The Amish are natural entrepreneurs and business people. After all, they’ve supported themselves with farms for centuries. Their approach to life has been infused with the concept of free enterprise and self-employment. But as has been documented over the past decade in books and articles in magazines like Forbes, the Amish are leaving their farms to start businesses.
About 15-20 minutes from me in Ohio is the largest Amish settlement in the U.S. I see evidence of Amish entrepreneurship all around me. Amish tourism (i.e., people traveling to visit Amish country, buy Amish furniture and crafts, and eat Amish food) has become a sizable business here. In the summer it’s especially noticeable, because you will see evidence of Amish enterprise literally right under your nose. This photograph shows an example:
This is a typical scene on an August afternoon in rural Ohio near Amish country. You see 4 Amish buggies, wedged between a Pilot gas station on the left and a McDonald’s on the right. This is just off of Interstate 71 between Medina, Ohio and Ashland, Ohio.
The Amish arrive early and set up their tents and tables in this narrow strip of land. You can just see the tops of their blue tents behind the buggies. They tie their horses in a sheltered field nearby.
But notice that they don’t leave the buggies in the field. Instead they park their buggies right next to the street. Those buggies being there is very important. The buggies are what draw the buyers. In fact, if you zoom in on the photo you’ll see one of the buggies has painted on it in white letters “FOR SALE BASKETS.”
They must know their buggies are a tourist draw. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be very interested in just anybody alongside the road with a blue tent. They’d barely get a second glance. But the Amish … ah, well that’s a different story. For Amish crafts I might just stop.
The Amish come here because there’s a nearby outlet mall. It draws lots of traffic from people who are already in a buying mood. (I shot this from the mall’s outer parking area across the road.) I’ve seen them at this particular spot for years, so it must be a good spot. In the 10 minutes that I sat watching I saw numerous people walk over from the gas station and the McDonald’s, to browse and buy. One minivan even did a quick U-turn to stop!
The Amish are not just involved in selling to tourists and leisure shoppers, however. Some Amish are also turning their farms into commercial enterprises on an artisan scale. The Mt. Hope Farmer’s Market in Holmes County — the capital of Ohio’s Amish country — offers produce grown by dozens of Amish farmers. Buying Amish produce has become an event for local residents to look forward to each summer. It’s also a point of competitive advantage for one local grocery chain, Buehler’s. It touts the locally-grown Amish produce it carries, saying “in the field one day and on your table the next.” The grocery chain even wrote about the Amish farmer’s market in its blog.
The Amish are turning their cultural propensity for self employment into business opportunity wherever they find it — even at the side of the road.