“I see this in the food industry.  There’s quite a few organizations here locally that will sell using “Amish”.  And what they’re trying to do is create the perception that it does come from Amish producers.  When it doesn’t.  They don’t explicitly say so, they just say “Amish Country this”, “Amish Country that,”…”Amish” is big, “Country” is small.  So, the customer that buys this, his perception…is this comes from an Amish farm or an Amish producer.  And it isn’t.

“Okay now all of a sudden we have product that does come from Amish farms, exclusively from Amish farms.  So it creates sort of a dilemma.  Because to a lot of consumers it’s important where their food comes from today.  Because they’re concerned about not just the quality, but also the integrity of the product.”

The person who said this is a veteran Amish entrepreneur I interviewed for my Amish business book back in 2007.

amish country cafe

Amish Country, Japan

“Amish” can be a big selling point.  On a product, it can mean things like “all-natural”, “traditional”, “integrity”, “high-quality”, “craftsmanship”, and so on.  Pretty much all positives.

More than that though, “Amishness” is a unique quality inherent to the people themselves.  Key to it is the idea of authenticity.  People purchase Amish products to take away–to experience–a little piece of an admired culture.

So if businesses are selling on the Amish name, but aren’t “Amish” in any legitimate sense (products, employees, ownership), aren’t consumers getting shortchanged?  Or even…deceived?

At the same time, I wonder if language makes a difference here.  As my Amish interviewee notes above, these non-Amish sellers understand the impression they are trying to create.

However, “Amish Country” identifies a geographical place.  Even though something reads “Amish Country”, not everything with that label is “sanctified” by the Amish.  And I’m not sure we should expect it to be.

amish country choppers

Boys get their first chopper at age 16

And should we fault those who live in “Amish Country” and make a living because of it?  Certainly, they benefit from tourism–as do Amish.  But non-Amish have to deal with negative side effects like traffic and tourist crowds too (not to mention manure and slow buggies on the roads).

Amish themselves have different views.  Some seem not to be bothered.  Others more so.  As another Amishman puts it : “If we here in this county would get 1% of the sales, of everything that’s used “Amish” or “Dutch” with it, that would be a good income.”  His wife adds:  “We feel the Amish life isn’t just about how we make things.  It’s about the faith that we have…We feel it’s not right to use Amish just so we can sell something.  Not everybody feels that way.  And it’s okay.”

So–using “Amish Country” when you’re not really “Amish”–deceptive, fair game, or…something else?

And…anyone come across “odd” examples of using the Amish name to sell a product?
Photo credits: Amish Country, Japan-Todd; Amish Country Choppers-amishchoppers.com

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