Spoiler alert: It involves pens, paper, printouts, and a few trusted go-betweens.
Across Pennsylvania, Amish farming communities are differentiated from their neighbors by technological abstention. The members of the Clarion County Amish community are no exception. They do not own phones, and do not operate computers or motor vehicles. And yet, these same farmers are adapting, collaborating with their non-Amish neighbors to stay competitive in a food marketplace increasingly defined by technological advancement and centralization.
As is the case in most of Pennsylvania, Clarion County is not considered an ideal place to build large farms: Plots often run smaller in the hilly, rugged high plains of the Appalachian Plateaus. And while Pittsburgh (two hours south of Clarion County) attracts jobs and capital, this part of Western Pennsylvania is quiet, with few people and fewer jobs. So not too many English people (as the Amish refer to the non-Amish) grow vegetables in Clarion County. Says Aaron Schwartz, an Amish farmer in this community: “They’d have to build a road first.”
Schwartz was one the founding farmers of the Clarion River Organics growers’ cooperative. In 2000, after leaving a community in Indiana and then living for a while in Ontario, Canada, he and his family (he has 15 children and 40 grandchildren) moved to Clarion County with four other Amish families. They centered their new community around growing organic produce, and family members work at home or on their family farms as much as possible.I met Schwartz on a sunny morning in late June. He was “discing”—or fine tuning—the soil in part of his field to plant buckwheat, a cover crop that helps build soil fertility. As he stepped down from the disc, which churns and loosens the soil, his six horses stood patiently waiting. Schwartz wore a simple black hat, a shirt fashioned with hooks rather than buttons, and black pants. He uses horse-powered farm equipment to grow organic butternut squash, cabbage, romaine lettuce, and bok choy.