19 April

Inside An Amish Greenhouse. Being Simple Does Not Make You Poor.

by Jon Katz

Amish joke: How do you get an Amish man to the moon?” Answer: “Tell him there’s a chiropractor on it, and he’ll find a way to get there.”

It’s odd to be so struck by something without wanting to be the thing you are admiring.

I am dazzled by the hard work and creativity of my new neighbors, yet I never yearn to be one of them. I know it’s not for me, and I could never make all of the sacrifices they choose to make.

Sadly, the plain and simple life is beyond me. But my life can be plainer and simpler, and the Millers are giving me ideas about how to do that.

I could write about them forever.

I’ve been exploring faith my whole life, yet I think too much of it would destroy me. I felt this way about their new greenhouse. I was in awe of it, but I know it’s way too much for me.

At the same time, I can imagine a smaller one built in this efficient way.

My Amish neighbors, the Millers, Mose, and Barbara permitted me to explore their spanking new Greenhouse, put together in a few hours.

I was deeply impressed as well as jealous.

I’m thinking about ordering a smaller version of the greenhouse from them for our farm next year if we can figure out how to find the space and figure out how to heat it.

We have eight gardens, nine including my newly raised pine bed. A greenhouse would give us a big jump on summer. It’s also great fun, even for our little one.

The Millers have done an amazing job; they are preparing to till and plant 40 or 50 acres of fruit, vegetables, and corn. Barbara put a chair in the greenhouse and has lovingly and carefully got a couple of hundred different kinds of seeds started.

All of the containers are marked.

Sometime in May, all of these will go into the ground.

I saw the new tiller yesterday; it is beautiful, horse and hand-powered, and efficient. Moise has done almost all of the plowing by himself with two big and beautiful draft horses, and Barbara has labored to plant the seeds in her cups.

He says plowing is his favorite activity in life.

Some of the children are working – male and female – clearing the pasture of rocks, most of which will be ground to make cement, which will be used to construct foundations for a permanent horse barn and a new house.

I stood in the greenhouse today; it felt like a chapel of some kind, warm, bountiful, and exploding with life. I was impressed with the closed warming stove – spark-proof, safe.

Around me were all kinds of vegetable seeds, too many to count.

The family has almost completely transformed their 1,000 acres and are planning for a lot more. That’s going to be some food and vegetable and fruit stand soon.

Ever since religious persecution pushed them into rural areas in Europe hundreds of years ago, the Amish have been tillers of the soil – and very good ones, according to history books.

Their ties to the land have supported their plain and simple life and served as a cradle for their notions of nurturing their children, who they also see as seeds.

Moise and Barbara say a farm is the best place to raise children. They even sometimes refer to it as a “social seedbed,” writes Amish scholar Donald Kraybill, in Simply Amish.

The Amish I have spoken with believe that the farm reflects and promotes their values: responsibility, hard work, community, and teamwork.

Curious, but I feel the same way about my farm and its impact on me and Maria, even though we are so different than the Amish.

This notion of the farm is central to Amish spiritual life.

Kraybill quotes one Amish leader as saying “good soil makes a strong church where we can live together, worship together, and work together.”

I never thought of it quite in that way, yet the Miller farm does have the feeling of a place of worship.

On the farm, says Moise, he and his family are closer to God than anywhere else.

This love of soil is one of the core principles of the Amish faith. From the minute the millers arrived on the hill, they began tending to the soil, considering water, tilling, rock-clearing and nutrients.

Many things are coming together for the family; they are a testament to hard work and ingenuity.

Several people have asked me how to donate to the Amish families. I smile (with an appreciation for their generosity) at the idea that this family would ever need or accept a donation.

There is an assumption that people who live so simply and dress so plainly must be poor. I am learning that this not so. Our gadgets and cars and devices do not make us rich, they are more likely to make us crazy.

The Amish can take care of themselves, and then some. There is a drive and ambition to the farm that surprises me, their lives are peaceful but not tranquil.

I am mesmerized by what I can see, but I couldn’t survive being Amish for a week.

I showed up today when the farm was uncharacteristically tranquil. The family all take naps and rest right after lunch, especially on laundry day. The quiet was in stark contrast to the explosive energy I usually feel on that hill.

Some of the children poked their heads out of bedroom windows to say hello to me.

I can’t wait to see what the greenhouse yields and watch those fields spring to life.


  1. I have said this before and saying it again that your Amish posts are very interesting and I am learning to downsize and try to live more simply and do more gardening. I never wanted to garden before because of my nasal allergies, but because of you, Maria and now your neighbors I want to do more gardening! I wish I had your neighbors so they can build me a “sewing shed” in my large backyard. Just wow!

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