Amish: The Power of Man, Wind, Solar, and Horse

One of the biggest settlements of the Amish people in the world is in Berlin, Ohio U.S.A. I have been learning some of their activities and traditions since I saw the movie Witness (1985) casts by Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. I was in Ohio from 1998-2008 and till now I still appreciate and enjoy the Amish crafts, arts, foods, and the way they live with their simple life in their environment, cooperation among communities and farming.

According to the history, Amish people were forced to flee due to the religion belief during the 16th century from the western Europe to the rural countryside and abroad to avoid prosecution from the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers. For over three centuries the Amish lifestyle has been centered on agriculture. For the Amish, working with soil, raising livestock, and growing also preserving their own food is seen following the God’s will. According to the Amish, farming is not merely a job, but a sacred lifestyle guided by the Holy Scriptures.

The Amish people are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss German Anabaptist origin. They are closely related to Mennonite churches. The Amish are known for simple living (practice to simplify one’s lifestyle), plain dress (dress in clothes of traditional modest design), and reluctant to adopt many conveniences of modern technology (such as electricity, electronics products, car, home appliances, artificial or processed foods). Basically, Amish people follow the natural way of living and farming by using resources around them.

The legacy of the scene and story in the movie Witness (1985) inspired negotiation expert William Ury, the co-founder of the Harvard Program on Negotiation as a symbol of the power of ordinary citizens to resolve conflicts and stop violence. In his book, The third sides: Why we fight and how we can stop (2000), he mentioned: “The power of ordinary community members to contain violence. The Amish farmers were present as the third side in perhaps its most elemental form, seemingly doing nothing, but in fact playing the critical role of Witness. Like the Amish, we are all potential Witnesses”.

It is well known that Amish is one of the best farmers because they are discipline, diligent, hard work, and love the soil, plants and raising livestock. Although organic farming is a growing practice among Amish, most Amish farms are not organic. They are using conventional operations. It means pesticides and chemical fertilizers are used by them, this is merely due to the financial reasons. It has been reported that the typical Amish farmer produces a greater harvest while consuming less energy than other non-Amish farmer in the neighborhood. Most Amish still rely on horses for field work and their transportation (buggy).

The total production of Amish farmers cannot match with the modern farmers who use technology, machinery and equipment produced by commercial manufactures. By keeping the horses in the field as the main power, the Amish community have to limit the size of their farm to about 10 hectares. Their main crops tend to be corn, soybean, tobacco, alfalfa, various grains, some vegetables and fruits. Most of the Amish farmers also have farms as alternative for the traditional dairy. They raise variety of animals such as poultry, deer, hogs, rabbits, bees, and of course horses, dogs, cats and insect eating birds as their extraordinary workers.

In additions about the film Witness (1985), the movie gained controversy immediately after released as the Amish community boycotted it. They claimed that their portrayal in the movie was not accurate. They worried about their communities were being “over run by tourists” by crowding, souvenir-hunting, photographing and trespassing on Amish farmsteads that will increase. Here is one of the favorite scenes from the movie with a song Wonderful World by Sam Cooke.

The rest of the story: Amish way shows their mutually dependent relationship with nature. They love soil, plants and animals, even the earthworms to help in composting of their organic wastes, as the easiest and cheapest way to feed the soil. It is a great pleasure for me to visit again the Amish and Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster this late Summer until early Autumn.

– Bintoro Gunadi


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