It is not often that I get a chance to go to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. So when I was offered the opportunity to join Farmer Ian on one of his occasional trips to the Amish heartland, to purchase and repair some horse harnesses and other equipment, I did not hesitate.
What started out as somewhat of a joke actually materialized into a farm visit to an Amish dairy. The joke was that Ian would drop me off on an Amish farm when I had located “the one” and that is exactly what happened. We were passing by a rural community when I spotted a farmer spreading manure with two horses and a mule. I knew this was “the one” and within minutes I was talking with the farmer’s 13-year-old son, Andrew. After relaying a thumbs up to Ian from afar, Ian drove away to go about on his errands.
Andrew’s father, David, came thundering in with his horses and mule hitched to a mechanical manure spreader that was powered by a small combustion engine. Almost as if he knew, David’s first words were, “Looks like we’ve got a helpa here.” I was interested in helping, but it looked like Andrew and David had everything under control. Andrew was scooping up manure in the barn with a bobcat loader and dumping it into the manure spreader. This was all being done with clean work clothes — white dress shirts and slacks— that made me feel like I had underdressed.
I was able to help Andrew move the 30 Jersey and Normandy cow from one pasture to the barn for a water break and then back out into a new pasture. I realized that these farmers were using electric fencing to contain their cows. Andrew told me that they rotate their cows through various pastures. Later, I asked David about the cows’ diet. David replied that the cows just eat grass, hay, and whatever they find in the pasture. The only grain they get is whatever happens to grow on the stalks of mature grasses. David proceeded to tell me that they only milk the cows once a day. This freed David and Andrew in the late afternoons to spend more time with the rest of their family. David also claimed that milking once a day is the most profitable way to run their dairy.
I spent the rest of my time talking with David, riding with him on the forecart to and from the fields where he was spreading manure. We discussed various subjects that were very personal and I was pleased to hear this Amish farmer’s opinions on farming and about where his opinions originated from. What I took away from the visit is that some Amish may utilize modern technology, but beliefs in farming practices and methods are more concrete to their culture and traditions. As for David and Andrew, they rely on modern technology to operate their farm, but they practice a type of farming they believe to be more down-to-earth and natural.
When Ian pulled up to the farm with the minivan, David and I were still busy talking, and I probably could have spent another hour with him. I thanked David for welcoming a stranger to his farm. With Ian in the background, David kindly remarked, “Patience is a virtue, but I hate to make the other man wait.”