Today’s Amish make a living in a variety of occupations besides dairy farming
For much of their history, Amish have farmed. However, in recent years, Amish have faced elevated land prices in many of their communities. Since the Amish population is rapidly growing, many Amish have found it increasingly difficult to remain in dairy farming.
Amish have therefore moved into different occupations in order to earn money to support their families.
Amish occupations include:
- Produce farming-produce farming requires less land than the traditional dairy
- At-home shops-Amish have thrived in the furniture and manufacturing industries. Read more on Amish furniture.
- Mobile or remote businesses-many Amish operate construction crews or market stands in non-Amish areas. Amish carpenters, Amish roofers, Amish masons are common Amish businesses in the building industry.
- Factory and non-farm work-in some communities, work in non-Amish factories has become the primary occupation
- Sideline businesses-many Amish operate part-time businesses, from quiltmaking to roadside stands in order to supplement income
- Other Amish occupations-Amish may work in a variety of less-common occupations, such as accounting or taxidermy
Produce farms can be operated on as little as a few acres, as compared to the 60-80 that dairies typically require. Produce farming is labor-intensive rather than mechanized, which suits the Amish well.
Some Amish may specialize in organic produce. Amish sell their produce at produce auctions, through co-ops and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, and at roadside stands.
Amish operate a variety of at-home businesses. The most common are shops which produce wood products such as furniture or cabinets. Sawmills and pallet shops are lower-tech businesses especially favored by Amish with a more restrictive Ordnung. Amish also operate bulk foods and dry goods stores, buggy and harness shops, engine repair shops, and manufacturing operations. Some Amish businesses cater to the tourist industry.
Certain Amish companies, in particular some larger furniture makers, generate a large income for their owners. Amish women may operate businesses as well, for example quilting, baking, and craft enterprises. Money earned by Amish women may supplement a family’s income, or in rare cases may even be the primary source of earnings.
Mobile and remote Amish businesses
Many Amish operate carpentry crews that do work on homes in distant locations, sometimes even two hours away. Amish may do general contracting work, or subcontracting.
Some Amish specialize in masonry or roofing work, or may do landscaping or build decks. Amish do both commercial and residential building, and do remodeling work as well.
Market stands are another popular Amish business, seen especially among Amish from Lancaster County. Pennsylvania Dutch or “Amish” markets may be located in or near highly populated areas such as Philadelphia or Baltimore. Amish market stands typically sell foods such as baked goods, meats and cheeses, crafts, and furniture.
Factory and non-farm work
In some Amish settlements, such as Geauga County, Ohio, and Elkhart and Lagrange Counties in Indiana, a large number of Amish make a living by working in factories. Many RV factories are located in northern Indiana, for example, and work in factories is the most common occupation among Amish men in this settlement. Amish factory workers can make a substantial income, though work away from home in non-Amish settings is seen as less than ideal by some Amish.
Part-time “sideline” businesses
Amish may operate part-time or “sideline” businesses in addition to a main job in order to make extra money. Men may produce furniture in a small shop, or women may make quilts or operate a roadside stand at home.
Amish are quite entrepreneurial, and farmers themselves often have sideline businesses. A part-time business may grow until it becomes an Amish person’s main occupation.
Other Amish occupations
A few Amish may work in less-common occupations. Often these are specialized trades that may serve the needs of a local community. Most larger Amish settlements have at least one Amish accountant, for example.
Some Amish provide auctioneer services for the numerous auctions and sales that take place in their communities. Other Amish offer taxidermy services to hunters. Occasionally Amish even offer health services, such as podiatric treatments, though this can be controversial.
Amish earn money in a variety of ways
Amish have always been an adaptable people, and with the lack of affordable farmland, they have had to adjust in order to survive. Amish make money today in a variety of occupations, from at-home shops to small intensively-farmed produce operations to mobile work crews working in upscale developments.
For further information, see:
Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits, Donald B. Kraybill and Steven M. Nolt
Looking for more good reading on the Amish? Check out our list of best Amish books.