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Amish Are Quitting The Farm

Although the Amish are known for eschewing electricity, cars, telephones—any form of modern-day technology—more and more are leaving the farm and entering the business world.

In Lancaster County, home to an estimated 20,000 Amish, businessmen like Moses Smucker use electricity to keep up with the competitive modern world.

Smucker doesn't see much future in farming. It's too much work and stress, he says.

"It's not `Old McDonald's Farm' anymore," says the 47-year-old businessman whose harnesses have been seen in a nationally televised beer commercial featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Furniture-maker Jacob King says the primary reason for the switch from farming to business is that "There's just not enough land for all of us."

Land is scarce partly because the Amish population has doubled every decade in the last 30 years, says Conrad Kanagy, a professor of sociology at nearby Elizabethtown College. And what land is left is expensive, roughly $5,000 to $7,000 an acre, making housing developments and shopping outlets more profitable than farming.

Donald B. Kraybill, a provost at Messiah College, estimates that 1,000 "micro enterprises" exist in the county today. Businesses range from metal smithing, woodworking and arts and crafts shops to construction operations that rely on the "English"—the non-Amish—to give men rides.

Some of the Amish are building gazebos and putting swing sets together. Others are supplying their brethren with carriages or farm equipment fitted with horse hitches and steel wheels.

This departure from Amish ways is actually helping to preserve Amish tradition: Many of the Amish businessmen are using their profits to buy farmland. Since 1984, they have bought 168 farms in the county.

"In a kind of modern capitalist economy, we take our profits and put it back into the business," Kanagy says. "But in their economy, because the church leaders don't want them increasing in size, they're taking their profits and buying up farmland and, in a sense, preserving their culture."

Most of the county's 120 church districts limit their flock's ventures by prohibiting business owners from employing more than 10 people.

At home, Smucker has no car and no electricity, and lights his home with gas lanterns. But he says he's going to continue to develop his company, adding: "I have two sons, and I hope they will take it over."

Another member of the Amish community, John Stultzfus, builds intricate dovetailed furniture with air-powered drills and hydraulic saws.

"I like to farm, I grew up on a farm, but we had two daughters," he says. "And what are you going to do? You're here in the county and you just can't pull up your roots."

He draws customers from as far away as New Jersey. He keeps in touch with them by a telephone in his shop, checking his voice mail periodically.

"It ets to the point that we can't do business without it," Stultzfus says.

Written by Tom Ragan.
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed