Integrating Quality of Life, Economic, and Environmental Issues: Agroecosystem Analysis of Amish Farming
Many Amish communities are thriving in the same market economy that is driving out so many other farm families. Our goal was to learn more about the basic principles that contribute to Amish sustainability and to use these findings to stimulate discussion in the larger society. Objectives were to: 1) determine quality of life and community values for case study Amish families; 2) analyze the economic efficiency of Amish agriculture with particular emphasis on quantifying economic benefits of community; 3) develop whole-farm nutrient budgets of select Amish farms in Ohio to evaluate nutrient cycling efficiency of Amish agriculture; and 4) facilitate discussion on how what we learn from the Amish can help other farm families balance quality of life, economic and environmental goals and become more sustainable. The approach we used in this study is based on methods of agroecosystem assessment which strongly incorporate a human ecology perspective and the influence of social factors, such as values and culture of farmers and their society on the structure and function of agroecosystems. Our results are based on intensive work with three case study Amish farmers in three different Amish church communities in Holmes County, Ohio.
Two of the families were Old Order Amish and one was New Order. A four to five year rotation of hay, corn, corn silage (on two of the farms), small grains/hay was used on the 82-, 86- and 120-acre farms with seven to 27 dairy cows. Important quality of life values included: 1) integrity of families and church communities, 2) living a simple Christian life, with minimal materialism, 3) small-scale family farming, 4) shared labor with neighbors, 5) love of creation, and 6) living and working in a pastoral landscape rich in biodiversity. The Amish farms kept an average of 54 percent of their gross income as cash profit compared to 17 percent for four non-Amish dairy farms. In some years, the New Order Amish farm netted as much cash profit from 27 cows as a non-Amish dairy farm with 68 cows (not including labor for either). The Amish farms had no hired labor costs compared to 13 percent on non-Amish dairy farms. Machinery costs on Amish farms were 50 percent lower than non-Amish dairy farms. On the two Old Order Amish farms, having several income-generating enterprises from a diversity of crops and livestock was important. Shared labor was a critical factor in sustainability and an important quality of life value. In studies of nutrient cycling efficiencies, we found ratios of nutrient inputs over outputs at the whole farm level of 2.4 for nitrogen, 2.3 for phosphorus, and 0.88 for potassium. Two of the farms had corn yields in 1996 of 187 and 178 bu/ac, compared to a county average of 116 bu/ac.
Discussions about this project played a key role in the development of the OSU Agroecosystems Management Program, particularly with respect to an appreciation of quality of life values. We consider the most important lesson learned was the economic and social value of community cooperation.
North Central Region SARE 1998 Annual Report.
Dept. of Agricultural Economics, OH State U
Dept. of Anthropology, Ohio State University