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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Amish Tractor


What? The Amish have tractors? Well, no, not exactly, but they do employ internal combustion engines to do some of their chores. They still have a prohibition against motorized transport, so conventional self-propelled tractors are out, but you can use a gasoline powered machine to bail your hay, as long as you use horses to drag it around.
     The Amish are funny as in odd funny, not funny-funny. I guess my attitude is understandable, growing up in modern America and being the son of an aerospace engineer and a chemist. But they were harmless, took care of themselves, didn't bother anybody, so they're fine. They are pacifists and won't serve in the armed forces, but they are part of America, they pay their taxes, they produce food, which is something everyone needs, even soldiers, and if we are ever attacked they are just as likely to suffer as the rest of us.
    They are growing. There were a few of them around Utica, Ohio, when I was going to high school. Now one of the guys I went to high school with has a full time job driving them around. They won't own or operate motor vehicles, but a few years ago the elders got together and decided that they could ride in other people's vehicles. Sounds like sacrilege to me, but what do I know? Not my religion, not my problem. The upshot is that they can vacation in Florida in the wintertime, just like normal Americans.
    The average Amish farm is between 40 to 80 acres in size, compared to the average American farm size of 400 acres. At $10,000 an acre, an average farm is now worth $4 million. That's a big chunk of change. A 40 acre farm would cost $400,000, about the same price as a house or two in the big city. To my mind, a 40 acre farm is something you could buy and pay off in the foreseeable future. A four million dollar farm is not.

    I don't quite understand how not using tractors provides any economic advantage to the Amish. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe they've just drawn a line in the sand. They see that embracing technology is a slippery slope that leads to ... the abyss? the pit of hell? something awful and unnameable? In any case, they don't want to go there and they've said 'this far, and no farther'.

    I was talking to a guy about orchards one time and I mentioned that I had lived on one back in Ohio. Our place was 160 acres, and the impression I got from my dad was that it wasn't big enough to really be a commercial success. We limped by. This guy I'm talking to has 15 trees on an acre, and it is enough. At the time I dismissed him as a crank or a crackpot. But now I'm not so sure. People do like fresh fruit. There is a lot of hand work involved, so maybe 15 trees is all one man can properly tend. I can't imagine he could make enough money off of a dozen fruit trees to survive, but I'll leave that question to someone who wants to find out.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we've got this structural unemployment problem, we have a homeless problem, and we have a growing contingent of folks who think there are two many chemicals in our food supply chain.
   I wonder how many of the homeless would like to be farmers? The midwest is full of towns that are slowly dying. All we need to do is lend them (the homeless vets) some money to buy a small farm and hook them up with some Amish farmers to teach them how to farm economically. Could be a real win-win situation.
   Yes, I know it looks like a giant step backwards, but our great leap forward seems to be leaving an awful lot of people in the dust.

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