Over the last decade, I have lived among the Amish. That is—I’ve stayed at authentic Amish bed & breakfasts in Lancaster County for one weekend each year.
My fascination with their lifestyle runs deep, perhaps satisfying the part of me that secretly wishes to disengage from my fast-paced life, at least for a little while.
Ironically, my trips start through the most modern of technologies—the Internet. The Amish, of course, are not on the web, but you can book through a third party. I find my hosts through a site called “Amish Farm Stay.”
After booking, you’ll need to make some other concessions to your tech-infused existence, but, hey, that’s part of the experience, right? For instance, the Amish usually don’t have phones in their houses, but in booths at the end of their driveways, which means that doing business directly with them is on a time-delay. Then there’s the fact that innkeepers don’t accept credit cards.
But these are just small bumps in the road, and you may quickly realize, as I do each year, how much modern technology has invaded every aspect of your life.
Modest and Cozy
Though each yearly trip has its nuances, the weekends follow a familiar pattern, much like a quilt.
Once we turn the Jeep on to the winding driveway, a mood settles overhead that is decidedly calmer than the traffic on Route 30. A cloud of dust rises from the driveway, already signaling readjusted expectations.
The dog greets us first. He sniffs until satisfied we are good people.
Then the kids peek from hiding places, their barefoot steps tentative, their hair straight as hay. A little girl points at me and asks a question about my lipstick, clothes or wild hair. An older brother shushes her.
My mother asks them 100 nosy questions. No one dares shush her.
Finally, our hosts appear from the sprawling farmhouse, carrying baskets and babies. They are kind, yet guarded.
I always ask the innkeeper if my mom and I can visit their church. They always politely decline, explaining that the every-other-week service is said in High German.
An older boy takes our bags to a modest guesthouse, separate from the main house. With the exception of the family’s house, we may roam the farm unescorted.
The barn holds antique farm equipment almost as dusty as the driveway. Horse gear is near one small buggy. How do they fit all those kids in there? After a decade of visits, we haven’t figured this out.
The animals we encounter are friendly. At least, they are tolerant and not attacking us. Sheep, cows, horses, chickens and goats chomp rows of farmland. Dogs and cats eat the farm animals’ feed. They aren’t sneaky about it, either. If we’re lucky, we see baby versions of the animals. (Once, we saw a calf being born!) The Amish don’t name their animals. They are commodities, so they don’t get attached.
Close to the barn, we see laundry drying on a clothesline. A hand-wringer clothes washer and water pump are nearby. An efficient pulley system spins approved fabric colors: maroon, light blue, green, black.
When I see store-bought underwear and socks, I remind myself that Amish believe in practical living, which doesn’t dictate that everything be homemade. To align with their simplicity value, they choose the least expensive option.
Amish don’t believe in wires, keeping them off the grid. Most of their gas-powered appliances run off batteries or a noisy generator housed in an outbuilding.
Our guesthouse is another of the farm’s many outbuildings. Modest and cozy, it is filled with quilts, woodworking and cross-stich samplers. I am grateful for the family’s belief in indoor plumbing and for providing one electrical outlet hidden somewhere in the house.
When evening comes, my agri-tourist excitement comes alive. TV and Twitter don’t exist here. We walk winding country lanes, look at stars and listen to crickets chirp. We build a fire. We turn on a kerosene lamp to read.
When that fun is done, we go to sleep by 8 p.m.
Guests are invited to help with farm chores, beginning at 4 a.m. I don’t partake because the only way I’m up that early is if I’m still awake from the night before.
At dawn, sunlight begins to stream into the windows, seemingly earlier than in my own bedroom at home. By 8 o’clock, Saturday morning breakfast is delivered, consisting of unpasteurized eggs, coffee cake, raw milk, farm-fresh butter, strawberry preserves and homemade bread and yogurt.
Generously, our hosts have saved us a few morning chores to do. We gather eggs, feed animals and milk other animals. The kids are pros, showing us exactly how to extract milk from an udder.
We decide to visit downtown Ronks, Pa., to see our Amish neighbors at work and to do some shopping. We find stores for furniture, crafts, quilts, buggies and farmers markets. We also see the town blacksmith, horse dealer and a one-room schoolhouse.
We wander into a general store. I muse that I could put together an Amish outfit out of straight pins and fabric. For a moment, I imagine myself in a bonnet, but put it down when my inner voice reminds me that culture is not a costume.
We return to the guesthouse and discover the guest book. Past guests regale its pages with gratitude for their innkeepers taking them shopping or to an auction. Mom says, “You probably have to help them with 4 a.m. chores to get invited.”
She and I enjoy a second night of peaceful farm ambience, gazing over meadows. No telephone poles or electric wires spoil our view. When we can’t see outside anymore, there’s nothing like watching flames eat logs through the window of a wood stove. The sizzling doesn’t compete with other noise. (Unless A/C is optional for you, Amish B&Bs are best in fall, winter or spring.)
No breakfast is delivered on Sunday mornings. The Amish honor the Sabbath. It is time for us to leave.
If you stay in Amish country with non-Amish hosts, chances are they know an Amish family willing to host you for a meal, buggy ride or farm tour. Otherwise, a quick Internet search can help you out.
And, if you find an innkeeper who agrees to take you to church, call me.
Bunking with the Amish
Would you like to enjoy your own weekend close by, but away from it all? Here’s where to start researching a mini-vacation in Amish country.
Amish Farm Stay: www.amishfarmstay.com
Discover Lancaster: www.discoverlancaster.com
Buggy Rides: www.aisforamishbuggyrides.com