Amish Farmers Have a ‘Complicated Relationship’ With Nature, Are Skeptical of Climate Change

The farm of Eugene and Marie Lapp in Eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Photo by Elizabeth E. Evans

LANCASTER, Pa. (RNS) — Drive through the farmlands of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, or Holmes County, Ohio, avoiding the frequent horse-drawn buggies, and you may get the impression that the Amish practice a wholesome, back-to-nature lifestyle rooted in centuries of religious devotion.

But appearances, as scholars will tell you, can be deceiving.

Most Amish households aren’t headed by farmers anymore. And their relationship to the earth depends heavily on the assumption that God gave it to human beings to use, not to preserve. Those who do farm most often use pesticides and other chemicals, and if they pursue organic farming, it’s often an economic choice, not a faith-based one.

As to human-caused climate change?

Don’t get them started.

“The so-called science of global warming? I don’t agree with it,” said Ivan Lapp, a Lancaster County businessman who owned a herd of dairy cows before renting out his land and going into the farm equipment business. “As a general rule the Amish feel this climate change is blown out of proportion. We’re raised to believe God is in control of the weather.”

Clustered in worshipping communities of approximately 35 families, the Amish practice and approach to conservation and stewardship of the land they inhabit is guided in large part by local traditions and guidance of church-area leaders rather than an overarching theological framework.

That might explain variations in conservation practices and their approach to environmental concerns.

Only about 10% of those belonging to the larger Amish communities still farm, said cultural anthropologist David McConnell, a professor at The College of Wooster and co-author, with Marilyn Loveless, of “Nature and the Environment in Amish Life.” Children of farmers may move into other occupations, like dog breeding, high-end horse breeding, forestry or wood-product production, where they can still feel a connection to the land.

But their relationship to the natural world “is very complicated,” said McConnell.

“They believe that God gave the earth to people for them to use,” he said.

Some Amish farmers embraced organic farming. Lancaster, for example, has also become somewhat of a hub for organic farming, said McConnell. It can be done on a relatively small number of acres and then sold in farmer’s markets in places like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.

The choice to go organic often seems to be a practical one that has little to do with the way the Amish understand Scripture or the “creation care” theology that has become mainstream in Protestant and Catholic circles. In fact, the debate over conventional and organic farming has little to do with faith, said a Lancaster County church leader and retired farmer, who preferred his name not be used.

On the other hand, conserving the land, recognized as a gift from God, is important in his community, he said. Thus, there’s increasing recognition of the importance of dealing with runoff, soil erosion and other environmental risk factors — even though the Amish are wary of government regulations to address such issues.

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Source: Religion News Service

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