As Amish Leave Farming For Other Work, Some Leave Their Homestead Lancaster, Pa., is changing as only about a third of the fast-growing religious group there still farm. Most Amish heads of household work in businesses and construction these days.
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As Amish Leave Farming For Other Work, Some Leave Their Homestead

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As Amish Leave Farming For Other Work, Some Leave Their Homestead

As Amish Leave Farming For Other Work, Some Leave Their Homestead

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Lancaster County, Pa., is home to the biggest settlement of Amish people in the United States. Now, that community is growing fast, and some of its members are leaving farms and moving into towns. Some towns have had to change their zoning laws so Amish people can bring things like horses along with them. Rachel McDevitt of member station WITF has the story.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: There's a chicken.

RACHEL MCDEVITT, BYLINE: Kids are feeding chickens and goats outside of Busy Bee's Farm Market in Lancaster County. The little open-air red barn is a traditional Amish farm stand stocked with fresh produce, soft pretzels and handmade crafts. Every few minutes, a horse-and-buggy passes by.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSE CLOPPING)

MCDEVITT: Kisel Espinal (ph) is visiting from New York City with her parents.

KISEL ESPINAL: I just am really fascinated with the Amish community and how they live. My parents grew up on a farm - obviously way different from this but very similar vibe.

MCDEVITT: But most Amish people in Lancaster County are no longer working on farms. The price of farmland has risen from about $8,000 an acre a few decades ago to $20,000 today. And fewer and fewer Amish are farming. The majority work outside the home in businesses and construction, and so they're moving into towns. Strasburg Township supervisor Michael Weaver is driving a black Jeep Wrangler on windy back roads past farms and small clusters of homes spaced well apart.

MICHAEL WEAVER: This is a prime example right here.

MCDEVITT: He stops outside one fairly modest beige ranch house with what appears to be a large garage or a small barn. It's a carriage house with room for two horses and a buggy.

WEAVER: ...A plot of ground that's no more than a half-acre.

MCDEVITT: It used to be you needed one acre of land per horse to keep the animal on your property. But the township zoning board was getting inundated with requests for exceptions from Amish moving onto smaller lots, so the supervisors voted to allow up to two horses for the purpose of transportation to be kept on a half-acre. Weaver says the rule change was made as a compromise between the Amish and who they call the English, or non-Amish.

WEAVER: I have seen a cultural clash between the Amish community and the English.

MCDEVITT: The religious group nearly doubles in size every two decades, and it's starting to feel a little crowded in Lancaster County, where Amish are about 7% of the population. To Chet Lapp, who is Amish, changes in township rules aren't enough to help his people continue their lifestyle.

CHET LAPP: There's just so much more. Like, the focus is on, like, OK, now we did a half-acre for two horses. Good for you. But it's not going to last long is my point.

MCDEVITT: Lapp describes himself as a mad visionary. He got his real estate agent's license several years ago, and he's been helping families move out of Lancaster County as they look for more space and affordable farmland. Now he's actively scouting neighboring counties for new settlements and finding people interested in moving. He says it's a matter of identity. He wants to see more of his people moving to protect their faith and culture from the mainstream.

LAPP: That influence comes back into the home - period. You can't change that.

MCDEVITT: But many are tied to the land. A local Amish man says though he's had family members move, he's never considered leaving. We're not naming him because most Amish don't allow recordings of themselves for religious reasons. This man fears backlash from his community if they knew he had allowed it. As he sits at the end of his driveway, his big white farmhouse just out of view, he says his ancestors have been in the county since 1800. He started this farm in 1975.

UNIDENTIFIED AMISH RESIDENT: Our roots are here. Our ancestors are buried here. We feel attached to this. It's a part of our heritage.

MCDEVITT: But the realtor, Chet Lapp, believes the Amish will evolve by either embracing more of the modern world or safeguarding the traditions of their faith outside of their historic homeland.

For NPR News, I'm Rachel McDevitt in Lancaster County, Pa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARISA ANDERSON'S "SANCTUARY")

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