Rural Ramblings – Winter 1978 (part 3)
Ralph C. Miller
Those of us with a renewed interest in the place of alternative energy agriculture and the family farm owe a real debt to these people. Their refusal to be “conformed to the ways of the world” means that they cling to the ways of yesterday. In this time of reappraisal over priorities they are a living example of what can be done with little or no dependence on outside energy sources or fossil fuels; with horse and man power and community spirit. “What energy shortage?” they ask just as they once wondered, “What depression?”
Another book which points up the validity of the lessons of the past in today’s world is “The Amish, A Pioneer Heritage” by John Zielinski. Largely a photographic essay it also contains a fine explanatory text that fulfills the promise of his superb pictures.
While I feel a kinship with the Amish there is no hard evidence that our family were ever members of that sect. I do know that at the time of the American Revolution the Miller family came out of that part of Early America later to be known as the home of the “Pennsylvania Dutch.” I have one cousin with a different last name who still insists that the Millers were Tories. I can’t demonstrably refute that either.
My understanding is that they were driven out for refusing to fight for either side; I presume under the principle that “who is not for us is against us.” They fled to the comparative safety of the Ohio Territory as did many others. This forced uprooting is certainly in the tradition of the Amish.
As Zielinski’s book delineates they have had a long and sometime bloody history of persecution. The “Martyr’s Mirror” first published in 1660 with its tales of the torture and execution of the early martyrs is still an important part of the education among the old order Amish. Although this type of persecution is now mainly History it has no doubt served to strengthen and keep steadfast the bright flame of Amish faith.
Zielinski writes with truth and understanding from a background of a twelve year study not only of friends and neighbors in Iowa but of Amish communities throughout the country and in Canada and South America. These remarkable photographs take me back to early childhood yet I know they reflect a way of life as valid as yesterday’s paper.
These are the people at work and play. Men plow fields as they have for centuries. Children are shown going to school and on the playground, boys in the flat crowned hats and suspendered trousers, girls in bonnets and dresses from another era. Women are canning, baking, drawing water as they always have. Photos of the farm, of making hay, cutting ice for ice houses, hauling wood on sleds in winter, harvesting and community barnraisings. And the inevitable buggies. Buggies everywhere, on the road to town, as a backdrop in so many pictures, buggies parked in long rows at Sunday Services. I like so much that is Amish but most of all I love the buggies.
A low keyed touch that adds so much to our understanding of these people is Mr. Zielinski’s reprinting of items from The Budget, the Amish weekly newspaper from Sugar Creek, Ohio. The items are presented scattered among the pictures and just as they were written by Budget correspondents everywhere. They pay little attention to the unimportant news of wars, international skulduggery or financial fervors. They concentrate on the important things, the weather and how it is affecting the crops, threshing bees and berry picking time, an ice cream social or a barn raising, runaway horses, who married, who was born and who died – all about the warp and fabric of life as they live it and without doubt as it was meant to be lived.
Aside from all the obvious lessons about survival that we can learn from the Amish there is also the OA part of OASI. They don’t get or feel they need Social Security. They continue to look after their elderly as they always have. Grandparents and other Elders are an important part of the Family and the Community. Here in Mr. Zielinski’s work are text and pictures of the “Grosdaadi Haus,” the Grandpa house where the old couple retires when younger ones take over the farm. Here in this smaller place, usually connected in some way to the main dwelling, they can live out their lives still within the family circle. With no concern over Social Security, mandatory retirement is not even a word to them. They may work alongside children and grandchildren until they are 90.
“The Amish” as a book, like the Amish as a people, is something to know, to study and to cherish.
The Amish, A Pioneer Heritage, by John M. Zielinski, published by Wallace-Homestead Book Co. (out of print, but can be found online)
All of these books and others are worthwhile as OASI. I would like to return for a moment to Poirot’s “Our Margin of Life.” Unlike many who are writing survival manuals today Gene Poirot is not a theorist. He is a practical, practicing farmer and every solution he offers has been time tested and proved naturally and economically sound. He does propound a rather novel solution to the question of parity and/or price supports. It is well worth considerable study and a much wider trial.
The basic premise of taking worn out land and restoring it by fallowing, green manure and other natural means is hardly a choice; it is a necessity if we are to continue to raise proper food in abundance. We must restore soil-eroded and worn out farms as a national survival insurance. His proposal to have the parity payments made as a means for and to stimulate such soil restoration probably makes too much sense to get much attention in Washington. About the plowing under of green manure as a means of enriching the soil, the farm and the nation, he says this:
“If you want soil restoration to compete with the production of food and fiber, I believe we must: Provide a market to which a farmer can turn when other prices are too low, a market which will buy at a predetermined price, so many tons per acre of a suitable crop which by its growth and yield accomplishes soil and water restoration, and support this market at a price high enough to balance the amount of plant food returned each year to the crop land of the nation with that used and lost in agricultural production.”
We can only hope that people like the Amish, like Arnold’s wagon craftsmen and like Gene Poirot will still be around when we finally realize how much we need them. This column has been a departure, temporary let me assure you. We enjoy our own Rambling too much.
Whether you ever set eyes on any of these books is mostly irrelevant. The real insurance we’re talking of is the Farm, the land and the natural resources it represents. Money is a false medium and with rampant inflation worth less and less. To paraphrase the old expression, “Take care of the farm and the farm will take care of you.”