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The Amish are Modern

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According to the New Scientist, the Amish are very fast in adapting solar power. By now, 80% of the Amish families in the largest Amish community in the world in Ohio, own solar power. Reasons for the quick adoption include:

  • safety concerns (gas lamps were a fire hazard)
  • legal requirements (transportation code requires horse buggies to be lit)
  • remain separated from the rest of American society by not hooking on to the electricity grid

After having lived in close proximity to Mennonites for a few years, and having enjoyed their agricultural products, and missing those products now that they are not available to me anymore, I do acknowledge the importance of such communities. In Waterloo they live peacefully together with the rest of the community, everybody chuckles about their horse buggies, but everybody is delighted by their fine potatoes, their fine produce, and their fine work.

Here is a funny story: I did not know what “two-by-fours” were, when I designed my first weir box for measuring the flow rate of tile drains. A buddy of mine explained me that these are pieces of wood that are two inches wide, four inches deep, and many feet long. Great, I thought, and I made all my drawings with 2”x4” pieces of wood. I went to Home Depot, bought the necessary two-by-fours, and started building the weir. After a while I realized that things did not fit together. I doubted my handicraft skills, I doubted my designs, I stared to doubt everything, until I measured the two-by-fours. It turned out they were one-point-three-by-three-point eights, or so. What the heck? Highly annoyed and frustrated I finished building the weir. A few weeks later I found out, that only about a 10 minute drive from my field site was a privately owned saw mill. I drove up there, told the guy my story, he chuckled (like we do on the horse buggies), told me that he values his job, and his two-by-fours are two-by-fours. I can go grab some on the yard and measure them if I want to. They were indeed, and they were about a buck cheaper than the ones at Home Hardware. Needless to say that this guy had me as a constant customer.

I could tell similar stories for doughnuts, a butcher, and many more. The morale is, that all the Mennonite people I met were selling great stuff at very competitive prices, and when I looked them in the eyes they somehow seemed happy. What is wrong with that?

They never occurred to me as backwards people. They rather occurred to me as people who live very much based on a set of rules. Some of these rules might seem backwards, but at a second glance they might not be. After all, some of the rules of the ”western civilization” might seem very backwards. While living according these rules, the Mennonites are very open people, firstly and most recognizably on a inter-human level, but then also open in terms of what ”technologies” they use. I think it makes perfect sense for them to use solar power!

Written by Claus

June 3rd, 2007 at 3:01 am

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