Last week I attended a conference at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania on Amish America: Plain Technology in a Cyber World. The conference was sponsored by The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, which is a center for research and study of the Amish and other Plain groups.
What a fantastic event! I can't begin to tell you how exciting it was to be with a group which shares my interest. A number of Plain people were in attendance as well as scholars and medical personnel, and every coffee break and meal was a chance to chat and learn.
One of the highlights for me was a tour of Amish businesses which are using technology of different sorts in order to be competitive in the business world. We visited the Leola Produce auction, where farmers bring their produce and flowers which are then sold at auction to grocery stores and some roadside markets. I followed buyers around, listening to their reactions, and also chatted with several Mennonite women who had brought in produce. The green and yellow squash was so beautiful I wanted to take some home, but since I was going back to a college dorm, that didn't make much sense!
We also visited an Amish greenhouse which grows vegetables by aquaponics. They have a thriving business and were growing vast amounts of Bibb lettuce which will be sold to the Whole Foods stores. When we stopped at a machine shop, I was fascinated to learn that the employees, who were doing highly technical work in some cases, typically came to work there while in their teens and with only an eighth grade education. They learn by working alongside the older workers, and one of the company's successful innovations was actually the idea of a fourteen-year-old boy!
The tour ended with a wonderful lunch in an Amish home. After we'd been stuffed with chicken pot pie, meat loaf, potatoes, beans, homemade pickles and applesauce, home-baked bread, cake, and pie, our hostess and her daughters sang for us.
The following days were a blur of seminars, presentations, lectures, and discussions about so many aspects of Amish life that I couldn't begin to recount them all. I was especially pleased to hear Valerie Weaver-Zercher's presentation of her recently released study of Amish romance novels, "Thrill of the Chaste: The Secret Life of an Amish Romance Novel."
Linda Byler, author of many Amish romance and young adult novels, also met with an interested group, and we discussed the amazing growth and appeal of Amish fiction. If you haven't read any of Linda's novels, you really should. As an Amish woman herself, she really knows her subject!
I came home filled to overflowing with ideas and eager to get back to work on my own current book!