequence of our visit to Amish Indiana, but the most interesting aspect of it was meeting local people.  These encounters enabled us to understand much of the Amish way of life:  devotion and faith in God, love of the family, respect to old people and to the roles of their society.

The most unusual and impressive characteristic of Amish culture is the strong bind between man and horse.  Horses are part of the family, their power is the engine of the society. The horse measures distances and regulates time. Time is so slow in Amish Indiana!   This is what I miss the most about this place: the slow flow of time.

Since the date of my visit, one year and half is already gone.   Once I returned to Italy I was captured by the stressful rush of modern life. Sometimes I stop for a few seconds, I look around the countryside, I smell the scent of grass and woods...  and, closing my eyes, I remember my brief visit to Amish Indiana.

After the above summary, I wrote a more complete description of the visit. Sorry to English readers…  This is written in Italian!  I can’t tell the emotions I experienced in English, it is too difficult.   I can only express them in my language, in the same way I lived them.

This will be a nice guide for the next Italian traveler.  If you are curious to read it, you will have to find an Italian friend and ask for a translation!  (Sue's note:  I included a translation at the end.)

Racconto sull’Amish Indiana da parte di una coppia di giovani turisti italiani

Può capitare di viaggiare attraverso quella grande pianura che, allungandosi sotto i grandi laghi, si distende silenziosa e pacifica per infiniti chilometri nel cuore dell’America.

Lunghe e morbide colline si susseguono come onde, coperte da boschi, pascoli e campi coltivati, punteggiate da fienili e grandi fattorie.

E’ il lato più dolce e romantico dell’America, la dove industrie e metropoli non hanno osato infrangere la spontanea bellezza della natura.

Ma quando, attraversando questa infinita campagna, si entra nella contea degli Amish, l’aspetto del paesaggio prende una nuova forma, le case, i campi, le colline, assumono un aspetto squisitamente elegante. Non un solo filo d’erba è fuori posto, i prati che costeggiano la strada sono tagliati, i giardini sono adornati da alberi e fiori, attorno alle bianche fattorie tutto è perfettamente ordinato: le staccionate, gli orti, i piazzali, anche i cavalli al pascolo sembrano posizionati secondo un preciso modello di perfezione.

L’armonia tra uomo e natura è la più bella espressione della cultura Amish e coglie da subito la curiosità del viaggiatore.

Viaggiatore rallenta! fai attenzione ai Quilt: i giardini di fiori che disegnano un variegato motivo sulle colline, non sembrano un mosaico degno di una cattedrale?

Osserva con quanta cura è disposto il bucato al sole: prima i pantaloni da uomo, poi le camicie, le lunghe vesti femminili, infine i vestiti da bambino … tutto in scala decrescente di misura e tutto rigorosamente in sequenza di colore. A cosa tende tanta cura del dettaglio e tanta dedizione?

Per gli Amish la cura casa e della campagna sono un impegno esistenziale, contrassegnano attenzione verso la famiglia, integrità morale e capacità di governare la terra. E’ un modo per mostrare al Signore la propria riconoscenza per i doni ricevuti ed per confermare il senso di appartenenza alla comunità.

Qui religione, agricoltura e comunità si fondono silenziosamente con il paesaggio.

Queste le sensazioni attraversando questo piccolo angolo di paradiso.

Susan Mosey, appassionata esploratrice del mondo Amish, è stata la nostra guida attraverso l’Amish Indiana, dove abbiamo sostato due giorni. La visita è stata un’esperienza indimenticabile, in due giorni abbiamo scoperto un mondo parallelo, contemporaneo e antico al contempo, una prosperosa civiltà, dove si conservano usanze e costumi di un tempo lontano.

A cena da Philip and Laura
Il principale motivo della nostra visita era la ricerca sulle tecniche di agricoltura biologica. Da agronomo desideravo scoprire come questi agricoltori riuscissero a lavorare grandi estensioni di terra senza l’ausilio della chimica e dei trattori. Cosi Susan ha organizzato l’incontro con una giovane famiglia di agricoltori. Philip e Laura, che ci hanno accolto come amici nella loro casa e ci hanno offerto una cena intima e confidenziale, una chiacchera dopo l’altra ci hanno resi partecipi della loro avventura, ci hanno raccontato della loro vita.

Abbiamo parlato di coltivazioni, di scuola, di viaggi e di famiglia. Questo incontro ci ha permesso di comprendere alcuni passaggi della cultura Amish. Abbiamo selezionato alcuni aneddoti sul mondo Amish.

La comunità
Ogni comunità Amish si regola attraverso delle norme di comportamento, che sono prodotte da un consiglio di comunità. Non è vero che la comunità rifiuta la tecnologia, ma piuttosto che adotta tutti quei comportamenti che permettono alla comunità di non disperdersi e di rimanere integra.
Quindi il consiglio ha la funzione di guidare l’evoluzione della società, decidendo cosa accettare e cosa rifiutare della modernità.

Il cavallo e il motore
Il cavallo è un componente fondante della comunità Amish. Determina le distanze, i ritmi della campagna, il rapporto tra uomo e natura. La comunità Amish è prima di tutto una comunità di agricoltori ed il cavallo è un compagno di lavoro e di vita per l’agricoltore, esattamente come il cane lo è per il pastore.

Il punto fermo nella filosofia Amish non è quindi il rifiuto del motore, ma la tutela del cavallo. Per questo gli Amish non possono guidare il trattore o la macchina, perché questi potrebbero sostituire il cavallo e compromettere uno dei pilastri fondanti della comunità.

I cavalli
Due sono le principali razze impiegate dagli Amish. Nero, elegante, slanciato e magro, il cavallo inglese ha funzione di rappresentanza ed è quello deputato alla trazione del calesse.

L’altro, il cavallo belga, robusto, forte, muscoloso, di colore bruno chiaro, fornisce la forza motrice ai mezzi agricoli. I cavalli trascorrono una bella esistenza, a loro sono riservati splendidi pascoli, stalle riservate e ricevono amorevoli cure ed attenzioni.

Il motore?
Sfatiamo un mito. Non è vero che gli Amish rifiutano il motore. Il motore è ben accetto fintanto che non ruba lavoro al cavallo. Quindi sono di uso comune motori agevolatori a bordo degli attrezzi agricoli trainati dai cavalli e sono ben accetti anche i motori da imbarcazione.

Infatti gli Amish possono tranquillamente portare una barca! Anzi, sono appassionatissimi navigatori!

La cucina
La cucina Amish è tutta fatta in casa, un ottimo derivato della tradizione alpina di trecento anni fa. Somiglia molto alla cucina europea, si basa sull’abbondante uso di verdura, lunga cottura di carni delicatamente speziate, latte e burro. Abbiamo avuto modo di provarla a casa di Philip e Laura E l’indomani a casa di Jerry e Wanita, altri amici di Susan, che ci hanno offerto degli ottimi biscotti fatti in casa.

Gli schermi, i telefonini e i computer
Sono generalmente banditi dalla vita Amish tutti i device elettronici. Nulla infatti può essere più superfluo e sviante, soprattutto per i giovani. Niente smart phones quindi.. niente tablet.. una semplice cabina telefonica di quartiere è più che sufficiente per tutti.
Tuttavia, come per il motore, la comunità accetta in parte la modernità. Infatti cellulare e computer sono ammessi fintanto che l’uso è limitato alla sola funzione lavorativa.

La religione
La religione non va messa in discussione. Essa permea la vita di tutti ed obbliga i membri della comunità ad un vincolo di fedeltà e sincerità.
La devozione religiosa passa davanti alla scuola ed al lavoro e rappresenta il massimo fine della vita umana.

Molto della vita Amish rappresenta una scelta estrema per noi.
Molto facciamo fatica a comprendere, tuttavia offre degli spunti di riflessione, dei ragionamenti da fare.

Forse c’è qualcosa da imparare da questa antica comunità isolata, come in una bolla, nel cuore della modernità.

Una visita alla contea Amish non è solo una scoperta, è soprattutto un’opportunità. Offre l’opportunità di rallentare e frenare l’impetuoso incedere della quotidianità. Una visita agli Amish richiede il tempo che chiede. Obbliga ad amministrare il tempo secondo un altro metro, secondo un fluire lento e ritmato, come a passo di cavallo.

For those without an Italian friend – I used my friend “google translate”—and I was amazed at the insights that my guests gained in their short visit here.  Here is the translation—it’s a little choppy, but far better than no translation at all!

One can happen to travel through that great plain that, stretching out under the Great Lakes, stretches silent and peaceful for endless kilometers in the heart of America.

Long and soft hills follow each other like waves, covered by woods, pastures, and cultivated fields, dotted with barns and large farms.

It is the sweetest and most romantic part of America, where industries and metropolises have not dared to disrupt the spontaneous beauty of nature.

But when, passing through this seemingly endless countryside, you enter Amish country, the appearance of the landscape takes on a new shape.  The houses, the fields, the hills, take on an exquisitely ordered appearance.  Not a single blade of grass is out of place, the lawns that line the road are cut, the gardens are adorned with trees and flowers, and around the white farmhouses everything is perfectly ordered: the fences, the vegetable gardens, the squares, even the horses in the pasture—they seem to be positioned according to a precise model of perfection.

The harmony between man and nature is the most beautiful expression of the Amish culture and immediately captures the curiosity of the traveler.  Here religion, agriculture and community blend silently with the landscape.

These were my impressions while traveling through this little corner of paradise.

Traveler, slow down! Watch for the quilt gardens.  Don't these variegated designs of flowers on the hillsides look like mosaics worthy of a cathedral?

Observe how carefully the laundry is hung out in the sun: First the men's trousers, then the shirts, then the long women's dresses, and finally the children's clothes... all in a decreasing scale of measure and all carefully in color sequence. So much attention to detail!

For the Amish the care of the home and countryside is an existential commitment, marking attention to the family, moral integrity, and the responsibility to care for the land. It is a way to show God their gratitude for gifts received and to confirm their sense of belonging to the community.

Susan Mosey, passionate explorer of the Amish world, was our guide through Amish Indiana, where we spent two days. The visit was an unforgettable experience. In two days we discovered a parallel, contemporary, and ancient world, a prosperous civilization, where customs and culture of a distant time are preserved.

At dinner with Philip and Lora
The main reason for our visit was to do research on organic farming techniques. As an agronomist, I wanted to find out how these farmers managed to work large tracts of land without the aid of chemicals and tractors. So Susan organized a meeting with a young family of farmers.  Philip and Lora, who welcomed us as friends in their home and offered us an intimate dinner.  An after dinner chat made us participants in their adventure, as they told us about their lives.

We talked about farming, school, travel, and family. This meeting allowed us to understand more aspects of the Amish culture. We have selected some anecdotes about the Amish world.

The community
Each Amish community is governed by rules of behavior which are decided at a church council meeting. It is not true that the community rejects technology, but rather that it adopts only those aspects that allow the community not to disperse but to remain intact.  So the council meeting has the function of guiding the evolution of society, deciding what to accept and what to refuse of modernity.

The horse and the engine
The horse is a fundamental component of the Amish community. It determines the distances, the rhythms of life, the relationship between man and nature. The Amish community is first and foremost a community of farmers, and the horse is a work and life companion for the farmer, just as the dog is for the shepherd.

The staple in the Amish philosophy is therefore not the refusal of the engine, but the protection of the horse. This is why the Amish do not drive the tractor or the car, because they could replace the horse and compromise one of the founding pillars of the community.

There are two main breeds used by the Amish.  Black or brown, elegant, slender, and thin, the English standardbred horse has a representative function and is the one in charge of pulling the buggy.

The other most popular breed, the very strong, muscular Belgian horse, light brown in color, provides the driving force for agricultural vehicles. The horses have a good life—they are given splendid pastures, reserved stables, and receive loving care and attention.

The engine?
Let's debunk a myth. It is not true that the Amish reject the engine. The engine is welcome as long as it doesn't steal the horse's job. Therefore, facilitating engines are commonly used on board agricultural equipment pulled by horses, and boat engines are also welcome.

In fact the Amish can own a boat! Indeed, they are passionate boaters!

The kitchen
The Amish kitchen is all home-made, an excellent derivative of the alpine tradition of three hundred years ago. It is very similar to European cuisine, based on the abundant use of vegetables, long cooking of delicately spiced meat, and the use of milk and butter. We were able to try it at the home of Philip and Laura—and also the next day at the home of Jerry and Wanita, other friends of Susan, who offered us excellent homemade cookies.

Screens, mobile phones, and computers
Electronic devices are generally banned from Amish life. In fact, nothing can be more superfluous and distracting, especially for young people. No smart phones then... no tablet...  a simple neighborhood phone box is more than enough for everyone.

However, as with the engine, the community partly accepts modernity. In fact, mobile phones and computers are allowed as long as the use is limited solely to the work environment.

The religion
Religion is not questioned. It permeates the life of all and obliges the members of the community to a bond of fidelity and sincerity.  Religious devotion passes through school and work and represents the maximum purpose of human life.

Much of Amish life is an extreme choice for us.  We find it difficult to understand, yet it offers food for thought.  Perhaps there is something to learn from this old and isolated community, living as if in a bubble, in the heart of modernity.

A visit to the Amish county is not just a discovery, it is above all an opportunity. It offers the opportunity to pause and slow down the impetuous pace of everyday life.  A visit to the Amish requires the time it takes. It obliges us to administer time according to another meter, according to a slow and rhythmic flow, like a horse's step.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A New Amish Schoolhouse

In early September I found myself in a new Amish schoolhouse in the area.  I had an hour to kill while my Amish companion talked to the builders about a water system, so I wandered around and took some photos.

It was a rare opportunity to be in a brand-new schoolhouse—one of over 100 Amish schoolhouses which can be seen in the Lagrange-Elkhart-Noble county area.  (I have written about Amish schools a number of times, starting with this post.)

Inside, I found this wall display, below.  It’s a good indication of the typical first names of the next generation of Amish kids.  Since last names are so few and repeated—20% of the local population are named “Miller” and probably nearly as many are named “Bontrager” or “Yoder”—parents sometimes get creative with the first names.

 Four of these beautiful hardwood units (below) separated the back of the schoolhouse from the classroom area in the front.  The back side had hooks and shelves for the children’s coats and things, and the front side had shelving and cabinets for books and school supplies, as well as serving as benches.  The units were on casters, so they could be moved aside for school programs and other special events.

Here is the classroom area.  Notice the double set of alphabet posters (in upper case, lower case, and old German script).  This is because most schoolhouses have two teachers, and the classroom is divided down the middle by a movable curtain.  Each teacher is responsible for four grades.  Occasionally there is a smaller special education classroom off to the side.

Light is provided by piped-in gas, as well as the large number of windows down each side.

Many newer Amish schoolhouses have living quarters for the teachers.  This one was no exception, with a kitchen which led to a living room, two bedrooms with closets, and a full bath.  (The classroom area had two more half-bathrooms for the students.)  The kitchen could also be used for refreshments after school programs and other events.

Something I didn’t expect:  a copier!  I asked my companion where the power came from, and he said it was collected from the solar panels on the roof.  I’d not seen one of these in an Amish school before.

Outdoors, there was a horse barn, along with a baseball backstop out back and some playground equipment out front.  Most children would either walk to school or ride a bicycle, but some ride in pony carts or even full-sized horses and buggies.

Several new Amish schoolhouses are built in this area every year, and this was a good example of what the newest ones look like.

More on Amish schools in a series starting here.