By Herb Sparrow
A midst the hectic pace of modern society, the Amish of Lancaster County in southeastern Pennsylvania stand apart. The nearly 25,000 Old Order Amish in the county, America’s oldest Amish settlement, live a simple life based on humility, family and community.
Their way of life, which includes the rejection of modern technology such as automobiles and electricity, and plain dress has become a lure for curious visitors, who come to the county to see the horses and buggies and well-maintained farms, eat hardy Amish food, buy quality hand-made products such as furniture and quilts, and savor the more laid-back pace of life.
Audrey Bialas, director of tourism sales for the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she is seeing groups wanting to learn more about the Amish.
“Instead of looking through the window, they want more in-depth, getting to know who the Amish are and their culture,” she said. “They want that interaction. They want to ask questions and see what is on the other side of the fence, go into the house, meet the children.
“We have developed programs on many different levels. If you have an hour, or you have 24 hours, we can do something, and for everything in between. There has always been that curiosity, but now there are ways to really get that personal touch.”
The options range from Amish homestead attractions to guided tours of the countryside — there are even horse-and-buggy tours — to dining with an Amish family.
“Through local receptive operators, you can go on a farm and have some type of meal and interact with the family,” said Bialas. “Or a group can eat with an Amish family in a restaurant, with the family sitting down and dining with them.
“In one new program, an Amish family will ride the Strasburg Railroad with a group and answer questions and interact. Other new Amish dining and interaction programs are Brunswick Tours’ Old-Fashioned Amish Picnic, All-in-One’s Church Picnic and Hymn Sing, and Amish Village’s Lunch and Learn.”
Bialas said many of the Amish are eager to explain their way of life with non-Amish, or English, as they call them. “They want people to be clear about what they are about and clear up misconceptions,” she said. “It is an opportunity to tell the real story.
“And we have three Amish attractions that all do a great job of interpreting the Amish.”
All three have tours of authentically furnished Amish farmhouses, where guides explain the culture, history and way of life of the Amish.