According to a study by Elizabethtown College researchers, the Amish population is experiencing a boom in New York. State, that is, not NYC. Duh. Ten new Amish settlements have been established since the beginning of 2010, a growth rate double that of any other state; 13,000 Amish now live in New York, drawn here by cheaper farmland prices.
Karen Johnson-Weiner, a professor of anthropology at SUNY Potsdam who’s written a book about the Amish in New York, told me that the Amish, who generally have large families of anywhere from five to fifteen children, actually tend to move around quite a bit. “They’ve moved into a number of states that we don’t traditionally associate with the Amish,” she said. “There are Amish settlements now in Maine, Oklahoma, and Montana.” There are currently Amish in 28 states as well as Canada.
As Johnson-Weiner pointed out, “When you say New York, the last thing people think is ‘Amish.'” Which, true that. But it’s logical given the deals that families can get on farmland; an important factor, since farming is crucial to Amish culture. In Pennsylvania’ Lancaster County, a famously Amish-heavy area, land might go for $15,000 an acre, while it can be had for $2,000 an acre in New York.
The settlements are organized by church district, so when a new Amish settlement springs up it’s really a new Amish church. Children normally attend private Amish church schools until eighth grade, at which point their education is over. What can you expect if the Amish roll into town in a whirlwind of bonnets and suspenders? “They don’t want to assimilate, but they want to be good neighbors,” according to Johnson-Weiner. “What you get are new members contributing to the tax base. They’re taking land that might not be productive any more and putting it back in production. They build rather substantial businesses — they contribute to the community.”
And they have some truly bitching horse-and-buggy setups. City-dwellers, it might not seem clear why we should care about this, but just think of the uptick we’re about to see in delicious Amish farm goods in greenmarkets (fingers crossed).
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 17, 2011