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Amish in Northern New York changing the face of farming

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There are now about 13,000 Amish in New York--many in the North Country. A recent study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania showed that's about three times the number of Amish the state had just two years ago--and the population's growing faster than in any other state.

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Nora Flaherty
Digital Editor, News

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The Amish are traditionally small farmers, and that’s mostly what they’re doing here. Brent Buchanan is with the St. Lawrence County cooperative extension. He says his organization has long-standing relationships with some of the older Amish groups here—and it’s working on creating ties with the newer groups. He says results have been generally—but not entirely—positive.

"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There have been some communities we haven’t been able to make any progress with. They’re too traditional to want to involve themselves in a quasi-governmental organization like ours," Buchanan said. 

To get a better sense of who these communities are, why they’re here, and how they’re changing the landscape of farming in the North Country, Nora Flaherty spoke again with Karen Johnson-Weiner.

"The amish are moving here because New York has farms available, farmland available, and the cost is reasonable. So they are moving to take advantage of available farmland," Johnson Weiner said. 

 

“They are moving from crowded settlements - Holmes County, Ohio, for example, which is the largest Amish settlement in the world. It's also very crowded and farmland is not so affordable. The same is true for other areas that the Amish are leaving. The land is something they can afford.

 

“The Amish believe farming is the ideal way of life for a Christian family and so to help young people to stay in farming, they need to find farmland. So that's what's happening."

 

How are the Amish keeping their young people in farming?

 

 "Many of the groups coming here are making a conservative choice. You can stay where land is expensive and get into other ways of earning a living or you can make the choice to try to stay in farming, which as I said for the Amish is the ideal lifestyle. When the choice has been to stay in a very crowded settlement and try and do something else or move so that you can keep farming, they’ve chosen to move.

 

Are they moving here because it’s isolated?  

 

“One of the things that is very hard for Amish groups is if you go to the large centers of Amish population - Holmes county, Ohio, where many of the Amish coming here are from, Lancaster county, northern Indiana, also home to some of the groups coming - those are also big tourist centers. These Amish are coming because they want to farm and they want to have their way of life and they want to be able to practice their faith. All of that without having to step over tourists I guess.”

 

Who do they buy land from?

 

“I think they are buying it from people who are not longer going to be farming - family farms that no longer have families that want to farm, land that has gone out of production. The Amish, in buying that land, are putting it back into production.

 

“They are doing dairy farming, you’ll see lots of small produce stands, they are sending produce to different markets. Some Amish communities in New York are getting into CSA farming – community supported agriculture. Some are taking part in farmers’ markets. They are having an impact. They are being productive neighbors. They are helping to expand the agricultural base here in New York.”

 

What can we expect to see in coming years?

 

“More Amish settlement. As long as land is available at a reasonable price, folks will come to the North Country, or to New York in general. Amish communities, when you are starting a new settlement you don’t really want to be that close to other Amish, especially if their disciplines are different from yours. There have been ten new settlements in New York state since 2010. They are pretty widely separated from each other. We can expect to see in a lot of areas that don’t have a lot of Amish populations close by, perhaps a new settlement might start there if there’s land available and the Amish can afford it.

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