Expanding local participation in conservation programs: Examining factors affecting conservation adoption among Old Order Amish in the Sugar Creek Watershed

Final Report for GNC05-052

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,822.60
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Grant Recipient: Ohio State University
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Richard Moore
Ohio State University
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Project Information


I propose to investigate the relationships between land tenure and farmer attitudes regarding the adoption of conservation practices among Amish in the Sugar Creek Watershed in Wayne and Holmes Counties, Ohio. Under farmer and local agency supervision, I will use key informant interviews with new and existing farmer contacts to elicit: 1) local social networks, 2) family and farm history, and 3) willingness of farmers to implement conservation practices. This information will help policymakers, researchers, and agency personnel gain a better understanding of relationships between land tenure and other local knowledge and allow direct input from farmers regarding their perceptions and needs. Understanding these linkages will lead to better watershed conservation projects and more sustainable agricultural communities via improved environmental quality and rural quality of life. The proposed project will demonstrate the benefits of farmer input into local agency conservation approaches and promote farmer-lead participatory development. This proposed project is an important component of the larger Sugar Creek Project with a participatory community research and development focus. Products of this proposed research include peer-reviewed publications, OSU Extension Fact Sheet and local agency informational bulletins, presentations at workshops and field-days, conferences, and other conservation/research groups, and the final two chapters of a Ph.D. dissertation. Outcome indicators include the generation of useful indicators of Amish conservation adoption, understanding of factors that lead to Amish participation in government conservation programs, and a successful defense of a Ph.D.


This proposed research is a final dissertation component that will investigate the potential relationships among farm size, farm type, and land tenure with conservation adoption and preferences among Old Order Amish farm families; it is a third part of a dissertation which examines land tenure in three subwatersheds of the Sugar Creek Watershed. The Sugar Creek, a predominantly agricultural watershed, is culturally and biophysically heterogeneous spanning central Wayne County, in the Eastern Ohio Till Plain that is largely non-Amish, to southern Holmes County, in the Western Allegheny Plateau, that is predominantly Amish. The watershed was targeted in 1998 by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for water quality remediation after ranking it the second most impaired in the state citing agriculture as the main source. It has subsequently received a Total Maximum Daily Load plan creating regulatory limits on nonpoint source pollutants that makes conservation adoption in this watershed a priority.

Much of the literature on conservation adoption assumes that farmers base their decisions on rational choice and self-interest and that social networks and kinship obligations are external to this decision-making process. Watershed and conservation projects rarely investigate land tenure arrangements as explanatory variables in evaluating adoption, yet results from surveys of the northern Sugar Creek subwatersheds show connection with land tenure to implementation.

Amish community members have a strong commitment to group cohesiveness and being good stewards of their land and, typically, prefer to minimize interaction with non-Amish (Kreps et al 1997, Hostetler 1993, Nolt 1992, Moore et al 1999), which includes government agencies. These attitudes become contradictory when government-sponsored conservation initiatives are involved, forcing many Amish to choose between access to funds to assist them in being good stewards, and collaborating with government agents. Amish that choose collaboration are often confronted with agents who lack flexibility to address Amish needs because of strict government regulations. Because of these reasons and a population doubling time of 20-22 years, understanding Amish conservation behavior is becoming important to conservation agents.


Hostetler, J. (1993). Amish Society. John Hopkins University Press.

Kreps, G., J. Donnermeyer, M. Kreps (1997). A Quiet Moment in Time. Carlisle Press.

Moore, R., D.H. Stinner, D. Kline and E. Kline (1999). Honoring Creation and Tending the Garden: Amish views of biodiversity. In: Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, Daryl Posey, Ed. Cambridge University Press, London: 305-309.

Nolt, S. (1992). A History of the Amish. Good Books: Intercourse, PA.
Paolisso, M. and R. S. Maloney. 2000. Farmer Morality and Maryland’s Nutrient Management Regulations. Culture and Agriculture 22: 3.

Project Objectives:

The outcome of this project will be a broader understanding of the role of land tenure in the conservation adoption process among Old Order Amish of Wayne and Holmes County, Ohio, and highlight the importance of an inclusive development and implementation process for watershed conservation projects.


Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Richard Moore


Materials and methods:

Eliciting perceptions and motivations of members of the Amish and neighboring non Amish communities and their interaction with the environment will rely on key informant interviews in addition to a survey that was completed prior to this final phase of the project(Salamon 2003:208-209). Using qualitative and quantitative data for better crosschecking (Gupta and Lincoln 1981) and triangulation of data collection techniques provides greater reliability and validity (Janesick 1994:215, Huberman and Miles 1994:438). Three data collection methods are used: interview, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and SPSS statistical analysis, and contemporary and historical document research. The interviews will generate data for the following variables: 1) social networks of farmers, assessing degree of social embeddedness including crop diversification; 2) understanding settlement patterns, residential permanence, kin and non-kin networks and land tenure (including the wide spectrum of ownership and use rights and responsibilities) and inheritance practices and, 4) willingness to adopt conservation measures and accept non-Amish sources funding.

The analysis of Spatial dimensions of social structure and land tenure will be examined using a GIS integrated with parcel data (Liverman et al 1998) and I will use SPSS statistical software for associations and correlations, ANOVA, and Discriminant Analysis.

Amish and non Amish ethnicities were analyzed by way of ANOVA and Discriminant Analysis by creating a traditionalism ranking in which the five ethnicities found in the watershed are ranked according to their degree of traditionalism (Kraybill and Hostetler 2001), in which the least traditional group, the non-Anabaptist conventional farmers (rank=1) are the least traditional, followed by an Apostolic-Brethren-Mennonite category (rank=2), New Order Amish (rank=3), Old Order Amish (rank=4), and Swartzentruber Amish (rank=5, most traditional).


Gupta, E. and Y. Lincoln 1981 Effective Evaluation. Jossey-Bass.

Huberman, A. M., and Miles, M. B. (1994). Data management and analysis methods. Chapter 27 (p. 428-444) in N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (eds.). The evaluation handbook. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Janesick, V. J. (1994). The dance of qualitative research design. In: N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research Design (pp. 209-219). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Kraybill, D. and C. N. Hostetler (2001). Anabaptist World USA. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press.

Liverman, D., E. Moran, R. Rindfuss, P. Stern (1998). People and Pixels: Linking remote sensing and social science. Washington, D.C., National Academy Press.

Salamon, S. (2003). Newcomers, Old Towns: community change in the postagrarian Midwest. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Research results and discussion:

Correlations analyses show significant relationships between land tenure variables and conservation adoption among various Amish and non Amish groups. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed some statistically significant differences among various ethnicities of the farm households in the Sugar Creek Watershed, while also showing several important differences that were not significant. Important in the decision of the farm household to adopt conservation practices was the presence of an heir, land tenure of the farm, and the farm type (mixed animal and row crop versus row-crop only). Discriminant Analysis of the various ethnicities (Various Amish Orders, non Amish Anabaptist groups, and non Amish/Anabaptist groups) reveals differences in patterns of conservation adoption. See the following paragraphs for more detailed descriptions.

ANOVA Findings and Discussion

Based on findings reported in Parker (2006) and Parker et al. (in press), of the farming practices and farm holding sizes of the ranked groups, the ANOVA mean differences presented in the findings indicate that medium-sized farms are more likely to use conservation practices on their farms. ANOVA results show statistically significant differences between AMB groups (Apostolic, Mennonite, and Brethren) and Swartzentruber Amish in their perception of pollution in the Sugar Creek as well as the importance of aesthetics (the Old Order Amish also differed in this variable). For the Swartzentruber Amish, it is their propensity to stay within their community and “opt-out” of participation in the larger society that mediates their perceptions of conservation. The “English” farmers’ engagement in higher levels of sociocultural integration lead them to less local embeddedness, but with similar perceptions and lower conservation scores in comparison to the Swartzentrubers, as they make farm decisions based on non-local information and criteria.

There are several differences among the groups’ conservation use scores. The AMB group has the second highest overall conservation score mean differences with one statistically significant mean difference (.49*; *p<.05, **p< .01) that is greater than the conservation score of the Old Order Amish. Of the four groups, the Old Order Amish rank lowest in reported implementation of conservation practices followed by the English. The Swartzentruber Amish, though not statistically significant, report the highest conservation use. Even though conservation use scores are statistically significant in their variance among the heritage groups, the same is not true of the Conservation Index. ANOVA reveals no statistically significant mean differences among the groups, but the differences are inconsistent with actual practices implemented. The “English” group ranking highest, the AMB second, and Old Order and Swartzentruber Amish lowest in overall conservation scores. This is an interesting example in which measurements of perceptions do not predict behavior. Respondents were asked to select a number of activities that occur in or near the stream classified as recreational that included hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching, swimming/wading, and picnicking. These are summed for each case and presented as a “desired recreational use” score that is viewed as a cultural connection to the stream. Of the four groups, the Old Order Amish scored highest in their desire for stream recreation activities. The mean differences are greatest between the Old Order and the Swartzentruber Amish. The Old Order Amish mean difference with the AMB group is statistically significant (0.61*). Individual conservation practices were not statistically significant except for conservation tillage. Implementation of no-till conservation tillage is a marker of adoption of conservation practices in which a farmer who implements no-till may also implement other practices. AMB farmers represent the largest group of no-till adopters followed by the English, Old Order Amish and Swartzentruber Amish. The AMB farmers have a statistically significant mean difference (0.31*) that is higher than the Old Order Amish for this practice. Education levels are reported based on responses to a question that asks participants to select their highest attained level of education. As expected, the Amish participants ranked below the AMB and English groups, with no statistically significant mean differences between the Old Order and Swartzentruber Amish whose members both receive a terminal eight-grade education. There are statistically significant mean differences between the English and AMB (0.53*), between the English and Old Order & Swartzentruber Amish (2.06**), between the AMB and the Old Order and Swartzentruber Amish (1.53**). Although off-farm income differences exist among the groups, there are no statistically significant mean differences among them. Interestingly, the Old Order Amish whose recent trend is towards off-farm occupations have the highest mean off-farm incomes, followed by the English and the AMB, respectively. The Swartzentruber Amish report the lowest off-farm incomes. Perception of the water quality of a stream is a good indication of the level of education and type of approach that is needed to collaborate with local community residents in stream remediation projects. Pollution was perceived to be the greatest among the AMB group, followed by Old Order Amish and English, then Swartzentruber. This variable also shows a statistically significant mean difference (1.26*) between the AMB and the Swartzentruber Amish. The scenic beauty, or aesthetics, of the Sugar Creek is important to most groups; however, the Swartzentruber Amish place the least amount of value in this, feeling that farmers in the watershed should not have to change practices to achieve beauty. Responses show differences among the groups, with the Old Order Amish group showing a greater appreciation for aesthetics, followed by AMB and the English. Mean differences are statistically significant between two group pairs: the Old Order Amish (1.72*) and the AMB (1.40*) means are greater than the Swartzentruber Amish. Evidence supporting the relationship between degree of traditionalism and both decision-making preferences and government agency trust scores. All groups expressed a desire for local decision-making; however, groups with less degrees of traditionalism, thus higher LSCI, support higher levels of government involvement in decision-making but tend to distrust higher-level government agencies more than more traditional groups. AMB and Old Order Amish groups support community efforts while “English” and Swartzentruber Amish favor individualistic approaches to decision-making. The levels of sociocultural integration (Amish or non Amish groups) in which farm household members operate relates to farm size, type, and adoption of conservation practices as well as desires for the implementation of new conservation measures. This does not operate in a linear fashion across the continuum of traditionalism in which a high or low score in one variable set at one level of traditionalism necessitates that similar or increased/decreased intensities of scores will be seen among other levels. What was revealed in the ANOVA findings is that there are statistically significant differences among degrees of traditionalism with respect to conservation perceptions and use and other variables that are correlated or associated with conservation adoption. Concern for the local environment diminishes at the opposite ends of traditionalism in some measures such as among the Swartzentruber Amish and the “English” heritage groups exhibiting less concern for their local environment. Additionally, while the Old Order Amish have a higher awareness of the water quality impairment in the Sugar Creek and place more value in the aesthetics than Swartzentruber Amish, the Old Order Amish report significantly lower levels of conservation use, and both groups report very low preferences for future conservation, as inferred from the conservation index. The Old Order Amish’s high degree of value in aesthetics is consistent with their very high reporting of recreational use of the Sugar Creek streams and tributaries for fishing, hunting, and bird watching. And, low conservation use may be a factor of their increasing dependence on off-farm income and as many face pressures to continue intensification. Educational differences reflect the value the Amish place on life experience as education versus the formalized training that is often required of English and AMB farmers whose farms are larger scale and require the operators to have a greater understanding of agricultural systems beyond their farm. This formalized training also provides entry and indoctrination into industrial agriculture and the larger capitalist farming system. The Old Order Amish are the youngest group of farmers, have the greatest amount of off-farm income (but a near tie, 0.01 mean difference, with the English), and are less likely to adopt conservation practices as inferred from the Conservation Use scores. Yet, they paradoxically have the greatest desire for recreational uses of the stream. It is necessary to couple the desire of the Old Order families for recreation with their overall farming system and way of life in order to create a successful collaborative relationship between them and other local agencies. To approach them solely based on the need to change farming practices in order “to improve the environment” is not sufficient due to the abstract nature of such approaches. An alternative approach would emphasize concrete goals and results that benefit the community, such as recreation opportunities that are social rather than individual pursuits. Apostolic, Mennonite, and Brethren (AMB) households are concerned with the environmental quality of the Sugar Creek and are the second most active in using conservation practices and in their desire to implement more of them. These farmers rank second in the number of years farming, and are less interested in using the stream for recreational purposes. If you couple this with the general worldview in which many see themselves as good stewards of their land, it is understandable why they have a lesser degree of direct use of the stream for recreation and still have the highest conservation use and preferences. The model of a “good farmer” is coupled with their concept of Christian stewardship in explaining this pattern. As such, it is slightly differentiated from the generalized Amish ethos that holds the land and the animals to be under the dominion of “man”. The “English” farmer, a category created based on non-membership in the other groups, is characterized as the most worldly. In this profile, group membership has the most educated, and ranks high in several conservation categories including no-till conservation tillage and perception of pollution in the stream. Yet, the English rank low in other measures of conservation use and perceptions demonstrating that knowledge of a problem is often not enough to compel action, but that viable alternatives must be available to learn and experience. The aesthetics of the watershed do not rank high compared to Old Order Amish and Apostolic, Mennonite and Brethren farmers, but is much higher than the Swartzentruber Amish. They are a near tie with Old Order Amish in high levels of off-farm income. Although the responses are statistically significant, Swartzentruber Amish are the most difficult group for which to determine conservation behavior. This is because the response rate of the Swartzentruber’s is low compared to their projected demographics (see Donnermeyer and Cooksey 2004). This community is difficult to enter even by the Old Order Amish who have reported being rebuffed from entry in attempts to meet with them regarding local conservation projects such as livestock exclusion fencing along streams. That withstanding, the evidence from the survey does show that this group has the lowest rates of off-farm employment, the most years in farming, highest rates of conservation adoption, and the lowest rates of desired recreational use (this is likely due to the austere nature of Swartzentruber culture in which leisure is viewed as self-aggrandizing and prideful and thus should be avoided). Lack of perception of the level of pollution in the Sugar Creek is consistent with a lower value placed on aesthetics in the watershed and exhibits a cultural model of beauty in which farming is perceived as beautiful and in no need of changing, an observation that is overlooked in strictly quantitative analysis. The second part of the ANOVA, decision-making and trust scores of government agencies, shows a consistent trend in which trust and decision-making preferences increase as agencies become local. Those agencies that work primarily at a more localized level score higher than those that work at the state and federal level. The more traditional a group is, the more likely they are to trust involvement of local agency officials over state and federal. Trust scores improve at the local level as seen in trust levels of County Commissioners and of Township Trustees; all show increases in trust across the groups when compared to the Federal EPA. These findings suggest that the Old Order Amish are more inclined than other groups to collaboration with other Amish, and possibly non-Amish groups (as indicated by their participation in the North Fork Taskforce, Weaver et al. 2005), in a coalition framework. And, the Swartzentruber are the most in-group centered in their responses in which they preferred to work as individuals and reported low trust for most agencies outside of the local Township Trustees. Additionally, members of the “English” group reported the greatest degree of trust in each of the higher levels of government involvement in local issues but they also increased support for local decision-making and trust. All of these findings are consistent with the assumptions that the degree of traditionalism is directly related to a group’s level of sociocultural integration. Discriminant Analysis Findings and Discussion None of the functions generated in the Discriminant Analysis models that investigated ethnicity (dependent variable) and conservation adoption variables (independent variables) were statistically significant. References Donnermeyer, J., and E. Cooksey (2004). The Demographic Foundations of. Amish Society. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, Sacramento, California August 11-15. Parker, J. (2006). Land Tenure in the Sugar Creek Watershed: A contextual analysis of land tenure and social networks, intergenerational farm succession, and conservation use among Anabaptist farmers of Wayne County, Ohio. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University. Pp.568. Parker, J., R. Moore, M. Weaver. (in press). Land Tenure as a Variable in Community Based Watershed Projects: Some Lessons from the Sugar Creek Watershed, Wayne & Holmes County, Ohio. Society and Natural Resources. (copies available upon request). Weaver, M., R. Moore and J.S. Parker. 2005. Understanding Grassroots Stakeholders and Grassroots Stakeholder Groups: The View from the Grassroots in the Upper Sugar Creek. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association,
Washington, DC, September 1-4.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Two workshop/field days were sponsored in part by this grant. They include a Best Management Practices booth at the North Central Ohio Grazing Conference, Jan. 26-27, 2006, Fisher Auditorium, OARDC. A booth was sponsored with technical and financial information for BMP adoption advertising to the Amish. The second is a display and information booth at the Family Farm Field Day, July 8, 2006, in Holmes County. Sponsored activities to introduce Amish families from around the tri-county area (Wayne, Holmes, Tuscarawas) to farm conservation and water quality metrics and water quality improvements.

A doctoral dissertation, fact sheets, research papers (in press and in preparation), and conference presentations result from this grant.

Fact sheets are still in preparation and have not been released. Topics of facts sheets include working with Amish farm households for conservation adoption projects and the importance of acknowledging local land tenure and local social organization in developing conservation programs.

One dissertation:
J. Parker. 2006. “Land Tenure in the Sugar Creek Watershed: A contextual analysis of land tenure and social networks, intergenerational farm succession, and conservation use among Anabaptist farmers of Wayne County, Ohio.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University. Pp.568.

Three articles for academic and conservation practitioners have been written:

The first article will be published in the October 2007 issue of Society and Natural Resources.

2007. J. Parker, R. Moore, M. Weaver. “Land Tenure as a Variable in Community Based Watershed Projects: Some Lessons from the Sugar Creek Watershed, Wayne & Holmes County, Ohio”. Accepted by Society and Natural Resources (In Press).

The second article has been submitted to Southern Rural Sociology journal.

J. Parker and R. Moore. “Conservation use and quality of life in a rural community: Goldschmidt’s findings revisited.” Invited and submitted: Southern Rural Sociology (Feb 2007).

The third will be submitted to Society and Natural Resources.

J. Parker and R. Moore. “Sociocultural Integration and Conservation in the Sugar Creek Watershed: What is the real promise of globalization?” For Society and Natural Resources.

The fourth article in preparation is for Practicing Anthropology.

J. Parker and R. Moore. “Sociocultural Integration and Conservation in the Sugar Creek Watershed: Approaches to understanding the impacts globalization processes in a Midwestern agricultural watershed” For Practicing Anthropology.


Organized Session. “Agriculture and the Environment: Understanding Globalization through Local Agroecological Responses.” Two-part session co-organized with K. Thu, M. Prunty, RT Adams, A. Samuels, and D. Luce at the 2007 Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting, March 27-31, 2007.

J. Parker. “Draft Horses or Diesel Engines? Interdisciplinary approaches to conservation adoption and other natural resource management problems among Amish and non Amish farmers.” Presented to the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Auburn University, November 16, 2006, Auburn, Alabama.

J. Parker and R. Moore. 2006. “Sociocultural Integration and Conservation in the Sugar Creek Watershed: What is the real promise of globalization?” Paper presented at the 2006 Rural Sociological Society Annual Meeting, August 10-13, Louisville, KY.

J. Parker, R. Moore, S. Long, and D. Stinner. 2006. “Engaging the Edge: An Organic Amish Cooperative Redraws the Line between Farm and Market.” Paper presented at the 2006 Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting, March 28-April 1, Vancouver, BC, CANADA.

Poster Presentations:

J. Parker, R. Moore, and M. Weaver. 2006. “Conservation use and quality of life in a rural community: Goldschmidt’s findings revisited.” Poster presented at the 2006 Rural Sociological Society Annual Meeting, August 10-13, Louisville, KY.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The results of the research informed the operationalization of the Sugar Creek Watershed 319 water quality remediation grant. The use of this information allowed the program to adapt its strategy of program development and information dissemination to include approaches, such as equipment purchases as indirect payments for Amish farmers who will not accept direct government program payment, that are culturally appropriate while also targeting areas that are most likely to participate.

It is anticipated that there will be future increases in conservation acceptance among Amish farm households in the watershed. As noted by the Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District, there is a great interest in continued implementation of no-till conservation practices and animal exclusion fencing along streams.

Economic Analysis


Farmer Adoption

As of the completion of the 319 grant in September 2006, multiple conservation projects were installed, many of them on Amish farms that were identified through methods developed from this project. Some of them are listed:

Conservation (no-till corn) practices in Amish areas (15 acres); Conservation (no-till small grain—horse drawn) practices in Amish areas (81 acres); Livestock exclusion fencing (37130 feet of fence, 9120’ on Amish farms); Animal Waste Facility (3 units, one on an Amish farm); Conservation Nutrient Management Plans (2 Amish farms)


Areas needing additional study

The following areas are proposed for future research. Intergenerational farm succession and the structure of local agriculture are areas of research that will contribute to a greater understanding of Amish and non Amish conservation adoption. Expanding the findings of this research to include other geographic areas and cultural groups will enhance the applicability. Additionally, factors involved in understanding the roles of small and medium-sized producers’ beneficial ecological practices that are not considered official BMPs by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are little understood. Likewise, the scale of Amish farm households and their reliance on animal traction and other low-technology inputs, smaller field sizes, and multiple species of plant and animal crops (diversification) may provide unrecognized contributions to the environment that NRCS standards do not recognize or have categories for program incentives and funding. Further research needs to be done on scale-appropriate conservation practices for program development in areas with small-scale farm households.

It is believed that the general principles outlined in the findings will hold true in other areas. For instance, areas with family farms, as represented by Amish, will have a greater tendency towards conservation awareness and will implement more conservation measure than larger, non-family farms. And, areas with communities that are more integrated socially by having a greater number of interconnections with other farm households, have lesser degree of off-farm income, and have more diversified farm operations are more likely to adopt Best Management Practices. These areas need investigation as well.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.