A trip to Lancaster County is not complete without getting a firsthand look at Amish farming. Whether you take in the views of the countryside on the Strasburg Railroad, drive down the winding roads of the eastern part of the county by car, or visit the tourist attractions such as Plain & Fancy Farm, or The Amish Farm & House, you don’t want to miss this very integral part of Lancaster County.
In today’s fast-paced world, a trip through Amish farming country takes the visitor back to an earlier time when family, faith, and friendships were the focus instead of speed, spending, and over-scheduling.
The Amish have a long history of farming with horses and mules, dating back to when horse-drawn plows were first used to break up the earth. While some newer Amish farms have begun to use tractor-drawn equipment, many Amish farmers still prefer to use horse-drawn implements. The Amish believe that farming with horses and mules is a more humane way of raising crops, as it allows the animals to play an active role in the process, making Amish farming more environmentally friendly.
Stewards of the Land
This may seem to be a step back in technology, but there are actually several advantages to farming with animals. For one, horses and mules are much less likely to compact the soil than heavy machinery. The Amish see this as taking care of the soil, being better stewards of the earth. They also believe that it allows them to connect with the land in a deeper way, to stay close to nature and to live in accordance with God’s will. As one Amish farmer stated, “Using horses helps us remember that we’re farming God’s land, not just working it.”
The main field crops grown by Amish farmers are typically wheat, corn, tobacco, hay, soybeans, barley, and fodder for livestock. They also have large vegetable gardens or truck patches and sell the bounty from those parcels at roadside stands, directly to local stores, or through facilities like the Leola Produce Auction.
The Amish are considered to be good farmers, growing and storing the majority of their food and purchasing in stores staples and other items that cannot be grown.
For the most part, the Amish use limited fertilizers, relying primarily on manure from the livestock to nourish the soil. Because their farms are much smaller (less than 100 acres as compared to the average American farm of about 500 acres), they make the most of their limited land with careful, regular seasonal plantings, crop rotation, and a reliance on livestock manure for fertilization.
Tips from Amish Gardeners
Their closeness to the seeds and soil of the earth have made “Amish gardening secrets” prized advice for gardeners or would-be gardeners. Here are a few pointers from the Amish:
- Increase biodiversity in your garden by using companion planting – placing two or more plant species next to or near each other to enrich the soil and avoid plant diseases. Some recommended pairings include asparagus with basil, cilantro, or parsley; cantaloupe with corn; lettuce with beets, carrots, radishes, or onions; gourds with corn or sunflowers.
- Add eggshells in the soil around vegetables at planting time to provide calcium, and add eggshells again on top of the soil near the stem of the plant to deter slugs. Slugs don’t like crossing eggshells.
- Use heirloom plantings for biodiversity and to save the seeds year after year.
- With the exception of tomatoes, seedlings should be planted at the same depth as they were in the container. Seedlings planted too deep can lead to rot or fungus on the stem. However, tomatoes can be planted up to the foliage as they are able to produce roots from anywhere on the stem.
Can the Amish Really Raise a Barn in a Day?
The short answer is yes! Barn raisings are a tradition often referred to by the Amish as “frolics.” It is a cooperative work project that combines socializing with the practical goal of building or rebuilding a barn. The spirit of cooperation and sense of community bring the people together but still produce a practical result.
For a typical barn raising, the Amish buggies arrive at daybreak at the designated farm, where an experienced Amish carpenter or contractor supervises and divides up the men for various assignments. The women prepare the noon meal (which is preceded by a prayer), and it is served outdoors if weather permits. Often the framing of the barn is completed in the morning, and the roofing is installed in the afternoon. The children play games, run errands, and watch as each step in the construction is accomplished. The event is an exciting day away from the usual farm gardening and chores.
Future of Amish Farming
Although farming continues to hold a valued place in Amish life, more than half of the Amish population has moved into other occupations to provide a primary source of income. As the number of Amish has grown and as development reduced the available land for farming, there have been fewer jobs for the Amish in actual farming.
But the entrepreneurial spirit of the Amish farmer has carried over to new fields, as many of the Amish have formed their own businesses—often family-owned businesses of 10 employees or less—and frequently tied to woodworking or carpentry.
In Lancaster County, you will find the Amish making gazebos and cupolas, wooden furniture of all types, small barns and sheds, plus many types of metalworking such as lawn ornaments. Others have ventured into bakeries, quilt shops, flower shops, greenhouses, and retail stores.
Even as many of the Amish migrate to other non-agricultural occupations and move from the farms, they still retain an attachment to the rural lifestyle of the Amish farmers.
Find the Best Place to Stay in Lancaster
Now that you have a preview of Amish farming for your visit to Lancaster County, all that’s left for you to do is find the best place to stay in Lancaster, PA. Look no further than our award-winning Amishview Inn & Suites where you will find rest and relaxation after trekking through the countryside. Soak away the tired feet in our hot tub, or choose an invigorating workout in the fitness center. Enjoy a complimentary hot breakfast buffet. Right now you can take advantage of our Getaway Enhancement which includes dinner for two at Miller’s Smorgasbord, a bottle of wine, and coupons for local shopping. Book now before key summer dates fill up!