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

Project Overview

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


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, networking, workshop
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures


    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.

    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.