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Amish Work Habits Through the Seasons

September 28, 2020

Another Way for week of September 25, 2020

Amish Work Habits Through the Seasons

(Editor’s note: Fifth in a seven-part series on the nature of work.)

What do you want to be? What do you want to do when you grow up?

These are questions we often ask children. But most of us—unless we want to be the commonplace answers like doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, firefighter—don’t grow up with any idea of what kind of job or career we will end up doing for a bulk of our lives. Everyone wants a job that is so amazing that we marvel we’re paid for our efforts. But alas there are assembly line and mechanical and warehouse jobs that need doing too.

As little ones, most of us would never say when asked what we want to do: “prepare legal notices for the newspaper” or “coordinator of fellowships for future endocrinologists” or “conservation specialist.” Yes, these are all real jobs my daughters have ended up in. Mostly we don’t land in jobs we could have predicted or stated.

But, our children often follow the environment we’ve established from little up of expectation that they will work at various jobs and hopefully at something worthwhile. One Bible verse puts it, “If anyone isn’t willing to work, they should not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

As a culture, some admire the work ethic we see demonstrated in Amish groups. The old fashioned barn raising. Helping each other harvest wheat or hay. We see small children working in gardens—and not just playing in the dirt.

Danny Graber is a photographer from northern Indiana who has shot stunning photos of Amish at work. He always gets permission (coming from Amish background himself) and does not photograph faces upclose. This year he has authored a coffee table type book of heartwarming and incredible photos. The pictures and text also speak to how Amish children, from little up, are taught how to do various jobs on the farm or in the cottage industries many families run for their livelihood. Titled Seasons of Amish Life, the book was published by Herald Press and I was asked to help provide expanded captions which I enjoyed immensely.

Harvesting hay bales with a team of horses. Photo by Danny Graber.
Young girl plants potatoes. Photo by Danny Graber.
Some but not all Amish harvest their corn by hand.
All photos courtesy of Danny Graber. Just a small sampling of the amazing photos he’s shared in his book Seasons of Amish Life.

Growing up among the Amish myself, I was especially taken aback by one group which actually still harvests ice blocks for their refrigeration of food year-round. (Most no longer do this and use propane or solar to chill their refrigerators, but this is a very conservative group.) Gathering ice entails going out on the very coldest days of the year (below zero) to cut and heave cubes of ice weighing over one hundred pounds each. Young boys go along to begin learning what is involved and help as they are able. For instance, they use long poles to channel ice through a creek to be loaded onto the wagons pulled by horses. I’m sure many boys are proud to be old enough to help with such tough, freezing work.

The thing I wish to draw out for us as we train our children and grandchildren is that pitching in needs to be expected of even toddlers, as they learn to pick up and put away the toys they love. Older children can instruct younger ones as well. I have to chuckle as I recall two of my older grandchildren, ages 6 and 4, telling their younger brother emphatically “No drop puzzles! No drop puzzles!” He had purposely dropped a set of puzzles they had all just cleaned up. Their mother, busy with her own work did not join in to either pick up or scold the two-year-old. 

So, how do we get from picking up blocks and puzzles to conservation specialist? Sometimes a long and painful road, but as we teach and model day by day that being part of a family means joining in the work as well as the play, children get the message that work is part of life.

***

To see all of Danny Graber’s photographs, including the jaw-dropping photos of the ice block harvesting, you will want to purchase the book. It makes a great gift!

Seasons of Amish Life
Seasons of Amish Life: Rhythms of the Year available on Amazon and elsewhere. Published by Herald Press.

***

Comment here or write to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

2 Comments
  1. This book would make a nice Christmas gift, Melodie.

    I notice from the photos selected that the author was careful not to photograph the subjects up close or with a frontal view, very respectful.

    Like the Amish, our Mennonite family pitched in for work – in the fields and at home. I find it a useful trait to teach grandchildren nowadays as well.

  2. Thanks for the comment on a gift idea. One reason I chose to include the book now! 🙂 Danny is a very respectful photographer and he had the full cooperation of those he photographed informally. And from what I’ve observed on your blog, you have certainly done a sweet job of teaching grandchildren the benefits of knowing how to work (and also how to have fun). Thanks for checking in.

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