Amish expand hold in Lancaster County Strict religious group has gained 137 farms in area since 1984


PHILADELPHIA - At a time when the number of farms and farm acreage have been steadily declining for decades in Pennsylvania, the Amish have been expanding their hold on Lancaster County farmland, despite development pressures.

In researching Lancaster County farm sales and Amish registries dated 1984 through 1995, sociologist Conrad L. Kanagy has found that the Amish gained a net of 137 non-Amish farms and gained a net of 11,498 farm acres.

Though some Amish were selling, they were not selling out: Of the Amish farms that were sold, 82 percent went to other Amish.

Dealing with pressure

"I think for years we have underestimated the creativity of [the Amish] to respond to pressure," Kanagy, who teaches at Elizabethtown College in northern Lancaster County, said in an interview.

Kanagy has been gathering the information for a book to be titled "Culture, Religion and Land: Social Change in America's Garden Spot."

"We assumed that if they were feeling pressure, they were going to flee," he said. "But they have turned it around and are going to take advantage of it."

The Amish had to do something, Kanagy said, because they say that their population in Lancaster County and in the nation has been doubling every 20 years.

"Our lifestyle is sort of vibrant," said Samuel Stoltzfus, an Amish man from Gordonville in Paradise Township. "It's fluorescent."

Stoltzfus embodies something of that changing Amish lifestyle.

Unlike many Amish, he allowed himself to be interviewed and named, but, like other Amish wary of the sin of pride, he would not be photographed.

He returns calls to his answering machine, but, in keeping with Amish concerns about ungodly things of the world, the phone is not on his farm.

Stoltzfus is something of a historian of his community.

"In 1973, we had 50 districts," with each such Lancaster church congregation consisting of 20 to 30 families, he said in a recent interview. "In 1993, we had 100."

Expansion down the road

Stoltzfus has seen the farm expansion right down his own road.

L One neighbor, he said, bought his third farm just last year.

"He has his own farm - it's being farmed by his daughter and son-in-law - another that he has rented out to his son-in-law, and this [new] one."

And the buying up of farmland is not happening only in the eastern part of the county, the traditional Amish heartland.

Documenting change

There is a continuing long-term expansion of the Amish to farmland in the south of the county.

"Oh, yeah," said Stoltzfus, "they're buying farms ... from the Susquehanna River to the Brandywine.

"Land is available there, it's a little bit cheaper, and," he noted, "the lifestyle is a little more conservative."

Kanagy has documented that change.

The Amish gained 67 farms in the southern part of the county, out of the countywide gain of 137 from 1984 to 1995, he found, while they gained 28 in the Amish stronghold in the eastern portion of the county.

In the northern part of the county, they bought 24 farms; in the southwest, 11; and in the west, seven.

'Not abandoning the east'

"Most being bought in the south are not [Amish] family farms. They're not owned by previous Amish family members," Kanagy said. At the same time, "they're not abandoning the east at all."

"The population in the south is growing so rapidly," he said, that eventually "there will be a higher proportion [of Amish] in the south."

The Elizabethtown professor says the Amish in the south are more conservative because they are likely to be young marrieds whose parents have bought them farms there.

"Sometimes, some of the younger folks are pretty wild," Kanagy said. "And then they're baptized at 17, 18, and become very strict."

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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