Friday, May 25, 2012

The Traditional Family & The Amish: Part Two: Work at Home vs. Factory

Part Two: Work at Home vs. Factory

In the Amish community of Lancaster, the "lunch pail" problem of the 1970’s became an important issue. As farmland became scarce and expensive, more and more men were working in factories, taking their lunches off to their jobs away from home.

In the July, 1972 issue of the Amish monthly magazine Family Life, there was an article concerning farm versus factory. It told the story of a man who worked for a while in a factory, but decided to try to buy a farm, even if it would cause him financial difficulties. On the negative side of factory work, he saw the following:

1. Working with worldly people who practice smoking, swearing, telling dirty stories, etc.
2. Men and women working together under such conditions.
3. Fathers away from home.
4. Too much money available.

The author then came up with some alternatives to factory work...
1. Spread out. In most of our communities farms are available on the edge of the communities at a much cheaper price.
2. If you want to buy a farm some day, then begin now to live simple and save money. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones’s (the Beilers, or the Lapps).
3. In many communities there is a good market for truck crops or specialty crops. This could provide profitable employment for the children and can be done on a small acreage.
4. There are always older people who are well established financially. Why not help the young people get started instead of putting money in the bank?

Finally, the Amish writer spells out the importance he sees in remaining a farmer...

"The high cost of living, or the cost of 'living high,' makes it difficult to start farming today and to keep on farming. As far back as we can go in the history of our people, we find they were an agricultural people. To change this now would be taking a serious step."

When work involves going outside the family and community for economic survival, it can drive a wedge into the family which can cause disruption by getting economically involved with the outside world.

When many of the Amish church districts in Lancaster County permitted the use of machinery powered by diesel, hydraulic, or compressed air systems, many small Amish businesses were set up at home, forming another option for the family that could not farm. Dr. Donald Kraybill in his book The Riddle of Amish Culture quoted an Amishman as saying that these small family shops and businesses were...

"a sharp turn towards home, that is back to an Anabaptist culture. Many of these shops were erected on the farm or adjacent to it. They provide the off-farm worker a job at home with or near his family, self-dependent, self-supporting, making, repairing, or selling a product that he knows is useful, one which he has a right to be proud of."

Yet, as Kraybill makes clear, "businessmen and bishops alike fear that, in the long run, prosperity could ruin the church." Some larger Amish enterprises have annual sales of over one million dollars. This kind of growth can be dangerous. Even a family farm can turn into a large and complicated business venture, as with many non-Amish farm operations of hundreds of acres.

This concern of "getting too big" came up earlier in the century with the farmers themselves, and the arrival of the tractor. While some Amish in Lancaster bought and used the early tractors, these machines were banned in 1923. In time tractors were allowed to power other stationary farm machinery, and horses could pull diesel-operated farm machinery in the fields. There was a fear that normal use of "tractors will lead to cars."

The Amish saw in the car a threat to the community’s existence. Yet the use of a car for trips, or of the bus to go to town, is allowed. As Kraybill noted, "The Amish believe that by turning the use of cars over to individuals, they would quicken the pace of their life, erase geographical limits, weaken social control, and eventually ruin their community."

Two of the strengths of the Amish community are its ability to accept that it is not self-sufficient, and its ability to establish boundaries for dealing with the outside world. The Lancaster Amish found that the constant stream of tourists provided a steady market for their cottage industries, which in turn allowed many of them to make a living without leaving the homestead. While some writers have decried this, others have argued that tourism and cottage industries may have indirectly strengthened the Amish community in Lancaster. How successfully the Amish adapt to the changing economic situation will be a matter of great importance as they move with us into the 21st century.

Part Three: Work & gender Roles in the Family next week

Published with permission from the Amish Country News. www.Amishcountrynews.com


I've created this website out of my own interest in the Amish/Mennonite culture and of living in the country. Its a place for people who are interested in the Amish like myself, and its also a place to share Images of the beautiful country side that is all around me. my name is Richard, and I live very close to an Amish settlement here in Pennsylvania. This site is dedicated to my mother, who had started all of this by taking me as a child to Lancaster,pa from our apartment in the Bronx projects..........THANK YOU MOM............... Richard