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For decades, even as members of this Amish community in northern Indiana have tended to small family farms, sewed their own clothing and traveled by horse and buggy, economic necessity has forced an increasing number to make their living by working for the RV makers and suppliers that dominate the landscape, and economy, here. An estimated 53 percent of the area’s Amish men under age 65 were working in factories as of 2002, according to Steven Nolt and Thomas J. Meyers, academics at nearby Goshen College who have written extensively about the Amish.
But despite the loss of jobs and income, many in the Amish community here say they see the recession as a blessing, because it has caused them to refocus on the key principles of their community: family and faith. “I think maybe that’s what the good Lord’s trying to teach us,” said Cletus Lambright, whose business, Lambright Woodworking, has seen a big drop in demand for custom-made cabinets and other items. “Family values should never be pushed aside.”
In a community that tends toward large families, the lack of factory jobs also has brought some men back into home-based businesses, where they can be closer to their children and where their work is more ingrained in family life. Factory work is “not conducive to the family life,” said Chris Miller, a deacon in the Amish church who also runs Creekside Bookstore, a Shipshewana business that caters primarily to the Amish. “It takes away from our values.” The recession also is forcing many to rediscover a tradition of living simply and frugally, which some say had fallen away in recent years as people here grew used to the high salaries of factory work.
Another hallmark of the community that seems to have served them well in this recession is an extremely strong work ethic. “Of all the people that got laid off, I can’t think of one Amish person I know that is out of a job and is at a place where he doesn’t know what to do,” said Ray Troyer, a deacon in the Amish church who works at Yoder’s Hardware in Shipshewana.