Rich Hill is home to a community of about 35 Old Order Mennonite families. The OOMs are the most conservative of the Mennonites, still using horse drawn buggies. The average outsider would have difficulty discerning an OOM from an Old Order Amish. One of the key identifiers is that OOM men rarely have beards. And most OOM worship in church buildings (meetinghouses) as opposed to private homes like the Amish. Either by design or just because it is small and isolated the Rich Hill settlement seems to have a more communal feeling to it. My parents recently visited Rich Hill and reported that other than the “Cozy Nook Bookstore” there “wasn’t much there.” I asked them if they saw any bakeries, bulk food stores, fabric shops, or harness shops and they said “no.” Of course that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, that just means my folks didn’t see any.
Now here is a first hand account of the Rich Hill settlement from my Old Order Mennonite friend, Arlene Kopp. SIGH, that is who I THINK Mom & Dad visited on their journey, but I am not certain. It could have been her sister Misheal or, heck, they may have been at the wrong place entirely. So, anyway, Rich Hill in Arlene’s words from a letter she sent me a couple of years ago
“Everyone in this community and also in the neighboring settlement 10 miles south (Richards, Missouri) raises produce. Our community started in November 1997. Everyone lived in a large “hotel” as they called it until the houses were built. There were around 5 families living in it and of course the children had grand times but the parents were glad to have their own homes. Here in Missouri there are two districts (or communities). In Kentucky there are two, Ohio, 1, Indiana, 1 and in Belize, 2. All raise produce. The Richards community started 5-6 years ago.”
“Watermelons and tomatoes are fun. There are “pickers”, “catchers”, and “labelers.” While the pickers pick, one person throws the tomato or melon to a “catcher” on the wagon and on the wagon the young children label them. And let’s not forgot tomato fights. ”Ugh, who gave me that rotten one?” There it goes. Tomatoes – usually rotten ones – are flying thick and fast until Dad says “enough!.”
The definition of pumpkins should be “sore backs”, but really it’s interesting family fun to pick the loads and loads, bins and bins full of pumpkins. It’s especially rewarding when Mom makes the family’s favorite pie: pumpkin pie!
So those are Arlene’s words. She told me the produce is snapped up by big chain stores in the midwest who know that customers enjoy the organically grown produce. I love Arlene’s descriptions in her writing and that “hotel” she talks about is really intriguing, I am guessing they just all sort of bunked down in one large building that maybe someone had bought. The affiliations with the other churches elsewhere were also interesting and I wish my parents would have asked more about that. In addition to chain-store buyers, just everyday people can go to the market in Rich Hill on weekdays to buy tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, green beans, peppers, and one of their largest crops … watermelons and cantaloupes. So it sounds like during season that one can go to Rich Hill and come away with a lot of produce.
I may just have to venture out there myself one of these days!