January 04, 2010

Amish to avoid health insurance purchase requirement?

The health plan which passed the Senate on Christmas Eve provides for substantial fines for individuals who do not purchase health insurance. 

This article examines how the Amish, who do not use insurance outside of some forms of church coverage, may negotiate an eventual purchase requirement. 

A religious exemption exists, and Donald Kraybill explains that a probable requirement for opting out will be “a long-standing historical exemption based on religious beliefs.”  Such a condition would likely be fulfilled by the 1965 exemption of the Amish from Social Security.

Numerous polls show the legislation under consideration as unpopular with the American public. 

Critics contend this is at least partially to do with the additional government control exerted on individuals, such as this proposed fine, which varies from $750 in the Senate plan, to 2.5% of an individual's income in the House plan (with some income-based exemptions).

Amish have come under criticism in the past by those disagreeing with the religious basis for their exemptions from institutions such as the military or Social Security. 

If a bill with such a mandate becomes law, and assuming the Amish do work out an exemption, I imagine opponents of the bill will look on them and other religiously-exempt groups with envy, at the least.

January 02, 2010

New Wilmington Amish Christmas school program

New Wilmington Amish
A week back I wrote about how Amish celebrate Christmas, with a mention of the holiday program that takes place in many Amish schools. 

Rick shares a photo from a recent visit to the New Wilmington, PA Amish community, taken during the Christmas Eve program at a local one-room school. 

Low Amish Cancer Rates

The qualities of being a closed population, as well as good genealogical records, make the Amish an attractive group for genetic and health-related studies. 

In a recently-reported Ohio State study, researchers theorized about higher rates of cancer, but found the opposite.  They discovered that Amish in Holmes County, Ohio exhibit cancer rates only 56% of the national average. 

The researchers explain that low cancer rates are likely linked to both genetics and behavioral differences. 

Lower levels of tobacco and alcohol use, and less sexual promiscuity among Amish mean that related cancers are less likely to appear. 

They also note that Amish exhibit low levels of skin cancer, though one would expect them to spend more time in the sun than the average American (though this is apparently linked to lifestyle as well--as Amish would be more likely to work using hats and with skin covered by long-sleeved clothing).  

The closed Amish gene pool leads to beneficial and harmful results.  Last year stories showed Amish exhibit lower rates of obesity, while certain rare genetic diseases appear among Amish much more frequently than in the general population. 

This is one example where it looks like both lifestyle and genes lead to an overall healthier Amish population, at least regarding cancer. 

January 01, 2010

Boy #3

A bit of good news lost in the mix over the holidays, and maybe appropriate to share here on New Year's Day. 

About a week ago I received word that my friend Abe, whom I've mentioned in the past on the blog, has just become a father for the third time, this one a boy like the previous two

Abe, who is a produce grower in Lancaster County, I'm sure won't mind the extra muscle around the farm in years to come (though girls often have to pull their weight on the Amish farm as well).

I also imagine Sarah wouldn't have minded a future kitchen helper, but Abe says that the boys are just going to have to learn to lend mom a hand too.

December 31, 2009


...to everyone for a great year.  Boy, it sure flew by.  Wishing all a healthy and happy 2010~!

Old Order Mennonite buggy shop

This is not an Amish buggy. Biking enthusiast and adventure blogger the Spokesrider has posted a few interesting photos from inside Indiana Old Order Mennonite LeRoy Martin's buggy shop. 

Martin hails from the area of Indiana described in yesterday's post.  His shop does have some Mennonite and Amish customers, but many are in fact non-Plain, with Martin's new and renovated buggies being used in urban settings. 

Fancy buggies are common in the historical center of Krakow, Poland as well, a popular tourist destination and the place I spend a good chunk of my year.  Don't know if any of them originate from Martin's, or other plain shops, though. 

Poland has an equestrian tradition, for that matter, and is known internationally for its horses.  The local Amish population is a bit low, however, and aren't even using horses these days. 

December 30, 2009

Nappanee, Indiana Amish

Nappanee Amish
photo: trecrowns
Nappanee (oh Nappanee, despite my much-prized 6th-grade spelling bee title, I'm always misspelling
you somehow, with an extra 'n' or short a 'p') is what I tend to think of as a 'prototype' Amish community, smallish to medium-sized, centered around a single rural hamlet, where once you leave the main town of a few hundred or thousand souls you'll find thick-settled Amish homesteads radiating out in a number of miles in any direction.  Little or no suburban build-up, unclogged rural roads, and generally a slower feel to the area. 

Arthur, Illinois and Kalona, Iowa are similar in this regard, and true to form, the prototype Amish town usually has a small-to-decent sized Amish tourism industry going.  Nappanee, with its Amish Acres attraction, is one of the most successful in this regard.

Nappanee is a nice community.  I sold the Family Bible Library and other books to Amish here in 2006, and met many of the local families with 8th-grade and under kids (or rather 'children'; 'kids' are baby goats after all, as a Lancaster Amishman once scolded me). 

On the whole Nappanee seemed a bit less well-off at the time than Elkhart and Lagrange Counties just to the northeast, though Nappanee is closely tied to that community and has also been heavily involved in the RV industry.  There is a spot of farming here and there, and some small businesses.  Furniture makers, a book shop, dry goods, lighting implements, and a natural foods/medicines dealer are among the Amish firms represented in Nappanee.   

Nappanee is also one of the larger Amish communities, with a total of 37 church districts as of last year, technically the third-largest in Indiana.  The Young Center has the settlement as the 6th-largest community in the nation, by number of church districts, though it's still well behind Elkhart-Lagrange or even Geauga County, Ohio, number four on the list

To the north/north-east, you begin to run into the Old Order Mennonite community, around the town of Wakarusa, which is of a much smaller, but still significant, population.  Buggies are boxier, patterned and plaid clothing is worn, you'll notice power lines leading to the homes, and men are clean-shaven.  Like Lancaster County or parts of Ontario, this spot of Indiana is one where you'll find Amish and Old Order Mennonites living in close quarters. 

This post was inspired by an article I just read on two 'tornadoes' in the Nappanee region:  one real, the second economic.  Chris Serio Martin at the Elkhart Truth describes how this small community has pulled together in trouble times, first after a catastrophic twister struck in 2007, and most recently after the economic downturn, which has had unemployment in the region near the nation's highest. 

A side benefit of the downturn, according to local official Larry Andrews, is the closer ties between the Amish and non-Amish populations in the area.  And, Andrews offers a new term for Amish businesses
: "Shingle shops", which are "rural shops that have a shingle sign on the road welcoming customers".  Catchy enough!

December 29, 2009

Post-Xmas Amish links

Hello everyone, hope you are enjoying the post-Xmas, pre-New Year period as I am. 

A few items of interest:

An 80-strong Amish furniture wholesaler's association is opening a showroom in Shipshewana, Indiana, further evidence suggesting increased small-business activity in the 3rd-largest Amish settlement.

"We're trying to take it to the next level," says an Amishman quoted in the story, explaining that the growth in furniture-making is part of an entrepreneurial trend going back a decade, and in fact predates more recent economic troubles in the region. 

At the Weekly Standard, author and mystery buff Joe Queenan describes his discovery of Amish mysteries written by Ohio native PL Gaus

When it comes to Amish fiction, female authors are the order of the day, so it is interesting to see contributions from the less-fair sex (former Amishman Jerry Eicher is another noteworthy male author, primarily of Amish-themed romance). 

While Queenan contends that Gaus falls short of greatness, he admits that "the fact that these mysteries take place in the Amish hinterland of Ohio confers upon them an aura of congenial weirdness no other mystery writer I know of can approach."
  Thanks to the Spokesrider for the heads-up on this article.

And staying in the realm of books, retired history teacher and Aylmer, Ontario native Kirk Barons informs me of a new one he has written on the Amish of his region.  I've had a chance to read a few sample pages which you can find here

The Aylmer Amish community is the home of Pathway Publishing, the Amish Historical Library, as well as David Luthy, a historian and convert to the Amish who is frequently cited on this blog.  For those interested in ordering the book, the cost is $5 and you can email Kirk at baronsk@amtelecom.net.  

December 23, 2009

Amish Christmas

Amish christmas
photo: golancasterpa

Christmas is of course observed by Amish, and with an expected emphasis on family rather than Santa.  Amish-raised scholar John Hostetler shares in Amish Society that some Amish children may be "exposed to such customs [ie, Santa and the Christmas tree] if they attend public school, and some Amish parents come to the annual parochial school Christmas program.  Some Amish have adopted the practice of drawing names among themselves for buying presents." 

Hostetler, who grew up in Iowa and Pennsylvania, explains that "on Christmas Eve in my home, each child set a dish at his place at the table.  Our parents filled the dishes with many kinds of candy and nuts after we were asleep."

Amish do give gifts at Christmas, and Hostetler notes that "children who want a specific toy usually get it, but toys are generally simple and inexpensive."  While selling books in Amish communities, I can remember a number of instances when sets were tucked away by forward-looking parents as a Christmas surprise for the children. 

Hostetler goes on to explain that "married couples may buy surprises for each other, usually something they need, such as a new bed or a chair.  Girls may receive decorative dishes from their parents.  Gifts are frequently left on display in the sitting room until after New Year's Day."

On the matter of giving gifts, I often get questions on what types of gift are suitable, with the giver ofter concerned about potentially offending the receiver by a poorly-chosen gift. 

As a rule, and as Hostetler's description above indicates, gifts that have some function will likely be better-received by Amish than those that don't.  Simple toys for children are generally fine as well, and Amish-run dry goods shops often have an array of games and other basic toys for children. 

There is as usual variety among the Amish.  My mother usually likes to send baked goods along with me when I travel to visit friends in Pennsylvania (baked goods and most consumables for that matter, will never lead you astray).  I know she has given small games and if I recall even a book or two for the younger children. 

Once she wished to send a bottle of North Carolina wine along, which I vetoed as I could not recall whether wine was kosher in the family or not.  As it turned out, it probably would have been a safe bet, as she later helpfully reminded me that we had even been offered some homemade wine by the family head himself on one visit. (Click here for a previous post on the Amish and alcohol).

Brad Igou has some further information on Amish Christmas customs, as well as a nice description of an Amish parochial school Christmas program. 

And, best wishes to everyone this Christmas!  I'll be spending mine, Polish-style, at Grandma's place as usual. 

Unemployment in Amish Ohio

Ohio's unemployment rate hit 10.6% last month.  This piece notes that within the state, the counties with the lowest unemployment rates (at 7.2 and 7.4% respectively) are Holmes and Geauga, which also happen to have the state's largest Amish populations.  Make of that what you will.  

On the other hand, Amish-heavy northern-Indiana, a region highly dependent on the RV industry, has seen unemployment north of 18% this year. 

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