All children should have a wild place close to their home. Everyone needs to grow up experiencing the wonders of nature. Growing up on a farm with some untamed woods is the best. For many, the wild field across from their childhood house is now a subdivision or mall. Or it has been bulldozed, leveled, creeks straightened and turned into a monocrop megafarm. The wild places of my childhood are still wild and natural.
The great blue herons still come back to their rookeries in those deep woods. Two inch thick wild grape vines still climb into the trees. Wild jewelweed still grows there in profuse abundance right next to the stinging nettle it soothes. And jewelweed still stymies the drug companies who would love to extract the active ingredient in fresh jewelweed. All their technical prowess is unable to maintain the soothing effects of jewelweed unless it is fresh.
The first farm I remember was in Knox County, Missouri near Edina. This is today still a rural area of small farms. The reason why is the Amish. When I was a child, most everyone I knew was descended from Scot-Irish ancestors. Now that area is nearly all Amish.
The Amish have moved from further East into the cheaper farmland of Missouri and Arkansas. They aren’t attracted to the vast flat Delta or the rough, untillable Ozarks. They settle in places where they can produce food on decent soils and not have to compete with huge corporate farms living off government payments.
The Amish are a model of resilient systems for us all. They have successfully farmed using the same system for hundreds of years. Many farm with horses and without electricity or gas engines. The elders carefully examine any new technology to see whether it will disrupt their lives and farming system. Only in rare cases is new technology allowed in. They are a very conservative example of the conservative innovation of all resilient systems.
They are especially conservative in the way they raise their children. TV and video games are not babysitters. Children are outside playing in the wild areas adjacent to the farm. They are out helping their parents, learning farming skills as soon as they can walk. They also learn their parents’ marketing skills. Go into a store in Amish country and a small child is likely to be the one to wait on you and bring your fresh milk and eggs.
The Amish always have something to sell their visitors. The exemplify the locally self-organized quality of resilient systems. They have perfected marketing methods which enable them to make a living off their small farms with crafts and food while never having to travel further then their horses can gallop.
On our family farm we still have a milk cow and chickens and a big garden, so in many ways we are like the Amish. In one crucial way, our system is not as resilient as the Amish: redundancy. This is the ecological equivalent of “thou shalt be fruitful and multiply.” The Amish have plenty of children. No matter how wealthy they become, they always have lots of kids.
They contradict the dogma of University population theorists. These academic experts insist that, as societies get wealthier, the families get smaller. Certainly this is true of rich Western countries. As we have become wealthy, we have have fewer and fewer children. But this “demographic transition model” is a theory disproven by the Amish and their Hutterite and Mennonite brethren. I have yet to see an academic paper which explores this contradiction.
The Rumspringa of the Amish is perhaps a little more well-known. Rumspringa normally begins around the age of 14 to 16 and ends when a youth become baptized within the Amish church, or instead leaves the community. All Amish have freely chosen to stay Amish. How many of today’s modern American helicopter parents would let their young teenagers loose to chose their own lifestyle?
Resilient systems are based on freedom. Though the Amish system may seem very orderly, rigid and controlled, it is based on the freedom of all members to chose to be part of the system.
Politics and insurance reflect other aspects of the resilient Amish system. The Amish eschew both. We have been brainwashed to think insurance is something we must have on our cars, our houses, or health. The Amish don’t. They rely on neighbors to pitch in and rebuild their houses if they burn. Their insurance for their horses is a little colt growing up to replace the horses they now drive. Their health insurance is lots of exercise, fresh air and good food.
Many modern Americans are consumed by politics. The Amish ignore it. We think you must be active in politics and that your choice of a presidential candidate is important. The Amish don’t agree. They recognize that what is important for resilience if getting their local governance right.
The Amish are surprising to many, but not to those who study ecological resilience. They have just incorporated in their systems the qualities which make all systems survive and thrive.