When you read or watch something about the Amish, you might be told that they live separately from the world. It may be further implied or stated that the Amish are a self-sufficient people.

Likewise, some seem to assume Amish wake to days full of churning butter, cobbling shoes, and forging metal goods. Seeing an Amish person filling a cart in Wal-Mart can send these folks into shock.

In response to today’s question, John Stoltzfus addresses the realities of these assumptions. As John noted in a previous post, given Amish diversity, he will try to answer questions with a general approach.

How dependent are they on the outside world? Are they able to be completely self sufficient? 

John responds:

We are very dependent on the outside world, far from self-sufficient, all of us are intertwined and highly dependent of the infrastructure of the USA.  A partial list is below, however, not with any order in mind:

The Primaries (Infrastructure): Federal, State and Local Governments, Banking, Postal Service, Energy, Local Law Enforcement, Local Emergency Equipment & Personnel, Hospitals, etc.

The Secondaries (Raw Material Processing): Steel Processing & Manufacturing, Lumber & Building Materials, Appliance Manufacturing, Small & Large Engine Manufacturing, Housewares, Cloth, Sewing Machines, Glassware, Seed Supply, Hardware, Taxi Service, etc.

Where we are possibly self-sufficient is in producing sellable products from the above Secondaries, such as Farming Equipment, Clothing, Furniture, Carriages, Stoves, Pumps, etc.

We are definitely more apt to appear that way, because most of our manufacturing is small and local, and we can raise our own food and process that food to supply our families with enough to eat.

While “most” people may imagine the Amish as being self-sufficient, that isn’t more than a fantasy. The above list is only a partial list of the important aspects in our everyday lives (including all people) that keep our country going. If you take away any of the Primaries, subsequently most of the others will also eventually fail.


John Stoltzfus is a father of five and member of a Pennsylvania Old Order Amish community. John works in product design for a local farm supply company. In his spare time he creates computer-generated art, which you can view here.

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