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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Deadly Shrubs

Yesterday I stopped at one of my favorite local nurseries, Miller’s Greenery outside of Middlebury, and I was telling the Amish owner that I was picking up some deer-resistant items for my new shade garden. 

I asked Mr. Miller about a certain perennial, and the conversation turned to what plants are the worst for deer damage—something that isn’t a problem in most of the Middlebury-Shipshewana area, but it’s a big problem up in the woods where I live.  I told him that the three things the deer love best (and destroy) are hosta, arborvitae, and yews. 

He was shocked!  He said, “The deer like to eat yews?!” and I told him that they would destroy yews—eating off all the green needles and leaving the branches stripped.  My neighbor across the street planted a dozen last fall, and the deer munched on them all winter long!  We call yews, arborvitae, and hosta “deer candy,” and they don’t stand a chance in my neighborhood for anyone who lives along the deer paths like we do.

Mr. Miller said, “But yews are deadly poisonous to horses and cattle!  How can they be so tasty to deer?”  We both were very puzzled about that—but nevertheless, it’s true.

I did a little research later, and found this on The Poison Garden website:  “Though toxic to most animals, deer do graze on yew and gardeners are advised to avoid growing yew if there is a possibility of deer getting into the garden, because it is a favorite food.”  

And this from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture website:  “The needles and seeds of all yews are highly poisonous to horses, cattle, sheep and goats... Wild deer, moose and elk browse on yews as winter food and are not affected by the yew toxin. Humans, particularly children, are also susceptible to the toxins in these plants.”  This website also said that for a 1,000-pound horse, as little half a pound of yew needles can be fatal!

Mr. Miller told me an awful story.  One of his Amish acquaintances rented a house from his father-in-law.  In an effort to clean up the place, he trimmed back the overgrown yews, and he threw the trimmings into his father-in-law’s nearby cattle pasture.  The cows ate the yew clippings and died!  When Mr. Miller saw the poor man at the bank some time later; the man was taking out a bank loan to repay his father-in-law for the dead cattle!


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Horses for Sale

I love looking through the classified ads in “The People’s Exchange,” which is a biweekly local Amish-centric publication.  My favorite is the horses-for-sale section.  Here’s an example (phone numbers deleted):

But what does all this mean?  I decided to find out. 

Below is a list of terms I often see in these ads.  I talked to a couple of Amish friends to find out what they mean… 
  • Stands to hitch and at corners:  It’ll stop and stay until you tell it to go
  • Traffic safe:  Not afraid of traffic and big trucks
  • TSS:  Traffic Safe & Sound
  • Been to church and town:  It’s well trained and safe
  • All pace:  Pacing means two left legs step, then two right legs – faster
  • All trot:  Trotting means front and back legs work diagonally – steadier
  • Dark bay w/ 4 whites, star & strip:  Dark brown horse with white feet and a white patch above the eyes and a thin stripe down the front of the head
  • Gelding:  Male horse who’s been “fixed”
  • Good headset:  The shape of a horse’s head tells a lot about its intelligence
  • Upheaded:  Holds his head high
  • Ready for the miles:  Ready for long trips
  • Lots of snap/lots of grit:  A faster, more energetic and aggressive horse
  • A little hot:  High strung; may balk – handle with care
  • Sticky starter:  A balker.  (My friend said, “I wouldn’t buy it!”)
  • Watches stuff beside the road:  It might lurch out into traffic if spooked
  • Chunky:  More muscular
  • Needs miles:  Needs to be used regularly to continue and maintain training
  • Average 10 mph:  This is a bit slow; 12-14 mph is better
  • Nice big stretch mare, drives w/ tight lines: Hang onto her – she wants to go fast!
  • Broodmare only:  Too old or injured to do work (or never trained to)
  • Women driver:  Very well trained
  • Boys’ horse:  Faster and more energetic and perhaps not as well trained
  • Safe for dawdi and school kids:  Very well trained; very safe; probably very slow
  • Babysitter pony:  Very tame and good around kids
  • Would make good produce team:  Draft horses which are well trained for a wagon 

There are lots of levels of “broke,” as my friends explained: 
  • Not broke:  Very young with no training
  • Green broke:  2-3 years old; trained well enough to pull a buggy
  • Good/well broke:  Typically 5 years old; most anyone could drive it
  • Broke for women:  Very well trained, and expensive to buy.  Not the fastest, though
  • Broke for anybody/dead broke:  A “dawdi horse” – good for the elderly
  • Broke, broke, broke:  A very slow horse!
  • Good broke to ride, green to drive:  A saddlebred riding horse which learned to pull a buggy later on
  • Broke to all machinery: A draft horse, usually a Belgian but perhaps a Percheron

I saw some other phrases in this week’s ads that I liked…  How about this one?  “Skittish in the barn, but get him out on the road, he’ll go all day, no problem.” 

So the next time you see an ad that says, “Dark bay w/ 4 whites, star, & strip,” you’ll know what that means!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Recreational Vehicles and the Amish

Campers, trailers, future motor homes—acres of them.  I could have taken these photos in dozens of places all over Amish Indiana… Elkhart County is known as the RV (Recreational Vehicle) capital of the world!

The big names are Thor and Forest River, but there are many smaller manufacturers and subsidiaries, and they are everywhere—Grand Design, Jayco, Dutchman Manufacturing, Gulfstream Coach, DRV, Heartland, Keystone, Newmar, Nexus, Renegade, Winnebago, and many more.

The statistics are staggering. According to WFYI TV News in Indianapolis, more than 80% of the nation’s RVs are made in northern Indiana, and Elkhart County alone makes one out of every two RVs on the road today.   

Profits have been good for seven years in a row...  The RVIA website says that in 2016, there were 430,000 RVs manufactured nationwide, and in 2017 the number soared to 504,000.  Forest River alone employs 11,000 Hoosiers just in Elkhart and LaGrange counties.   

So, do the horse-and-buggy Amish buy recreational vehicles?  No—but they make them.  In fact, in this area, a majority of the Amish men of working age are employed in the RV industry.  The wages are high, since there is a chronic shortage of labor in this area.  The Amish population is increasing rapidly, but not as fast as the need for workers.  One Amishman we know who has worked in the RV industry for several years told us that the typical wages are maybe $45-$50,000 a year—but piecework can double that.  There are signing bonuses, and the factories have put policies in place to make their companies more Amish-friendly, like no Saturday shifts. 

So, there is a lot of money in Amish Indiana these days!  I’m no economist, but I have noticed a few results of this:
  • The price of land is very high, as is the price of housing.  This is particularly true for anyplace that is “Amish-friendly”—which is to say, at least an acre of land, and zoned to allow a buggy horse or two.  Many “English” homes in the countryside are being bought up by Amish families as the homes become available.  Middlebury, where we live, used to have just a few Amish homes, but that is changing fast.
  • Many young men start out in the RV factories, and then when they get married, they have a nice nest egg.  Some choose the RV factory as a long-term way of life—not everyone is cut out to be a farmer!—and others take that nest egg and buy a farm or start a business.  
  • Businesses other than the RV factories are finding it more and more difficult to compete for workers.  There are “Help Wanted” signs on nearly every business in the county.
  • The standard of living tends to be quite a bit higher here than in other Amish settlements.  Buggies are being sold with more and more custom options and upgrades—and the wait can be several years for one.  Younger men are buying speed boats, pontoon boats, and other recreational items allowed by the church.  Middle-aged and older Amish couples travel all over the country.  There are many beautiful new Amish homes (like the one pictured below) with in-floor heating, walk-in freezers, high ceilings, open floor plans, beautiful custom kitchens, lots of picture windows, and a large meeting room for church services.  (A garage door opens into the meeting room in many homes, so buggies can be brought in and washed there.)  Amish families here can afford to live much more comfortably than their parents and grandparents did. 

All of this could change quickly if the RV industry takes a dive, as it did in 2008-2009...  Not just the Amish sector, but the English sector would be hit hard.  In Middlebury where we live, many “English” families have big, beautiful houses paid for by RV executive or sales rep jobs. 

The recreational vehicle industry is booming now—breaking records—but we’ll see what happens long-term.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Doing Some Shopping

So, I was headed to Warsaw, Indiana a few weeks ago, to shop for books at the local Goodwill store there, when I got a call from my husband.  He’s been doing a lot of driving and hauling for a young Amishman whom I’ll call “Junior,” who has a water treatment business.

Junior is busy from before sunrise to early evening these days, and being a bachelor, he has no one to shop for him.  So my husband asked, “While you’re at Goodwill, Junior wants to know—could you pick him up some shirts?”  (Amishmen wear specially-made pants and jackets, but they can buy their shirts off-the-rack.)

I said I’d be glad to, and Junior got on the phone and gave me the proper size.  He said he wanted 10 or 20 shirts—long sleeve and short—if I could find them.  I told him it was half-price senior’s day, so I’d do my best!

Once I got there, I realized this was going to be a bit of a challenge.  Amishmen wear only solid colors—no prints or stripes or patterns of any kind.  Also, they had to be button-down-the-front shirts—no t-shirts, no polo shirts, no pullovers.  Luckily he said any color would do, so that helped.

When I looked at the short-sleeved shirts, it was pretty discouraging; not a single one in his size met the requirements.  Anything solid-color was either a polo shirt or a t-shirt.  So, onward to the racks of long sleeves.

I had much better luck there.  Lots of dress shirts from famous brands—and with my half-price discount, they were only $2.50 apiece.  I started finding shirts his size in solid colors, and came up with about a dozen.  A couple of them were thicker and softer, which I thought would be good for working outside.  I tried to get easy-care fabrics… a few of the selections were silk, which I could not see his Amish sister-in-law washing and wringing and hanging on the line! 

I got half a dozen more in the next shorter sleeve length, which he said he could use by having the sleeves cut short and hemmed.

When I gave the bags of shirts to him later, I said, “There are plenty of colors here, especially blue.”  He said, “Why do men wear so many blue shirts, anyway?”  I answered him, “Because blue looks good on almost any man.  In fact, when you have your first date with the future wife I’m praying for, wear a blue shirt!”  That brought a laugh.  (I was serious about the prayers, though.)

All in all, it was a lot of fun.  I think I should hire myself out as an Amish Personal Shopper for men who need shirts.  It was nice to able to help him out—and I hope he can use the blue ones soon!