×

Amish Families Are Moving to Vermont

  • A road sign in Brownington warns drivers that they might encounter a slow-moving Amish carriage. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

  • Traditional horse-drawn carriages are the primary mode of transportation for Amish families. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

  • Amish families run farmstands and community-supported agriculture operations. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

  • Andy Shetler sells his watermelons and other produce to restaurants, schools and markets as far away as Boston. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger



VtDigger
Saturday, October 20, 2018

While Vermont leaders tie themselves in knots trying to draw new people to the state, a group of Amish families has quietly moved into the Northeast Kingdom from Ohio and Pennsylvania on its own.

The 10 Amish families are all loosely related, and they started arriving around 2015. The families bought farms and land and have built large barns and houses. Now they’re raising produce and animals, running farm stands and community-supported agriculture operations, plowing their fields with teams of draft horses, and traveling the dirt roads in their traditional horse-drawn buggies. The Agency of Transportation has put up yellow road signs to warn drivers that they might encounter a slow-moving Amish carriage.

The Amish men have worked as carpenters on several local projects, and the families operate an independent Amish elementary school in Brownington, Vt. Hundreds of Vermonters turn out for a fish fry that the Amish operate every year as a fundraiser for medical costs as the families become integrated into the community.

“They’re extremely knowledgeable in building techniques,” said Molly Veysey, the director of Brownington’s Old Stone House Museum, which hired Amish people to fix the roof on a historic building and do other work. “We’ve had quite a few collaborative projects.”

Realtor Dan McClure, who owns Century 21 Farm & Forest in Derby, Vt., has become something of a local expert on the new arrivals, and has sold a half-dozen farms or pieces of land to them over the years. McClure first met the Amish when he took a call from about 10 Amish men who traveled north from Pennsylvania in a van several years ago to find property. Hearing they planned to camp in a field or barn on a frigidly cold night, he invited them all to stay in his house in Barton, Vt., and they struck up a relationship that continues. Their non-Amish driver “was happy to have a bed and a shower,” he added.

On a rainy day in October, McClure stopped by several farms to introduce his Amish acquaintances to some visitors. The Amish were friendly and polite, but short on details about what led them to move to the Northeast Kingdom. McClure said he’s gleaned over the years that the large families need room to spread out so that grown children can continue the farming tradition. He said they look for affordable land or land with buildings they can repair, and high-quality agricultural soil.

“They tell me the soil where they are from was not the greatest, and a few of them had mentioned fracking and the water quality had certainly deteriorated,” he said. “And I’m sure it’s sprawl (that) is causing them to look elsewhere, because they have come here with eight, 10, 12 children, and they all eventually have to have a place to stay.”

Farming is central to the Amish way of life.

“We wanted to be farmers; I want my children to be farmers,” said Andy Shetler, an Amish farmer in Brownington who built a large home and barn with help from his Amish friends and family. Like the other Amish, Shetler declined to go into detail about why the families chose Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

“My cousin was really the first one to look at Vermont. They kind of asked me to go along,” he said.

There are many different types of Amish, and Amish scholars caution against generalizing about the group, a Christian church that emigrated from Europe to North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Young Center on Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania says about 300,000 Amish people live in about 550 settlements in 31 U.S. states, Canada, Argentina and Bolivia.

Amish affiliations vary in their names, their dress, their customs and their rules about participation in mainstream society. Their rules are approved and interpreted by local congregations, and “this means that there are hundreds of different ways of being Amish,” the Young Center says on its website.

Amish scholar Steven Nolt, who works at the Young Center, said the Vermont Amish community “is loosely affiliated with what is colloquially called the ‘Troyer Amish’ affiliation.

“This subgroup is a quite conservative and tradition-minded (even by Amish standards) subset of Amish communities,” Nolt said.

The Amish speak English, and also speak one of two languages that are closely related to German, said professor Mark Louden, director of Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Most speak Pennsylvania Dutch, a language descended from German; a small minority speak Amish Swiss German, which is related to dialects spoken in Canton Berne in Switzerland, Louden said.

“Pennsylvania Dutch speakers ... often call their language ‘Dutch’ while recognizing that it is actually related to German,” Louden said.

Vermont’s Amish men wear distinctive black flat-brimmed hats and have beards; the women and girls wear long dresses, bonnets and aprons. They are friendly, but they ask not to be photographed or recorded. They don’t build churches, because it is the Amish tradition to conduct church services in homes. They do interact closely with their non-Amish neighbors; Shetler’s neighbor works as a broker to sell his melons in the Boston area, and some Amish use neighbors’ phones.

Shetler, who moved his family from Ohio, and other Amish men rapidly built his large barn without power tools, using wood from his property that they milled on a portable mill.

“It doesn’t do anything for the peace of mind,” he said.

Levi Kauffman, who was trimming his horses’ hooves in the barn, sells lambs to an auction house in Massachusetts, and like the other Amish in the Northeast Kingdom, he farms mostly without commercial pesticides or fertilizers. Like Shetler, he said he steered clear of organic certification.

Another community of Amish is working with McClure now to find farms around North Troy, Vt., and Lowell, Vt.

“They don’t want to compete for the same properties” as the Brownington families, McClure said. He added that the Amish fit in well in Brownington, where the museum has restored a complex of early 19th-century structures and sites.

“Here we have a museum displaying what it was like years ago, yet you’ll see them go by on a carriage with horses,” McClure said. “It’s kind of a perfect fit.”