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The Amish and Commerce
by Tana Reiff
I last wrote for this blog about the experience of creating the Signs of Lancaster County poster. It continues as a fundraiser for The Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon (www.getliterate.org). And I continue to cruise around taking more signs pictures. I’m also now working on a photo collection with a bird theme …
Images provided by Tana Reiff
Back to the topic …
Back to the topic …
I thought readers might be interested in some information about Amish commerce.
A PBS American Experience show called “The Amish” aired a few months ago. The cinematography was gorgeous. The cameras went all over the countryside to showcase the beauty of Amish farms. But I was surprised to see not one single scene including a handmade (or any) sign along a road. Charming signs are all over the place, and these signs make a statement about Amish commerce that the documentary didn’t even mention.
While the Amish are philosophically cut off from the “English” world, they still need ways to trade goods and services. You see Amish families buying in bulk at Costco or even at the supermarket, with the horse and buggy tied to the shelter in the parking lot, or with their English van driver waiting outside. Our Amish neighbor takes turns asking us for rides.
At Christmas he asked a guy to drive his wife to Walmart to buy a whole lot of Chex cereal because their kids love Chex Mix around the holidays. But the Amish also patronize Amish-run stores and visit each other’s farms to get or trade for things they don’t produce themselves or can’t get elsewhere.
And so, many of the hand-lettered signs, especially those off the beaten path, are aimed at attracting fellow Amish or Mennonites. Like Moses, the hat man, a farm might have a specialty -- shoe repair, horseshoeing, layer hens, wringer washers, or other goods and services particular to the Amish. They might also go to someone else's farm that specializes in growing onions or sweet potatoes, as not everyone grows everything, at least not in large amounts.
However, many of the signs are invitations to tourists, not just other Amish or Mennonites. When I am out photographing, I find many catchy signs on the very same roads where I get stuck behind one of those big tourist buggies or a slow-moving car full of tourists. No coincidence!
You see, the Plain people have struck up a bargain with tourists. They did not invite the curious and the foreign to rubberneck at them and their homes and land. But if that’s the way it is, then why not sell stuff to them? With a smile, too. Tourists get a charge out of driving up a farm lane and meeting “real Amish” or respecting the honor system by leaving money in a container by the road. Unless you’re being downright rude, the people who have invited you onto their property through their signs are very friendly. It’s a good deal for the Plain and the English alike. Tana Reiff