Fifteen years ago, I was in my mid 30s and I didn’t know anything about farming. I bought a farm in Chenango County near Binghamton, N.Y. and bought two of everything—goats, sheep, cows, chickens, and pigs. People called me Noah.
I really liked the egg-laying hens. They’re really easy to work with. They make magic every day. They lay an egg every single day, nature’s perfect protein source.
I decided I wanted to learn how to raise organic eggs, so I called up Organic Valley and asked who’s raising eggs in the Northeast. They gave me the name of an Amish farmer in Lancaster County, who was at the time the largest producer of organic eggs for Organic Valley.
I just kind of broke that third wall, walked onto his farm, shook his hand, and said, “Hey, I want to raise organic eggs and I’ve heard you’re the best guy in the Northeast.” We immediately hit it off.
Jacob Glick lives in Bird In Hand, P.A. He and his family had five hen houses each with 10,000 chickens. All of the hens had access to the outdoors, and were let outside during the day to run around the pasture. It’s instinctual for them to come back into the barn at night and roost.
The most interesting and intriguing thing about the Amish lifestyle is how they’ve figured out ways to work around not having the modern conveniences we all think about, like electricity.
Chickens need a certain number of hours of light each day. So they had gas lanterns in the barn and used an old-fashioned windup alarm clock, with a string tied to the bells that when pulled would shut off the lights.
The Amish live a very simple life, very hard life. They’re not remotely afraid to put in a fifteen or sixteen hour hard day of physical labor, six days a week. Sunday is a day off, devoted to Church.
For a six-month period, I would go down and stay on Jacob’s farm for five or six days at a time. It was about 300 miles from my farm in Chenango County. He trusted me and I trusted him. Jacob was so giving and so helpful to me to really understand all the things I needed to do.
Some of my best memories are of the meals. Everything is made from scratch. That shoofly pie … wow! Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and also the only time the Amish do business.
The Amish are close to the vest when it comes to almost everything. For them to open up to me was very unusual.
The Amish are very helpful to each other. When someone gets married, they’ll buy a farm, and the whole community shows up to build a barn for them. It’s incredible how much gets done as a community. They’re a very, very tight knit community.
For a couple of years, Jacob hired a driver in a big truck (yes, there is an exception when hiring a driver) and he and his boys came up to my farm and stayed for well over a week and we went out hunting deer.
There’s an innocence about them that’s lost in our society now.
Related Exhibition and Program:
Another America: A Testimonial to the Amish by Robert Weingarten is on view through May 25, 2014 in Brackett Clark Gallery.
In Person: Photographer Robert Weingarten (Free to Members)
Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. in the Dryden Theatre.
Robert Weingarten will discuss his work on view in Another America.
Dean Sparks is the General Manager of Hart's Local Grocers, a new independent grocery store opening soon in the East End in downtown Rochester.
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