Thursday, September 1, 2016

CLOSE TO THE LAND


In my last blog, I wrote about the valley near Cowan and Winchester and mentioned stopping at a place called Lapp’s Greenhouse and Produce Center to buy fresh corn and tomatoes. Yesterday, we made a return trip for more corn as it is a product that lived up to its advertising as “the sweetest corn you’ll ever taste.” The co-manager of the produce center and her husband, who moved down to Tennessee from Pennsylvania, bought a large farm between Cowan and Winchester and brought with them invaluable farming knowledge, as they’d lived close to the land in an Amish community not far from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The corn patches further up and down the road between Cowan and Winchester are parched from the drought, but the owners of the nursery/produce center produced a banner crop of corn as they watered their fields daily. I know because I was nosy enough to ask the co-manager wherein lay the difference between the parched fields and their green patches.

The visit to Lapp’s reminded me of a visit to Lawrence County, Tennessee I made a few years ago when I sampled the Ethridge Amish Community’s corn, apple jelly, and homemade soap. The Amish in this area belong to the Swartzentruber sect, a very conservative branch of the Amish religion. They migrated to Ethridge from Lumberton, Mississippi during the 1940’s, and the population has burgeoned to 1500 people. The first families arrived in a railroad car filled with farm machinery, horses, and their worldly belongings. They weren’t too impressed with the farmland at that time, but they began farming corn, pepper, hay, oats, peanuts, and other fresh vegetables, and, of course, their crops flourished. Today, they also market molasses, baskets, quilts, rugs, cane chairs, slaughter hogs and cows, and produce dairy products. Families in the community own sawmills and still make buggy and wagons to use within the county.

I remember traveling in the countryside near Ethridge and buying the aforementioned jelly and soap from a barefooted young man who had erected a stand in front of a large farmhouse. The house had no running water or electricity, and I wondered where the young man attended school. Later, I read that five Amish schools flourished in this district, and children were schooled until the 8th grade or until they reached 14 years of age, whichever came first. Interestingly, most Amish children in Lawrence County speak English, Pennsylvania Dutch, and some German. The Ethridge Community is one of the oldest and largest settlements in Tennessee.

I also learned that Amish families renounce worldliness: education, office holding and the pursuit of honors of any kind. The farmers believe that it’s important to provide sustenance for their families, but luxuries and sinful appetites are harmful to the spirit. Their values: devout religion, love of the land, and close-knit family and community. And, most impressively, they follow Christ’s imperative to be peaceful in all situations. One hundred Amish families live in Lawrence County, and they prefer the company of those who follow their own religion so that they can live out their values among fellow believers. Twenty-one hundred believers in four communities comprise the total Amish population in Tennessee, not counting one in Dickson County that became extinct during the Panic of 1893.

I suppose that my interest in sweet corn is a meagre reason to become interested in Amish beliefs, but a bit of research seemed be the outcome of my visit to the Lapp Produce Market in the Valley last week; it also inspired a sermon on humility I preached at St. Mary’s Convent and Grace Fellowship this past Sunday.

Photograph by Victoria Sullivan

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