Despite the fact that many Amish communities have survived in the same regions for hundreds of years by living off the land, it’s clear now that convincing Amish farmers to change their techniques is no easy task to accomplish — even when those new techniques will benefit the farmers themselves. As Pat Fasano, the project manager of the Octoraro Watershed Association (OWA), has found out, just being able to reach the farmers and talk with them — about anything at all — can be nearly impossible.
Drop by during a busy harvest time, and Amish farmers may refuse to talk to you. Come too close, uninvited, and they’ll begin speaking in Pennsylvania Dutch. For 16 years, Fasano has been working with the OWA to improve water quality for farms in the southeastern Pennsylvania region, and for 16 years, he’s been trying to reach Amish farmers in the area — farmers who can improve the water quality by making simple changes, and who will benefit from cleaner water and from new farming conservation techniques — and it appears that Fasano has just recently begun getting the OWA’s message across.
There’s one quality among the Amish that make their communities so resilient and successful, but that same quality is something that could hurt them in the long run: to use Fasano’s words, “Amish farmers don’t like change.”
This quality isn’t just limited to the farms, though, and the thorough incorporation of stubbornness in the Amish community makes Fasano’s work that much harder, and it’s difficult to justify forcing these communities to change when their adherence to tradition has resulted in such a strong culture. Following traditional values has allowed Amish woodworkers to continue the furniture-making tradition that became popular in the U.S. nearly 100 years ago. Strictly believing in pacifism has allowed the Amish to look past crimes committed against them (like violent school shootings and intracommunity hate crimes), and to provide a guiding moral standard for the entire country.
That being said, when farmers refuse to pay attention to environmental impacts, such as the cleanliness of the watershed in the Lancaster and Chester regions, government workers like Fasano are forced to convey their message through Amish liaisons, and this process can take years. It’s clear that problems like excess fertilizer and soil runoff, which affect the entire Chesapeake Bay area, aren’t something that can go unchecked for another 16 years.
Even though Amish communities tend to be leery about directly working with government programs, Fasano states that programs like the OWA could potentially serve as “buffers,” and the fact that he’s finally been able to give out the OWA water conservation plans to every farm in the region proves that his program may just be the only effective strategy. And until Amish farmers see the positive effects of new farming techniques, we’ll have to be grateful for those small victories of Fasano and his liaisons.