Archive for June, 2011

Amish Feel the Pinch – A Special Report

Few sectors of the American economy have been left untouched by the recent financial crises. The latest data indicates that pain and suffering is widespread. The downturn has had an impact on even the most bucolic  of lifestyles. One must range far and wide to find anyone who has not become frustrated with an economic malaise that does not appear willing to release our nation from its icy grip. Ship In the Night, looking for more examples of depredation, traveled deep into Amish country to find out just how bad it really is. The following is the account of that journey.

Sam the Amish man

Mr. Swatzentruber asked that we publish his photo only in black and white to best emphasize his traditional side.

Samuel Swatzentruber is preparing his field for the spring planting. It’s been difficult this year as the rains fell long past the date of typical planting. Though he obviously feels the strain his faith and his family keep him going. He and his wife Rebecca have four children: two boys and two girls, with one on the way. In an area where his non Amish neighbors as often as not live in dilapidated trailers with broken families Samuel can easily be judged a successful man. Though he does not openly brag about his accomplishments it is obvious in his gait and his confidence of manner that he knows he has done well. Ask him and he will tell you he has been blessed numerous times over. The Lord has been good to him and his family. His modesty is characteristic of his people.

quilt O' Amish

One of the lovely quilts Rebecca is able to whip off in her spare time. "Not that I'm bragging but I can make a quilt in 45 minutes while putting up jam and slaughtering a chicken for dinner. I bet Esther Mueller can't claim that."

While Samuel works the fields Rebecca raises the children and keeps their simple home clean, comfortable and welcoming. One look at her hands clearly indicates she is no stranger to hard work. To supplement the family income she produces traditional quilts and baskets that are most often sold to non Amish. And when the farming is slow Samuel finds extra income plying his trade as a wood worker producing furniture that most often ends up in non Amish homes and businesses.

Chinese Amish made goods

"Where do you think our baskets are made? China?" An alleged display of Chinese Amish made goods in a local retail outlet . The owner insists these items were hand-made by US based Amish. Likely story local suppliers say.

“It’s no secret that we have benefited from the wealth of our English neighbors,” Samuel explains. “But sales have been down over the last year or so. Rebecca has sold only half the quilts that normally, by this time of year, she is able to move. Basket sales are similarly off. I had a small contract to make those Amish heaters that are so popular with the non Amish. But I recently received a letter that the company was moving production to China. I didn’t even know we had brethren in China until I received that letter. And apparently it’s not just the heaters. Amish quilts, baskets, furniture, you name it, are now flooding the market we once thought we had locked up. It was my belief that our labor was cheap by American standards. Those Chinese Amish must be working for next to nothing.”

Chinese Amish – Who Knew?

“We certainly didn’t,” explained community elder Moses Klinkenheimer. “Yes there were stories.¬† Sitting around the wood stove discussing the days events someone would invariably bring up the eoin colfer or lost colony, as we called it. But nobody really believed it existed. It was just a story. Well I guess what was once lost, now is found.”

Amish weilding hammer

Reacting to reports of dumping of Chinese Amish made goods on the American market the Obama administration has announced plans to take up the issue with Chinese representatives. "Out cheaping our own cheap labor can not be allowed to stand," remarked Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Amish made imports, Blane Glisdu.

Fleeing persecution in Europe the Amish diaspora was thought to have settled principally in the US and Canada. But Amish lore speaks of a group of followers that apparently disappeared during the migration that brought the ancestors of today’s communities to the new world.¬† “Some say their elder had a poor sense of direction and headed east instead of the agreed upon west,” explained Amish historian Levi Stalkinweiner. “Others say the group thought they had gotten a good deal on passage to America only to find themselves on a trade caravan to Western China. I suspect there was a falling out at the last minute and so, being Amish, their independent group decided to head out on their own and seek peace elsewhere. Our communities are self-governing so it would not be unusual for one group to just up and leave. But whatever the case, it seems the old story had a layer of truth to it after all.”

Ship In the Night’s research has traced the source of the Sino-Amish goods to the western province of Qinghai. Being far from the seat of power Beijing, closer to European influence and way the hell out in the middle of nowhere, it is understandable that a band of wayward Amish might blend in. “Qinghai has been a melting pot of cultures for millenia so a few Amish would hardly garner a lot of interest among the locals,” explained Sylvia Ulrich of SUNY Heuvelton Department of Diaspora studies. “The recent economic expansion into western China has opened a conduit of goods to flow outside the region that previously did not exist.”

dualing hats

Though obviously different in style one can't help but notice the similar material and attention paid to construction. It's surprising no one noticed the similarities sooner.

“Though we are a little peeved that our brethren are undercutting our prices, we are very excited to make contact with our long-lost fellow plain people,” said elder Eli Wolenbueller. “We look forward to seeing how well these folks have been able to maintain the traditions. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect them to have been able to hold on quite as strongly as we have, they being in China and all, but I’m sure they put up a good effort. We stand ready to help them reinstate any practices they failed to maintain. It’s the Amish way. I for one am keen to hear Chinese spoken with a German accent. That should give us something to talk about around the wood stove.”

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