By Kevin Williams
Arrowroot powder? Check. Clear-Jel thickener? Check. A vat of canola oil? Check.
Amish homemakers have long bought in bulk and there are many reasons for this. With such large families a typical 2-pound bag of all-purpose flour isn't going to going go very far. Even a 5 pound bag of Gold Medal flour won't cut it. So, historically, Amish homemakers have bought to bulk to create an economy of scale for their large families. To a large degree the tradition has continued to this day, now what has also happened is that the old Amish traditions have merged with the "Costco mentality" of America at large, so that Amish bulk food stores are popular not just with Amish people but with non-Amish as well. I've been to dozens and dozens of Amish-owned bulk food stores over the years. There are several that stand out in my mind, so these are my five favorite, but keep in mind 1) I haven't been to them all and 2) my list doesn't include some stores that have a bulk component but I don't consider necessarily bulk food stores. For instance, I LOVE Keim Family Market in Adams County, Ohio but I consider them more of a bakery and The Home Place in Georgetown, Ohio is an amazing place, but they have more of a furniture, bakery, bulk component. So, sticking with just bulk foods, here is my list!
E&S BULK FOOD STORE: This store sets the "gold standard" among Amish bulk food stores. It's an old-fashioned deli & market selling sandwiches & ice cream, plus bulk goods from candy to spices and has grown into a sprawling mecca of bulk food choices on the south side of Shipshewana, 1265 IN-5, Shipshewana, IN 46565. You can find virtually anything and everything and what really sets it apart, to my eye, is that you have throngs of Amish shoppers there. Even during some of the peak busiest times you often have half of the customers Amish with buggies clogging the parking lot as much as cars. For me, the large Amish presence there is about more than "tourism aesthetics", instead it ensures a true, authentic Amish cultural experience. The items stocked on the shelves at E&S are ones that the Amish use in their own homes and that to me makes this store special.
FOUNTAIN ACRES FOODS: While Fountain Acre Foods can't match E&S in terms of "Amish ambiance", they beat E&S in accessibility. Interstate 70 is one of the busiest east-west routes in the USA and Fountain Acre Foods is located about 7 minutes north of the highway off of exit 151 at 1140 Whitewater Rd, Fountain City, IN 47341. The store is shaped after the energetic personality of its owner, Stevie Miller who started the store from scratch over 10 years ago. You'll find aisles and aisles of bulk everything, along with a bakery and a deli.
MISHLER'S COUNTRY STORE: Okay, this store is in the middle of nowhere but somehow I've managed to make it there twice over the years. The store is located at W5115 Barry Rd, Dalton, WI 53926. I think what makes this store make my list is that it is in the middle of nowhere, while there are plenty of non-Amish shoppers you get this homey authenticity here. The store is not a sprawling emporium like E&S or Fountain Acres.
MISSION GENERAL STORE: No other Amish bulk food store has what this one has: the gorgeous 15,000 foot Mission Mountains out their doorstep and that is what makes this shopping experience one of a kind. Located in the Amish community of St. Ignatius, Montana, this fast-paced, bustling store shares a lot of the same traits as its more eastern cousins except, well, you have these amazing mountains outside. Inside you'll find a whole range of bulk foods, baked goods, fresh doughnuts, and anything else you might need. The store is located at 61307 Watson Rd, St. Ignatius, MT 59865 and probably the best place anywhere west of Kansas to experience a true Amish bulk food store.
BERLIN BULK FOODS: This store is located in the heart of bustling, touristy Berlin, Ohio in Holmes County's Amish country. This store is not nearly as large as any of the others in the list and this place does tend to cater to the tourist trade more, but it's small size also makes it kind of charming. They stock a lot of stuff for such a small place and I've met the Amish owners. Definitely a top-notch operation. They even have a website, right here.