I know you’re mostly outside the culture now, but my question is in what ways do you think the Amish world has changed? Are there any traditions that have been lost or are disappearing?
Ally, your question has really made me think about how little I know about this issue, given that I’ve been out of the community for nearly 30 years. Since my father died in 2004 and my mother in 2005, I don’t often travel back to that area or have all that much to do with the Amish in that community. And here I have to say, that given I have not researched this question overall, I need to qualify what I am telling you by saying that I cannot speak for other Amish communities.
I think the most fundamental change has come from the move off the farm. In my home community, there was a great deal of resistance by the elders of the church for allowing modern refrigeration methods for cooling the milk. There is a large cheese manufacturing plant in the area, which had traditionally bought the raw milk from Amish farms. The farmers normally cooled (and then also shipped) their milk in fifty-gallon metal containers like those in a photo posted on Amish America on May 19, 2007 (http://amishamerica.com/2007/05). Then several years ago, the cheese factory stopped buying the milk from farms that did not have modern cooling equipment. This put the farmers in a no-win situation. Many of them had already sold their land and found a different way to make a living by the time the elders decided they would allow the farmers to modernize. By then it was too late.
Only a fraction of the Amish families in my home community were on farms when I left, but now there are virtually no Amish dairy farms left in that area. A small portion of the farmers changed over to growing vegetables and berries as a means of staying on the farm. But for the most part, farming life in that Amish community has come to end. The changes I will write about in my next post were largely brought about by this fundamental change in lifestyle.