The Sacred Occupation
For the Amish, farming is not simply a means of livelihood, but rather a lifestyle. Agriculture is regarded as “a religious tenet”, and they believe that the tilling of soil is a divine duty directed by God. Through farming, God allows them daily contact with creation and the cycle of life, death, and renewal. The Amish’s contact with the material world is by the sweat of their brow.1 This spiritual connection to the soil is rooted in their experience in Europe, where they gained a reputation as innovative farmers known for their land stewardship and animal husbandry. Denied of land ownership, the European Anabaptists had to practice intensive cultivation on the land they rented. Restoring exhaustive land slowly became a tradition.2
Commonwealth and self-sufficiency were the priorities in the Amish society. Farming was the main occupation to sustain the community. The Amish did not farm to make money, but to produce for their family and the community with minimum interference from the world.3 A standard Amish farm in Wayne County averages 109 acres, much smaller than the average 434-acre American farm.4,5 Amish farmers favor general farming with a diversity of crops. They practice crop rotation, use animal manure, lime, and other fertilizers to maintain soil fertility and conservation. A family farm usually raises livestock of various kinds and cultivates a diversified vegetable garden. The production of milk and cheese, fruit, cereals, and meat ensures partial self-sufficiency.6
Today, many Amish farms focus on dairying. Farmers usually sell their products at roadside stands. They refuse government subsidies, which is for them an erosion of conscience and motivation. The money made from farming is spent on the upkeep and expansion of the farm. What is left will be saved for buying additional ones for their children.7 Until the mid-twentieth century, Amish farming was generally in the form of a small family operation, using horse-drawn machinery, not far from a standard American farm before the era of mechanization and chemical fertilization.
1 Donald B. Kraybill, Karen Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt, The Amish (Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 275.
2 John A. Hostetler, Amish Society, 4th ed (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 115-116.
3 Ibid., 114.
4 Charles E. Hurst and David L. McConnell, An Amish Paradox: Diversity & Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community, Young Center Books in Anabaptist & Pietist Studies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 175.
5 United States Department of Agriculture, "Table 1. Historical Highlights: 2012 and Earlier Census Years," accessed July 6, 2017, https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_US/st99_1_001_001.pdf.
6 John A. Hostetler, Amish Society, 4th ed (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 119.