UNITY, Maine — New families are settling down on the old family farms.
Amish families began relocating to farms in Unity and Thorndike two summers ago, and there are now nine extended Amish families in the area.
They are reviving farms that have been fallow for years and also have taken over working farms whose owners have decided to retire. Several hundred acres are being farmed the traditional Amish way, with farmers for the most part using horses to plow and till their fields and manual labor to harvest crops.
Since their arrival, the Amish, in their distinctive garments and horse-drawn buggies, have become a common presence on local roads and country lanes. The men are notable for their broad-brimmed hats, the women for their distinct white bonnets and long dresses.
“We’ve been welcomed by the community. The community has been what we expected. They’ve welcomed us and helped us any way they can,” Deacon Ervin Hochstetler said Wednesday. “Farmers have a lot in common, although our method of farming would be quite different than most farms.”
Hochstetler said some of the families are offshoots of the Amish settlements in the Aroostook County town of Smyrna. He is originally from Ontario, and others came to Maine from Kentucky and Missouri. All of the families are multigeneration Amish whose ancestors trace their lineage back to the original Amish who settled in Pennsylvania from Switzerland and Germany in the 1700s.
The community has its own school located on the former Chase Farm in Unity, which now has 19 pupils. There are many preschool-age children in the community as well, Hochstetler said.
“We’re blessed with children,” he said.
Simon and Emma Stoll and their family are the new owners of the Palmer Road dairy farm in Thorndike formerly owned by Larry Hustus, who decided to retire. Hustus helped the family get settled and worked with them to keep the farm in production.
Hustus kept a small parcel overlooking the farm for himself, and a group of Amish men spent the past week pitching in to build a new barn for him. Working as a team, the dozen or so men climbed into the rafters to set trusses by hand while others nailed them into place.
Throughout the project Hochstetler, Stoll and the others shouted instructions and joked back and forth in the German dialect “that is the mother tongue of the Amish,” Hochstetler said. Each board was measured twice and cut once by hand with a crosscut saw. The Amish men volunteered their time and labor in appreciation for Hustus’ help, Hochstetler said.
“He’s done so much for us in helping us come in and get established,” Hochstetler said. “This is an act of appreciation to show our thanks for what he has done for us.”
The Amish are a Christian people who believe and practice the precepts of the Old and New Testaments. They are strongly family-oriented, with the primary goal of the community being self-sufficiency and the sustainability of the group as a whole. The fruits of their labors go first to the community, and the remainder is sold.
“Our goal is to sell direct to customers as much as we can,” Hochstetler said.
The community operates a farm stand at the Chase Farm on Thorndike Road. Fresh doughnuts are available on Wednesday, drawing a steady stream of repeat customers taken by the tasty confection. Members also craft furniture and other wood products, and brothers Andrew and Caleb Stoll are in the process of opening a metal roofing business.
Hochstetler said that while the Amish work together for the strength of the community, they are not a collective. Farmers own their own property and the “brethren of the church” will provide no-interest loans to members who need financial assistance to purchase their property.
“We definitely work together, but we’re not all things in common, and we have our own private property,” he said. “We definitely promote the spirit of all things in common.”
Hochstetler said Amish farmers rely on the old ways, although they are not averse to taking advantage of modern equipment.
They hire trucks to move their livestock and possessions when they relocate and will contract for the use of an excavator or tractor for certain projects, though they will not operate the equipment themselves.
The Amish do not rely on electricity, though they will use generators to operate welding and milking equipment. Solar panels are used to charge batteries for lighting or to power hand tools. Their homes are illuminated by propane. There are no televisions, video games or computers.
“We look at what kind of effect the technology of the modern world has on society. We look at what it has done to the individual, the family and America as a whole,” Hochstetler said. “We are trying to uphold a lifestyle that will not get us into that system. That’s what we try to do.
“Sometimes that may look like a radical thing to do because it does make us look quite different to the world as a whole. To us it is retaining something that God wants his people to have,” he said.
Hochstetler said the community is open to new members and holds part of its services in English when visitors attend their church. He said that religion and family are the glue of the community, and while members are aware of the world around them, they choose not to participate in its governing activities.
“We don’t get involved in politics,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t have an interest in it and what’s happening in the world, but we would approach it more from the aspect of Jesus, who told his disciples that they are there to watch and pray. We pray for the government, pray for the people, pray for the nation.”