The Amish Way of Life:
How do the Amish in Lancaster County, PA Earn Their Living?
For over three hundred years the Amish way of life has centered around agriculture. This is largely due to the fact that the Anabaptists - from whom the Amish religion derived from - had fled to the rural countryside to avoid persecution from the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant reformers in the 16th Century.
However, rural living reinforces Amish beliefs and philosophy. To the Amish toiling with the soil, raising livestock, and growing their own food is seen as cooperating with God's will. Communing with nature is a form of communing with God.
In other words, to the Amish way of life, farming is not merely a job but a sacred lifestyle dictated by the Scriptures that is meant to be handed down to succeeding generations.
Furthermore, the Amish are firm believers of hard work, responsibility, simple living, and cooperation among the communities. The rigors of Amish farming has traditionally been seen as a way of ingraining these essential values within the community. In fact, farming has been so important to the Amish way of life in Lancaster, PA, that there was a time when individuals faced
excommunication from the church
if they did not earn their living through farming.
In recent years, the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania have had to rethink their dependence upon agriculture as a means to earn a living. With improvements in health care, rejection of birth control, and a low departure rate, the Amish population in Lancaster County is believed to double every twenty years. As a result of this growth, the availability of the farmland has decreased.
The Amish have dealt with this shrinkage of available farmland in different ways. One way is by creating new settlements in other Pennsylvania counties as well as in other states.
A second way is by subdividing the farms into two or three smaller farms. By utilizing intensive farming techniques and specialization, the smaller farms can prosper.
Another way that the Lancaster County Amish have learned to dealt with the decrease in available farmland is by adapting to non-agricultural activities.
Since Amish men tend not to have a high school education or professional training and do not possess a driver's license, there are not too many opportunities to find employment in the non-Amish, mainstream world.
Therefore, with the decrease in available farmland, many Amish in Lancaster County have had to work in factories. This, alternative, however, has proven to be problematic to the Amish way of life.
Church and community leaders believe that factory work undermines long-established Amish traditions and values. For instance, they fear that extensive exposure to non-Amish co-workers will contaminate their members.
They also believe that such work undermines family values. Unlike farm work where the the entire family often spends the entire day in close proximity, factor work separates the father from his wife and children. As a result, there is the result that his influence and guidance over the family may diminish.
Furthermore, many Amish believe that factory work weakens community unity, since non-Amish employers are less likely to allow their Amish employees to take off from work to attend weddings, barn-raising and other events which usually take place during the work week. Most special events are customarily attended by the entire community.
Even the participation in pension programs and health benefits may undermine the Amish way of life because it shifts the Amish member from the traditional practice of mutual aid and support within the Amish community to dependence for assistance from a non-Amish resource.
A successful solution to the problem of the diminishing availability of farmland and the problems inherent in factory work has proven to be the creation of small manufacturing industries run by the Amish themselves.
During the 1970's and 1980's there was a very large increase in small manufacturing shops. These cottage industries would manufacture and repair such necessities as buggies, harnesses, tractors, and other machinery. Since machinery was increasingly being used in Amish farms, there was, and is, plenty of work for these small business.
By controlling the conditions and cultural environment, the Amish were able to create jobs for their members without compromising their religious and community values which is the case with factory work.
There are generally four different types of Amish industries in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
The first are small cottage industries situated on an Amish farm. These industries employ about a half dozen family members or neighbors and concentrate on light manufacturing and machinery repair as well as craft work.
Another of the Lancaster County cottage industries are those that manufacture specialized products such as farm machinery, furniture, sheds and so forth. These business tend to employ about ten employees.
A third type of Amish cottage industries perform construction and carpentry work. These companies send out their employees to install kitchens, silos, and other similar structures.
A fourth type of Amish cottage industry are the retail stores that sell anything from hardware, furniture, clothing, appliances, and crafts. These
Amish stores and shops
sell their products to the Amish community as well as to tourists and non-Amish locals.
One type of cottage industry that is not accepted within the Amish way of life is that which violates traditional Amish taboos. For instance, an Amish business would not sell jewelry, real estate computers or televisions.
Although agriculture remains the preferred form of occupation for the Amish of Lancaster County, PA, the realities of an increasing population and the decrease in available land has forced the people to rethink their options.
Fortunately, the small Amish-run cottage industries have proven to be a successful solution. Unlike factory work, these community run industries allow the workers to maintain their traditional rural culture which focuses on family, communal, and ethic values.
It is estimated that more than 50% of Amish men earn their living in these non-farming industries.
These cottage industries have proven to be highly profitable with profits often exceeding $500,000 for some of the larger businesses.
This success, though, has created new concerns within the community. With this new wealth and creation of a commercial class, many fear that the new entrepreneurs may become worldly and become dissatisfied with the slow pace of the traditional Amish way of life.
If you enjoyed learning about the Amish way of life in Lancaster, PA and would like to learn more about the Amish people, please take a look and the following pages:
Back to an Introduction to the Amish People of Lancaster County
Return to the Welcome to Lancaster County Home Page from Learning about the Amish Way of Life