Maine is now home to five Amish settlements, up from three just a few years ago.

Thanks to reader Judy for passing along an excellent article on the Amish of the Fort Fairfield area, in Maine’s northernmost county of Aroostook.

This piece in Down East Magazine traces the path of the 6-year-old community via interviews with the community’s founder, 45-year-old craftsman Noah Yoder, and a few others.

Amish Fort Fairfield Maine Pau Cyr

Fort Fairfield Amish photo by Paul Cyr

Twenty families live in this conservative Amish community, coming from states including New York, Kentucky, Iowa and Ohio.

That is around 140 people total, though only three of them, according to the article, are older than 50.  Among the businesses is an Amish-run store, plus a number of dairies, and two schoolhouses.

I recommend reading the article in full for one of the best depictions I’ve read of life in a relatively new Amish settlement.  A few points which stood out:

  • There is an awareness in fledgling communities that it could all end.  “Some communities start and fail,” observes Noah… “We still could.”
  • “Small creative adaptations” are key to a young community’s survival. There exists a rosy view of Amish interdependence, which I feel for the most part is deserved.  But, “because of their reliance on one another, an Amish settlement can unravel over small obstinacies and personality conflicts. Noah has seen whole communities dissolve over disagreements about whether and how to follow local building codes. What’s more, the burdens of any one family are shared by everyone, meaning that hardships like failed crops, house fires, and medical bills can pose challenges for the whole community.”
  • Some Amish don’t mince opinions on their brethren who live differently: Yoder “uses the term “plastic Amish” to describes communities in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that welcome tour buses and offer buggy rides.”
  • Opinions on Amish fiction vary, among Amish as well.  You won’t find it in the Noah Yoder home: “Well-meaning English friends have given Noah paperback Amish romance novels for his daughters, which he accepts politely and then uses to feed the stove in his workshop.”
  • This is one of the plainer Amish groups, hand milking into buckets and delivering milk by buggy to a central pick-up location.   But they aren’t exactly media-shy.  Witness the photo slideshow accompanying the article, or the fact that this is one of several news articles Amish from Fort Fairfield have participated in. Update: This is a Swartzentruber Amish church, “Joe Troyer” faction.
  • I think that writer Brian Kevin comes up with a good metaphor for the Amish, while putting down a more popular, misleading one: “Contrary to countless lazy narratives about a culture “frozen in time,” a stopped watch makes a lousy metaphor for the Amish. A much better comparison is a finely tuned watch, one that derives its value from the precision performance of all of its parts.”
  • The piece ends with Noah musing about the ways Amish and English life might overlap: “I don’t think you need to change to the way I’m living, and I don’t think I need to change to the way you’re living,”…“But who knows? Maybe we can both pick up little things from each other.”  Does Noah, a member of one of the most tradition-oriented Amish groups, really feel that way? Based on what I’ve read of his community, I’d take that at face value.

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