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Maine Town Quickly Embraces Amish Neighbors and Belief in Simple Life

UNITY, Maine - The land was gorgeous. Pastures bounded by forests and overlooked by the distant Dixmont hills. And that was the problem.

As dairy farms in Unity have struggled and died in recent years, town leaders worried the setting would draw developers more interested in erecting neo-Colonials and paving roads than preserving the town's agricultural heritage. They recruited organic farmers who bought small plots. But vast swaths remained.

Then a little more than a year ago men in banded straw hats and denim suits arrived and started buying big parcels. They built sturdy houses on the hillsides above fields where they planted strawberries and butternut squash, and loosed goats and cows to graze. They started small businesses on their land, turning out metal siding, wind turbines, and furniture, and sold vegetables and baked goods.

"The Amish were the solution that we were looking for - that we could never have dreamed up,'' said Doug Fox, a neighbor of the Hochstetlers, one of Unity's eight Amish families.

In a rugged stretch of Maine, where self-reliance and iconoclasm have been long honored, Amish are settling and finding eager neighbors. Amish first made homes in Smyrna and Easton in Aroostook County and most recently in Unity and neighboring Thorndike, in the state's center, transforming landscapes into scenes that could be postcards from Lancaster, Pa. - byways dotted with pickups giving wide berth to horse-drawn buggies carrying women in bonnets and men with beards. Today, about 200 Amish live in Maine, according to their leaders.

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