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A good object lesson

– Report by Stephen Mikesell

Our National Public Radio Radio had a show today about a banker who lends to the Amish people. The Amish are a religious group in America who refuse to use machines, fertilizer, etc. They make everything that they need themselves and are famous for their woodwork and high-quality farm products. They do not own cars but use horses and buggies (though they do ride trains and buses).

They never buy anything on credit or take loans, except to buy farms and houses. Big banks have problems lending to them because they don’t carry insurance — their friends and neighbors are their insurance — and because they don’t otherwise take loans they have no credit history. So mainly they borrow from local bankers who know every one of them personally, who their parents are, who their wive’s parents are, how good farmers they are, whether the parents are farmers, and so forth.

The banker who they were interviewing will drive a thousand miles a week visiting with all the Amish farmers who have borrowed from him, and standing on a hilltop he said that every farm that you could see had loans with his bank. He said that in his twenty years, not one Amish farmer had defaulted on a loan, and that in this last year, when all over the world banks are failing, his bank is having its most profitable year ever.

I might add that where all other, high tech, petroleum-based family farmers in the United States have been failing over the last 20 years, the Amish with their horses and horse-drawn plows and organic agriculture have been the one group that has been expanding and prospering. In Alberta, Canada, they have been buying up so much land that a law was made that Amish could not hold two adjacent quarter sections (1/4 mile by 1/4 mile). In the city of Minneapolis, where they buy up old buildings that have been condemned and then get all their friends and neighbors to help them rebuild them, they are among the largest landlords.

When you question what direction you want your country to go, what is development and so forth, you might recall that it is not the people following the Vikash gospel who are succeeding in the United States and the rest of the Americas, but the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites, who use centuries old farming technologies and who have strong, supportive communities, and who treat the land, the earth and their houses like their mother and not like a commodity to be bought and sold.

December 12, 2008


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