The Appeal of Amish Markets

Pigs’ ears for sale at a market in Columbus, NJ. Possibly Amish.

Why are people drawn to Amish markets?

Kevin Shelly examines the question in a recent article about Amish markets in southern New Jersey.  Shelly counts seven in south Jersey alone, despite there not being any Amish in the state. A few points to consider:

  • “The quality is a lot higher here and I’m willing to spend a premium,” says one shopper.  Amish-sold goods are commonly perceived to be of higher quality or better value.  But are they really?  How much does the setting and person selling the product of influence the perception?
  • Not all products labeled “Amish” are actually Amish-produced.  Furthermore, not all products sold by Amish people are Amish-produced.
  • Amish who work in these markets often travel quite a distance.  If you are a worker or a stand owner and you share a ride with others, you may have to be picked up very early and return late.  More riders can mean more van time.  Then there are those who stay.  One Amishman interviewed in the piece travels five hours to reach his market stand, from near Pittsburgh to Mullica Hill, NJ.  He returns home four days later.  The only other significant Amish industry I know of which can involve overnight stays is construction.  Quite different from a dairy farmer schedule.

Do you shop at Amish markets?  Why do you think they’re popular?

Pigs’ ears photo: Vilseskogen/flickr

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    1. Al in Ky

      I’ve shopped at Amish markets for over twenty years and have found
      the comments you’ve made above are true, Erik.

      In a settlement with many “real” Amish markets, you soon discover
      which have the best quality and prices, if you shop there often.
      Many people shop at Amish produce markets for quality and price, as
      well as thinking they are buying something “unique”. Uniqueness is
      sometimes true. I remember buying a door mat made out of baler twine at a market at Kalona, Iowa many years ago. The mat eventually wore out and when I stopped there again to buy one, the
      owner of the store said it was made by her dad, who had since passed away, and he had not taught any of the family members how to
      make them, and there were no more baler twine mats. Another reason
      I frequent “real” Amish markets is because of the interesting conversations I have with the shopkeepers, after I get to know them
      a little and they get to know me.

      1. Good thoughts Al. It is more than a transaction, it is an experience and over time even a relationship.

    2. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      Good things grow-oh-oh in Amish Country

      I think people must like that Amish Markets are not supermarket chain stores and like the old style market place feel of them, getting the sense that they really are buying directly from the actual farmer/producer of the things they are purchasing. I think this is due to a longing to have things done in the way markets where done in 50, 60, 100 years ago or more. I can’t remember if it was Tillsonberg, St. Jacobs or St David’s (or the smaller community of Sparta, perhaps better known for its old style Friends Meeting House) in Ontario, but they had a relatively small outdoor market where farmers, Plain or English would sell their wares, here I think people definitely enjoyed the outdoors appeal of it.

      One of the above mentioned communities, either Tilsonburg, St Jacobs or St David’s had a fire in their marketplace building, within a few months of now, which devastated many growers and produces, many of which perhaps had no insurance on their stalls, it made the local news.

      In that too, people in Amish populated areas enjoys the continuality of certain markets, the one I am referring to was said to be at least 100 or so years old, a tradition that generations took in, again reminding people whose main exposure to food is otherwise supermarkets that there are alternative ways of buying food and other things.

      And out of curiosity, where can I get pigs ears for one dollar each, I think the Italian or German oriented stores have them for much more, or maybe I’m thinking pigs feet.

      [my Comment Title, by the way, is a spoof of the jingle for the Ontario Farm industry, I forget that they’re called, but they’ve used a variation of it for the last 25 years of it aleast “Good things grow-oh-oh in Ontario”]

      1. Veronica

        It was St. Jacobs market that had the fire a few months back. This is the market we travel to a few times a year. It is a 1.5 to 2 hours from our home. They will bounce back for sure. It was in one of the buildings with many more commercial vendors than Amish or Mennonite although many of the Amish and Mennonite young ones would work for these English vendors. I wish we lived closer I would go every week. We hope to one day by a trailer to go to on weekends and we want to place it in a park as close to the Amish and Mennonite community in our areas!! Have a great day!!

        1. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

          Thank you for confirming that, Veronica, I thought it might have been St. Jacobs. That area is a lovely part of the province, indeed.

    3. New York State of Mind

      I shop at Amish Markets and road stands. Most of the items, in our area, are either grow themselves or a an Amish neighbor does. Also homemade items are homemade. If the Amish person didn’t make it themselves they tell you which Amish neighbor did. I think their produce is better and their prices are lower than Englishers.

    4. Forest

      “Amish-sold goods are commonly perceived to be of higher quality or better value. But are they really? How much does the setting and person selling the product of influence the perception?”

      I think you hit hit the nail on the head here Erik. There is a certain mystique about Amish goods held by a significant number of non-Amish. The idea is that the goods are fresher, more natural, more down to earth than what you can buy in a grocery store or even a non-Amish fsrmer’s market. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes not. You have to ask questions, compare, and be a smart shopper. Sometimes the prices are higher for the same goods the non-Amish are selling.

      That said, I think in general many folks today just like buying where a more personal touch is involved, as opposed to the big grocery chains. This they can find at Amish markets.

    5. Robin Miler

      I love shopping at Amish markets when I can’t get to Pennsylvania. There are several on my way to and from my daughter’s home in Maryland. Recently I’ve been stopping at one in Upper Marlboro. Talking to most of the stand workers, they come down from the New Holland area. I have a friend who has an Amish friend near Lititz and her daughter works a market in Germantown, MD. She makes that trip each and every day from Thursday through Saturday; probably a 90 minute drive.
      There are things available at these markets that I cannot find outside of Lancaster County like certain baked goods, Little Barn noodles, home style jams and preserves and now that the weather has turned, I can pack my cooler with some ice and bring some meats home as well. Before I hit the road for my home in Virginia Beach (a 4 hour drive), I grab one of those delicious pretzel roll-ups for my lunch on the road. My favorite is the turkey and swiss. Maybe it’s the atmosphere that draws me too … unique, fun, friendly and no pressure.

      1. Robin “fun” seems a good word. Most of the ones I’ve visited have been lively places and the people working there seem to enjoy the interaction as well (of course maybe I didn’t see them at the end of the day).

    6. Debbie H


      I have never seen an Amish market but there are many “farmers” markets around Florida. I used to go every Saturday to our local “farmers” market because I wanted to help the farmers and I thought the produce was fresher. Then my step=daughter met a man who sold at the market. To my surprise I found out he was not a farmer and that he bought in bulk from suppliers out of the area, none of them local. After that I would ask the other vendors if their food was locally grown, all of them said no. I even started to ask the roadside vendors that same question. The answer was always no. I did find a road side stand last year that was in front of a farm. Most of their produce was grown by them but some was shipped in to them. I have had the same experience with “flea markets.” No more are they used by local people to sell their used items. They are now just a place where people go to buy really cheap junk made in china. How sad that my grandchildren will never experience a true farmer or flea market.

      1. Ed from NY

        Debbie, I think you hit the nail on the head. I have sometimes wondered about those vegetables which claim to be “organic” as well – are they really, and even if they are, are they any better than conventionally grown ones?

        While we don’t have the mystique of a farmer growing his own vegetables and selling them locally, we do have a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables from around the world, almost year round, available to us at very low cost. I’m thankful for that.

      2. Matt from CT

        Mileage varies around the nation on “Farmer’s Markets” it seems.

        In my area, they honestly are Farmer’s Markets and

        And I can personally vouch for about 3/4ths of the farms as growing what they sell, and I presume the others do as well.

        Most of the roadside stands are associated with their own farms as well. One in my town, I’m not sure where they’re getting their produce from — whether its from the large Hartford Regional Market that wholesales from New England and nationally, or buying from another local farm, but its also obvious it is not their own as they haven’t been tending the adjacent garden plot this year.

        I do know of one large farm in my area that proudly declares all the produce they sell in their stand is grown there…but I know they also wholesale to other stores/stands in the region.

    7. Laura

      We shopped regularly at the Amish market in Annapolis, MD when we lived there, and now that we’ve moved across the river to VA, my husband will still swing by there about once a month. We buy things that just aren’t available elsewhere — some of the meats (the smoked pork chops are outstanding, and I think the shop owner can name the pig they came from!), the homemade chicken pies, preserves, and some of the truly sinfully delicious candies (the white chocolate-covered peanut butter cups are big enough for about five servings each, and if you die from a heart attack after eating one, you’ll at least die happy!). We also buy some dairy products that are from Lancaster County; the milk they sell is from a Mennonite dairy, but it is the best milk I’ve found in years.

      You do have to be careful about what you buy. I think most of the produce isn’t Amish-grown, but when certain fruits are in season, they’re well worth the price. Roadside stands are also terrific for fresh homegrown fruits and vegetables. We just think that the locally-grown small farm products taste better, and we like to support farmers who are trying to remain independent. And the various other Amish products we’ve purchased — everything from hairpins to a belt for my husband — are much better quality than you can find anywhere else.

      Yes, it’s a case of buyer beware, but it’s not that hard to find the genuine Amish products that are well worth the price — which often is actually lower than for similar mass-produced products!

    8. Judy C. in VA

      Pig's ears

      Just out of curiosity, what do you do with pig’s ears? I know about the feet, but do you eat the ears?

      1. Forest

        We’d give them to the dogs to chew on, when we killed hogs. Don’t know of much else.

    9. Amish Market in Laurel, MD

      My husband visits our local Amish market every Thursday to buy 3 or 4 gallons of organic no-fat milk. He’s now on a first-name basis with the Amish clerk. We occasionally yield to the temptation of an apple fritter, cinnamon-sugar doughnut or pretzel dog. The staff all come from near Lancaster, PA. The women wear distinctive white, heart-shaped caps.

    10. Julie C.

      re: Amish markets

      I used to try to frequent Amish shops (what I perceived to be an Amish shop that is) when I was in Ohio. But one experience really made me wary of shopping “Amish”. We were driving down a busy road on our way home, and I spied a horse & buggy. 2 Amish children were selling woven baskets. I love baskets!! Made my husband stop & selected 4 to buy as the prices were really good and they appeared to be very well made. I asked the oldest of the girls if she made them herself or if it was someone else in the family that made them. She proceeded to tell me all about how they were made. When I got home, I noticed on the bottoms of the baskets were stickers “Ohio”, “West Virginia” and “New Jersey”. So apparently these baskets were not made by this girl’s family, but somewhere else (Amish made? I don’t know) destined for different selling locations. Then I reflected back on what she said, and I realized she never truly answered my question straight up, but hedged around it. I don’t really like that. It is savvy business practice, so to not turn away a potential customer. But I’m now wary that I may not get honest answers from them. But with that being said, I did still frequent a shop that sold exclusively Amish made cheeses, meats, baked goods, and the like. Now that I’m back in Maine… I don’t have these conundrums anymore – the Maine Amish are quite a ways to the north of me.

      1. Amish ethical conundrum in sales

        Interesting story Julie. No doubt she knew the pedigree was important to you as it probably is for 90% of their customers. I haven’t heard of basket making being offshored to other (non-Amish?) producers…the Ohio and possibly WVA origin baskets may be Amish but no Amish in NJ.

        It’s an ethical question which I’m sure makes some Amish uncomfortable. You are aware the buyer is probably assuming the product is made by you or at the least someone Amish…how do you address that? Are you obligated to present that information up-front if what you’re selling was not made by you, or not made by Amish hands at all? Or only share if they ask? Or is the hemming and hawing you got deemed okay?

    11. Alice Mary

      I wish there were Amish markets in my area so that I could have an opinion on the subject. I do, however, know very well that it’s “buyer beware”, everywhere. My trip to the Shipshewana Flea Market last spring was a case in point. A very friendly Amish (or, Amish-looking) older lady was running a “quilt” shop. There were some bargain items (patchwork bags & pillow shams) that were strategically p laced out front to lure in customers. I looked at the tag one a very nice looking pillow sham (which I ended up buying ’cause it fit my decor) which indicated it was made in China.

      For something truly made by the Amish, I’d just as soon buy from some of the “Amish made” websites which really sell “Amish made” items. (That is, until and unless I can travel to Amish country again and ask my own questions of shopkeepers, etc.)

      Alice Mary

    12. Robin Wyatt

      Amish Markets

      I wish I could shop at the Amish Markets. There isn’t any around me. But would love to.

    13. Roberta

      I Love NY

      Debbie H., your grandchildren can experience a true farmers market anytime if they visit central New York. This farmers market (mixed Amish and English) is a short drive and there is a real honest to goodness farm with a road stand within walking distance of my house.

    14. Anna

      amish markets

      does anyone know of any good Amish markets in New York State, any that compare to Green Dragon or Roots in Lancaster, Pa.