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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Amish Schools, Part Four: A Few More Things

So, this is fourth and last in my series of posts about Amish schools.  I have a booklet which I borrowed from an Amish school board member that gives lots of information, so I’ll borrow from that for this post.

This school year (2017-2018) there are exactly 100 Amish schools in the tri-county area (Elkhart, Lagrange, and Noble counties, in northeastern Indiana).  Five were new this year—Anderson Trail, Scenic Hills, Power Line, Orchard View, and Pigeon River.  The newer schools are generally built with metal or vinyl siding (white) and a shingled or metal roof.  Hot water heat is usually built into the floor, and the water well is powered by a battery pack.  Often there is a second building used for storage, power sources, and as a horse barn.

Each school is run by a three-man school board consisting of local parents.  The schools are grouped into districts of 12-15 schools, and above that, there is a state Amish school board.  The tri-county area also has special committees for special education, testing, teacher workshops, and buildings.  There is a special new “Schools for Schools” board which endeavors to help with the financing of new schools; counting land costs, a new school can cost $140,000 to build!

Who are the teachers in these schools?  They are chosen from within the Amish community itself.  The teachers (most are female but some are male) will have had only an eighth grade education themselves, but they need to have scored at the 10th grade level on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.  They get further training through periodic teachers’ meetings (every six weeks) and by reading the Amish teachers’ magazine called The Blackboard Bulletin.  Some teachers live in special teacher’s quarters which are often built into the newer schoolhouses.  Their pay comes from tuition fees paid by the students.  Most of the schools have two or three teachers, but a few have four.

The 100 schools in the tri-county area are mostly recent, as the Amish population has exploded (and more Amish parents withdrew their children from public school).  One was built in the 1940s; one in the 1950s; eighteen in the 1960s; fifteen in the 1970s; seventeen in the 1980s; twenty-one from 2000-2010; and twenty-seven since 2010.

I love the names of the schools!  Most are chosen for some geographical attribute of the area.  My favorites are Cottonwood Grove, Triple Bend, Singing Hills, Peaceful Meadow, Tollway View, Sunny Ridge, Birdsong Echoes, Blue Heron, and Little Acorn.

If you drive through Amish Indiana, you’ll see one of these buildings, with their yard full of bicycles, baseball diamonds, and bells on top, every few miles.  It’s okay to slow down and get a better look, or even take photos—as long the children aren’t outside playing.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

An Amish Retirement Estate Auction

I was writing an email to a friend this morning, explaining the Amish retirement/estate auction I attended recently, and I thought, “I have enough here to write a post!”  So, here it is.

Whenever I saw a poster in our community (Middlebury/Shipshewana) for an Amish estate auction, I thought, “How sad!  They must not have had a single son or daughter who was interested in taking over the family farm!”  But I was mistaken.

Now that I have seen the process up close, I understand it better.  The bottom line is this:  If a family has eight children, it wouldn’t be fair to just leave the house and farm and livestock and equipment to the youngest son!  (Or, whichever child ends up with the farm—I talked more about that in this post on dawdi houses.)  So, the child who takes over the farm actually purchases the farm from the parents… and if he wants the livestock or equipment, he bids on it at the auction, fair and square. 

I was told that if the other bidders recognize that son as being a bidder on something, often they will back off and let him have it without running up the price.  What a nice custom!

Anyway, we found ourselves at the retirement auction of our best Amish friends Glenn and Ruth.  It was a huge affair, many months in the planning.  For the larger outside items—which included three sets of work horses, three buggies, and lots of farm equipment—the auctioneer worked from a booth built into the back of a pickup truck.  It was very well designed, with a cabin for the auctioneer and the record-keeper, and built-in speakers on every side.  The truck could be moved down the rows as the items came up for sale.

There was also a sale going on all day in one of the larger outbuildings, with all kinds of household stuff and smaller items; these also were being auctioned off.  Ruth told me that she took perhaps three-quarters of her household things with her to their new place next door, so the other 25% were here.  I have noticed on many occasions how much more money can be made from an auction (vs. a traditional ‘English’ estate or yard sale).  It’s a great way to build a nest egg for the newly retired couple!

The son who is taking over the farm bought plenty, as you can imagine.  He bid on all three teams of horses, and got two of them—the other team, which he had worked with since his youth, went to a higher bidder from Michigan.  One of the daughters of the family bought one of the Amish buggies—it’s also going to Michigan, where they live.  Another daughter bought quite a bit of the old living room furniture.

All the family and friends were there, and there was good food served all day at reasonable prices in the large room at the back of the house where church is held.  Next time you’re in Amish Indiana with a few hours to spare, look for a sign like this one.  These retirement auctions are fun! 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Maple Syrup Time

So, it’s that time of year (March as I write this)—buckets have appeared on maple trees all over Amish Indiana.  It’s time to make maple syrup!  Ads are appearing in The People’s Exchange for maple syrup supplies, and posters can be seen all over town for maple syrup festivals, maple syrup cooking demonstrations, and other ways to celebrate the spring ritual.

I wondered how maple syrup is made, so I looked to
I found out that sugar maples are the best trees to tap, but black, red, or silver maples also work.  The sap starts to flow in February or March, and the best weather is alternating warm and cold—it gets the sap flowing.  Trees should be 12” in diameter or more, and bigger trees can have multiple taps.  The sap typically flows for four to six weeks, and tapping stops when the temperatures remain above freezing and the leaves start to come out.

The basics are simple:  Drill a upwards-slanting hole 2 to 2.5 inches deep, then hammer in the metal tap and hang a clean bucket from the hook on the tap.  (The photo below uses a different kind of taps.)  Sap starts to flow immediately, and it looks like water.  It may drip slowly, or it may fill a bucket in a day or two.

Then it’s just a matter of collecting the sap buckets, filtering out the impurities, then boiling off the excess water, which turns the maple sap into maple syrup.  The syrup is done when it’s thick and golden.  The sap-to-syrup ratio varies, depending on who you ask—some sources say as little as 10-to-1, but most say much more.  Someone at our church makes a few gallons of maple syrup every year, and he gave us a pint the other day.  I asked him how many gallons of sap it took to make a gallon of syrup, and he said it took forty!

One caution—don’t try this in the kitchen!  This warning comes from Rink Mann on 

The main thing about making maple syrup is you have to boil off about 32 quarts of water in the form of steam to end up with one quart of maple syrup.  That means that if you’re boiling down a batch some Saturday afternoon on the kitchen stove and are aiming for three quarts of syrup, you’re going to put about 24 gallons of water into the air before the boiling’s done.  Unless you’ve got one powerful exhaust fan, you’ll end up with water streaming down the walls and enough steam to impair visibility across the room.  And, when things finally do clear, you’re apt to find the wallpaper lying on the floor.  Then, too, even if the batch doesn’t boil over, which it can, the sugar spray from all that furious boiling gets all over the stove and is harder than blazes to get off.  So, if you want to maintain a measure of domestic tranquility, it’s best to do your boiling outside, or in a handy garage or shed.

Rink also has a great step-by-step guide to making maple syrup in your own back yard.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Kids at Play

A few days ago, I spotted these boys on a school playground as I waited for their teacher...  Such joy!

Friday, March 23, 2018

More Lights on the Buggies

Here's an article about the move to add more lights to Amish buggies in Wisconsin.  (The photo above was taken from the article.)

Amish buggies here in northeast Indiana are quite well lit up, and it makes a huge difference!

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Westview Warriors

It's the tail end of basketball season, and in Amish Indiana, that can mean only one thing in the Shipshewana community:  Westview Warrior fever.

Even the Amish are followers of the local consolidated high school and their excellent basketball program.  Those English farm boys can play!

Here's a video: