Although there is great value in taking a class, watching videos, and reading books to enhance your self-reliance skills, spending some time in an Amish enclave offers an irreplaceable hands-on experience. In my experience, the Amish are savvy businessmen. When approached with respect and a sincere desire to learn, an Amish man would likely agree to allow you to job shadow or do a mini-apprenticeship – for a fee. If cooking, baking and preserving are on your self-sufficiency to-do list, taking a woman along is a must. Other than saying thank you and handing back change at a bake shop or produce stand, it would be extremely rare that a female Amish would interact one on one with an “English” man.
The ultimate off-the-grid living experts might not mingle readily with the rest of us, but in my personal experience, the Amish are very friendly and willing to share their knowledge when asked.
There are approximately 300,000 Amish citizens still living an 1800s lifestyle in the United States. Amish communities exist in 30 states and Ontario, but the largest groups primarily exist in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio. The pioneering attributes and skillset which many have unfortunately lost in this country are employed adeptly by the Amish, giving them quite the leg-up when the power’s down. The Amish culture is alive and well in America, and we can learn a lot from their way of life.
There is a small Amish community in my county that provides a multitude of services for area farmers and horse owners, and folks who want cabins built. Amish-made furniture, cheese and bread are always a huge hit with the tourists. I recently attended a week-long auction held in “Amish Country” in Holmes County, Ohio. Once again I was impressed by the workmanship and skills of the technology-shunning culture. The auction was not only a great place to score great deals on livestock, tack, bartering items and farming equipment, but it was also a de facto off-the-grid living school. The Amish men and women who were selling their wares during the massive auction that drew folks from around the country were eager to demonstrate both the skills necessary to accomplish the given task and how the non-electric tools and implements functioned.
Off The Grid Power
As a rule, Amish will not utilize electricity that is tied to the land. The community near my home typically uses bottled gas to power a few industrial tools, but most tasks are still accomplished by hand. In Holmes County, the Amish have become the solar power kings and can offer great insight into the functionality, seasonal feasibility, and powering achievements of solar panels and solar generators. The Amish also utilize 12-volt self-contained batteries and hydraulic powered motors to operate major household equipment.
The Amish view horses as farm equipment and work with the animals on a daily basis. Horses are used to pull farm plows, as transportation, and to haul building materials. Knowing how to saddle a horse and enjoy a leisurely trail ride is wonderful, but does not mean you possess the ability needed to harness a team and drive them to accomplish food growing and building tasks. The Amish are expert horsemen (and horsewomen) in every sense of the word. In an Amish community you will readily find a pseudo-vet, blacksmith and leather shop. Much can be learned from the skilled craftsman for folks hoping to build an off-the-grid homestead or individuals preparing for a power grid down scenario.
Building fences along with raising, caring for, butchering and preserving meat and poultry derived from common farm livestock is yet another skill we can learn from the Amish. Understanding what type of fencing is needed for specific farm animals and which ones can cohabitate safely could mean the difference between life and death when your entire food supply is dependent upon what you grow and raise on your homestead. Learning how to detect the signs of illness in livestock is also an extremely valuable bit of information to have when the animals grazing on your property will one day wind up on the dinner table.
Modern farm equipment can be adapted to horse-drawn power, or purchased ready to roll from the Amish. Once commonplace in America, horse-drawn farm equipment became scarce after the 1940s. Amish mechanics often operate shops which both serve their community and members of the general public seeking non-gas powered farm machinery. Seeds preservation, natural fertilization procedures, crop rotation, irrigation and drought survival tips are also valuable agriculture tips we can learn from the Amish.
Cooking, Baking and Preserving
The Amish are truly a waste-not community. If the power grid goes down and tractor-trailers stop shuttling food to the local grocery store, their lives will go on essentially unaffected. Those with businesses routinely patronized by the public or tourists will notice something is amiss fairly quickly, but their families will not go hungry, thirsty or become chilled at night. Most of the Amish use a cast-iron cook stove to prepare their food, just like our ancestors did when settling this country. The stoves are a bit pricey, but a solid investment for off-the-grid families. They last essentially forever and do not need electricity to function. Amish shops or booths attached to barns are big money-makers for the women in the community.
The breads, baked goods, homemade jams and canned produce sold at such businesses are all-natural and worth every penny. The only thing better than buying a loaf of fresh Amish bread or jam is learning how to make it yourself. If unable to work out a learning experience with an Amish woman, snag one of the cookbooks comprised of generations of old recipes and teach yourself – don’t cheat by using a conventional oven. If you do not own a cast-iron stove, buy cast-iron cookware (available at camping stores) and practice over an open fire.
Know Before You Go
Browse the Amish country, community and settlement links below and find the right location to visit to suit your needs. Sure, closer is better, but if seeking to learn a specific off-the-grid living or preparedness skill, find a community which boasts such an expertise. While all Amish farm, some communities specialize in woodworking and blacksmithing, and they utilize alternative power in different manners – so do your homework. The dictates of the Amish culture vary by church district and so do the styles of the off-the-grid and simplistic lifestyle. Some settlements routinely deal with the public and might be more receptive than others to unannounced visits. The local travel and tourism bureau can also offer some guidance to the inner-workings of the community and how and when to best plan a visit. Dress conservatively when visiting an Amish community.
If garnering off-the-grid living tools, homesteading and livestock knowledge are the primary goal, the Mount Hope Amish auction should be placed on your agenda. The Ohio auction in Holmes County takes place three times per year, with smaller produce events occurring weekly. When chatting with a self-reliance pal from Florida and sharing the details of my visit to the week-long auction and the deals I filled my vehicle with, she did the math and decided that even with flight and lodging expenses, going to Mount Hope would be highly beneficial from a self-sufficiency budget standpoint.
Find an Amish Community Near Where You Live:
Pennsylvania Amish County – Lancaster County
Indiana Amish Country – Elkhart County
Missouri Amish Country – Town of Jamesport, Webster County
Iowa Amish Country – Kalona-Kalona Settlement
Delaware Amish Community – Kent Country
Colorado Amish Community – San Luis Valley
Florida Amish Settlement – Pinecraft neighborhood, Sarasota
Illinois Amish Community – Towns of Arthur and Arcola
Kansas Amish Community – Yoder, Hutchinson, Young Kansas, and Garnett settlements
Kentucky Amish Community – Munfordville/Horse Cave, Guthrie, and Christian County settlements
Maine Amish Settlements – Smyrna County, Aroostook County, Waldo County communities
Maryland Amish Community – St. Mary’s County and southern Chesapeake Bay area
Michigan Amish Community – 35 settlements stretching from southern counties to the Upper Peninsula area
Mississippi Amish Settlements – Pontotoc County
Minnesota Amish Community – Fillmore County, Todd County, Polk County, Becker County, and Clearwater County
Montana Amish Settlements – Lincoln County, Rosebud County, and Lake County
Nebraska Amish Settlements – Antelope County and Pawnee County
New York Amish Community – Conewango Valley, Canadian border town Heuvelton, Clymer, Mohawk Valley, and the Maryville and Lowville settlements
North Carolina Amish – Union Grove settlement
Oklahoma Amish Settlement – Mayes County and Clarita County
South Dakota Amish Settlement – Hutchinson County
Tennessee Amish Community – Ethridge, rural area near Nashville, Huntington County, Carroll County, and Bruceton County
Texas Amish Settlement – Bee County
Virginia Amish Settlement – Giles County, Charlotte County, and Halifax County
West Virginia Amish Settlement – Mason County and Summers County
Wisconsin Amish Community – Vernon County, Cashton settlement, Monroe County, Taylor County, and Green Lake County