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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Harvesting the Corn in Lancaster County

Our recent visit to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania happened to coincide with the corn harvest.  As I have mentioned before, a city girl like me didn’t know until recently that most corn grown (by the Amish, anyway) isn’t grown to eat, or grind, or even for seed…  Most corn is grown to make silage for the cattle.  (Google defines “silage” this way:  “Grass or other green fodder compacted and stored in airtight conditions, typically in a silo, without first being dried, and used as animal feed in the winter.”)

I’ve helped my Indiana friends with this process quite a few years ago, back when I was younger and had good knees, and here is how it goes:  First the corn is cut near the base and loaded onto flatbed wagons.  Sometimes this is done entirely by hand, especially in places where the corn grows near a fence or other obstacle.  But when there’s room, it is done by a specialized machine which is powered by a gasoline engine.  You can see this machine in the middle of the first picture.  It cuts a dozen or so stalks, bundles them, and discharges the bundle onto a flatbed wagon which drives along behind it—in this case, at the right of the picture.  Another empty flatbed wagon sits nearby, on the left.

The wagons are quite heavy and are pulled by two or three draft horses.  Usually the farmer has three or four wagons and teams going, so that as one wagon is filled, another is ready to take its place.  The filled wagon is taken to the silage chopper, where someone throws the bundles of cornstalks onto the belt that sends it through the chopper.  (This machine, also, is powered by a gas engine.)  In Indiana, my Amish friends pile the silage in a long mound down the edge of the cornfield and cover it with plastic; but in Lancaster County, the silage is taken upwards and dropped into great, tall silos.   

I saw this pair of horses under a tree, taking a well-earned rest from their autumn corn harvesting duties.

My main and original Amish friends in Indiana were doing the same task as we drove back through Indiana on our way home from Pennsylvania later that week, and twelve men were gathered at their farm to pitch in and help—including some of the young men who work in the factories during the week.  As Glenn directed the teams of workers, Ruth was on kitchen duty, feeding all those hungry men a huge lunch—with enough leftovers to send us home with platefuls of homemade cookies!

It’s hard work, but it feeds the cattle through the winter—and although in this case I wouldn’t say that many hands make light work, it’s still an example of how the Amish work together as a community to get the big jobs done. 

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