CAPTIONS: Scenes from Pearisburg, Virginia, the most remote Amish community I have visited.
By Kevin Williams
There was someone who left our email list recently with the parting comment "I didn't like that he was making money off the Amish."
This is something I hear from time to time and it always leaves me puzzled. I'm reading a wonderful book right now by esteemed Amish academic Dr. Don Kraybill about the Amish beard cuttings in Ohio in 2011. Using that woman's very narrow standard, Dr. Kraybill is "making money off the Amish." Anyone that writes a book, whether it be about World War II or 9/11 is, in a sense, making money off a tragedy. My mother-in-law is a nurse at a children's hospital in Cincinnati. So I guess she is making money off sick children? One of the great things about capitalism is that people can find all kinds of ways to earn income, whether that is opening a lemonade stand on the corner, publishing poetry or being a brain surgeon.
Heck, even the Amish make money off of being Amish and there's nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. The whole tourism industry in Lancaster County, Holmes County, northern Indiana, etc. is built around peoples' fascination with the Amish. An Amish woman selling quilts is "making money" being Amish....her quilts are going to be in much higher demand than if she was just Joan Smith selling quilts from some suburban home.
Companies cash in all the time from the Amish name. Some of the worst "offenders" are the production companies that churn out fictional garbage and label it as reality TV. Those companies sort of parachute in, cash in, and leave a trail of misinformation and mess in their wake. Ultimately, it's the job of the consumer to sort out what works, what doesn't, what's real and what's not. It's like that with all things Amish and, frankly, with anything. So I personally, as long as they are being accurate and respectful, I never begrudge anyone for "making money off the Amish" anymore than I'd begrudge a Cajun restaurant owner for "making money off being Cajun." I guess this rant is just to nip in the bud the small minority of people who break out into hives anytime I try to turn a profit in my business. Anyway, to the fun stuff:
I've been chronicling Amish and Plain culture since 1991. The reality is that there are few people anywhere who have the breadth of experience that I have in exploring Amish and Plain communities. I've been to Amish settlements in the most remote corners of the country, from Rexford, Montana to Unity, Maine, although I actually have to say that Pearisburg, Virginia is probably the single most remote community I have visited. Rexford is a close, close second. I was here long before the passel of fiction writers, production companies, heaters and creams. My goal from the beginning was authentic Amish reality, offering insights into Amish cooking and culture and I'll continue to do that. Many of you know that this is not an easy endeavor. The newspaper business is changing constantly and I have to find ways to adapt.
Next week (unless I run into glitches) I'll be rolling out a premium content section on the website called "Amish365 Plus." Most of the site will continue to remain free, including The Amish Cook column. But premium features such as Mrs. Yoder's Journal, her organic farmhouse recipes, other Plain writers, and photos and videos inside authentic Amish kitchens, and perhaps Teacher Mahlon will all be in the Plus section. An added bonus: you'll receive discounts from some Amish and Mennonite owned businesses with your Amish Cook Plus membership. It'll all be seamless, you'll sign up, create a login and have access to the content. It'll be 99 cents for the first month and then automatically renewed each month at $3.99, about the price of a Starbucks coffee, with everything done seamlessly through PayPal. The price is affordable and if enough people sign up, it'll allow us all to continue to explore Amish kitchens and Plain life together.