What are the boundaries of Amish work? Besides tech limitations, conscience corrals the jobs Amish will do. Morally-questionable businesses are out-of-bounds. For instance, you won’t find Amish working at reservation casinos in Wisconsin, or selling liquor in downtown Philadelphia.
But what about working in vineyards? Grape cultivation falls under agriculture, a comfortable occupational zone for Amish. Many Amish have their own home vines, using their fruits to craft juice and other treats. Beyond that, some Amish even make and consume their own homemade wines.
This past summer a vineyard owner hired a 4-man Amish crew to help manage his 9-acre vineyard in Chester County (bordering Lancaster County on the east). This article (no longer online) on a wine website describes the process of training and working with the men.
In places the author writes as if the Amish are from a foreign country or perhaps planet, which is sort of amusing when it’s not condescending. There are also a few interesting bits that may surprise you. For example:
The Amish do excellent work, but Dickerson concedes there are a couple of challenges. “They are much slower than many of the other crews out there,” he said.
Dickerson said he has certain benchmarks for how vines should be worked and how many rows he expects a worker to finish in a shift. The Amish, while they did an excellent job and did everything to Dickerson’s standards, just never met those benchmarks. And no matter how much more experience they gained, they just never managed to work quicker.
Eventually, Dickerson came to understand it was a cultural difference. “One will not outwork another,” he said. “They work only as fast as the slowest man.”
This made me raise an eyebrow. In fact I have seen more of the opposite with Amish competing to get jobs done the fastest. Perhaps this is a legend “cultivated” by the men to be able to work at a more enjoyable pace?
Vines and Wines
Back to the original question: is working in a vineyard morally objectionable for Amish? Since some Amish consume alcohol (at the least, at Communion service), wine itself is not necessarily seen as an evil. A couple of years ago reader Vernon left this comment:
I work at as the Associate Winemaker at Fenn Valley Vineyards, in SW Michigan. The other Saturday a large bus load of Amish stopped at the winery and tasted and bought wine here. I doubt it’s for their chickens.
Furthermore, “vineyard” does not necessarily equal “winery”, as grapes can be used for different purposes.
Amish will probably be of different minds on this. New Order Amish have a strong stance against alcohol, and I’d think would be less likely to take up any work that could be associated with intoxicating drink. Reader Valerie recently commented on an Amish response to wine businesses in Ohio:
In Holmes County OH there are some wineries. And one of them was approached by an Amish Bishop, from what I heard, to change their sign on the road as it gave the impression that this was an Amish winery. So now the sign reads “Amish Country Wines”. But they do like to put horse & buggy on some of their labels-(admittedly, I bought some!) The Amish do make their own wine for communion and possibly do not abstain in addition to communion, I can’t say for sure what their ordinance is on the matter-but one thing-they did not want the public believing this winery was Amish!
Will Amish ever run their own commercial vineyards? I haven’t heard of any, though perhaps someone out there is doing this. Again, grapes can be used for wine and grapes can be used for other purposes. Perhaps vineyards are too-closely associated with alcohol production to ever be a widely-acceptable business for the Amish. For some, however, it seems to be okay to work in them.
Intercourse Wines photo: mtsofan/flickrLooking for more good reading on the Amish? Check out our list of best Amish books.