The environment is a hot topic these days. Outsiders view the Amish as an environmentally-friendly people. And since they ‘live like it’s 200 years ago’, they surely must stick with all-natural means of raising their crops, right?
Though there is probably truth to the idea of a particular sort of ‘Amish stewardship’ of the land, this does not automatically mean that the Amish farm without chemicals. Though in some areas organic farming is enjoying growing popularity among the Amish, the majority of Amish farms are non-organic.
I recently asked a good friend in Lancaster County, involved in an organic co-op, why more of his people don’t switch to his way of farming.
It seems to make sense for at least two reasons–if not to leverage the marketing message, i.e., organic seems more in sync with what general public perception of the Amish is anyway (though perhaps since many already assume that ‘if it’s ‘Amish’ it’s got to be ‘all-natural”, this might not make much of a difference from the marketing standpoint–in other words, many likely ‘buy Amish’ because they already see ‘Amish’ as synonymous with ‘organic’), then why not for the higher prices the organic market affords?
Part of the reason is that there is a cost involved in turning a farm that uses fertilizer and pesticides into an organic one. During the three-year conversion period, some farms may suffer a production decrease. Lower yields are recouped later through the organic premium, but some ag-men are turned off by this barrier to entry.
The other reason, my friend claims, has to do with the inertia of tradition and resistance to novelty present in his community. Fear of change and deviating from the way dad and granddad and great-granddad did things prevents more farmers in his area from making the switch, he claims.
There is also the perception that you can’t do well at organic farming. My friend says that that is not necessarily so, and points to his involvement in the co-op as an example of how local farmers have used organization and clever management to improve distribution and the prices their members receive.
Organic is doable and some would say a good fit for the Amish and their labor-intensive, small-acreage manner of farming. Regardless of whether organic is truly better for you, or if it’s really worth paying triple-price for your arugula, ‘organic’ is clearly more than just a trend–a growing market that a (still) limited number of Amish are tapping into.