On its own, that’s a dramatic statement. There is some context, of course.

First of all, who said it? This was Chet Lapp, a 37-year-old Amishman from Lancaster County. Lapp also happens to be a real estate agent in the community.

From the WITF story by Rachel McDevitt:

Chet Lapp, an Amish realtor, argues more of his fellow Amish should leave Lancaster County for the purpose of preserving their faith.

The vision

Lapp describes himself as a “mad visionary.”

The 37-year-old is responsible for the creation of one of Pennsylvania’s newest Amish settlements, in Glen Rock, York County.

Lapp had been helping Amish families move out of Lancaster County to join other settlements since he got his real estate agent’s license in 2012, but the Glen Rock community is different. Lapp scouted the area with his broker ahead of time, then found people interested in moving.

I’m always curious to learn more about Amishmen in the realty trade. You find a handful who do this business particularly in the larger settlements (Amish realtors exist in Lancaster County, Holmes County, and northern Indiana, to name three places I’m aware of).

Photo by Matt Slocum/The Associated Press

I’ve never heard of one describing himself as a “mad visionary”, but it’s a nice touch.

As noted, Lapp was the one behind the Glen Rock Amish community which was started in York County in 2017. He’d like this community to be a “blueprint for the future“.

What makes it a blueprint? It’s far enough away that land is more affordable – yet not too far that regular visits to family in Lancaster County aren’t possible.

Simply put, this model has structure and close-enough proximity to familiar Lancaster County to make a move emotionally easier to stomach.

And why should Amish move? Lapp gives a couple reasons:

  • Young people can’t farm anymore: It’s nigh impossible for the average Amish person to break into traditional dairy farming: “For young John Stoltzfus, if you will, to maybe be starting at zero at 21. He’s not going to make — he’s not going to carry a lunch bucket then turn around and pay a million bucks. Ain’t gonna happen.”
  • “Stealth” threats to Amish families & culture: For those who go into alternatives like small businesses and construction crews, it means families spend less time together. Influences from spending time with non-Amish outsiders enter the home and threaten Amish culture and traditions.

Bill O’Brien of the Bank of Bird-in-Hand notes that farmland has increased from $8,000/acre to $20,000 in the three decades-plus that he has been giving agricultural loans.

This makes farming extremely difficult or out of reach of the average young Amish family, unless they have other means of acquiring a farm (eg, another successful cash-generating business; a wealthy family to help).

I would just note that produce farming and particularly the organic variety has emerged as a quite viable alternative to traditional dairies, which can be done on much smaller acreage.

Photo by Rachel McDevitt

The article also makes mention of the recent horse stabling issues as an example of population pressure and its effects (worth noting for those following that story, 2 horses per 1/2 acre is in fact the allowance in Strasburg Township, a much more heavily-Amish township than East Hempfield).

The Oregon Village project is also mentioned as an example of development pressure (we could throw into the mix the incoming Morgantown casino as well).

Lapp sounds motivated to help his people move. I’ll also note however, that Amish moving from Lancaster County in largish-groups a la the Glen Rock model, could be a boon to Lapp’s business 😉

I’m not doubting his sincerity here, just noting it.

For the record, I do believe he believes what he says there about the threat to Amish life. “I’m perfectly content to ride this out until people understand that we have to [move],” Lapp says.

Will Amish leave?

So should we expect an Amish exodus around the corner?

I believe there will always be Amish in Lancaster County (interpret “always” as you wish, but let’s just say “for generations to come”).

However there must be some ceiling on growth – and perhaps the community’s size could even decline at some point, as surrounding areas become increasingly urbanized and surburbanized.

What could that ceiling be? Could the Lancaster County area have twice as many Amish residents in two decades, roughly following typical Amish growth rates (going from about 40,000 to 80,000)?

Or is it more likely to be less than that, with growth slowing as Amish begin following Lapp’s “blueprint” and exiting the community?

Or, you could also envision the center of the community “migrating” over time in a south and/or west direction, away from the denser and more population-pressured areas.

In practice, not many are abandoning the oldest Amish community.

Steven Nolt says “the Lancaster settlement has relatively fewer people as a percentage leaving”…“there seems to be just a stronger attraction or pull in the Lancaster settlement of people staying here, of preferring to take on non-farm jobs and remain here.”

Edsel Burdge, also of the Young Center, says that last year, about 20 households left the county (out of 7,000-8,000 total Amish households in the settlement).

I’m not sure if Edsel means 20 strictly from within Lancaster borders, or including neighboring counties, but whichever it is, it’s not many that left.

An older Amishman explains why Amish wish to stay: “Our roots are here,” he said. “Our ancestors are buried here. We feel attached to this. It’s part of our heritage.”

Those can be powerful reasons to figure out a way to make it work in your home.

Chet Lapp sounds like an interesting person. He is thinking about his people, their future, and has a vision for how it might unfold.

As a relatively young man, he may just see his vision become reality, though it’s hard to say when that might be.

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