Touring Amish Country – A closer look at a simple, humble way of life

July2011981copyHaving lived in Amish country my whole life, the idea of going on an Amish tour seemed strange, yet I found myself excited when I was offered a tour by Joan Ruen from Bluffscape Amish Tours.

    Ruen has been operating Bluffscape in Lanesboro since 2007 after purchasing an existing Amish tour business. Her background as a teacher was evident throughout the tour as we were given fascinating information on the history of Amish in America and the Amish culture in general.

    The majority of the Amish that settled in the Southeastern Minnesota came from the Eastern part of the United States in the early 1970’s. They were looking for more affordable land. “There are so many Amish settlements,” an Amish woman on our last stop told us.

    When asked how they traveled long distances she told us that their items are shipped by semi or cattle trailer if they are moving to a new location. They generally travel by bus or Amtrak when moving to a new location or when visiting relatives. “Amish get around,” she said with a smile.

Visiting the farms

The farms we visited were of modest size, the buildings were tidy and some farms had more than one house to accommodate more members of the family. They had large vegetable gardens and buildings to sell their products.

    We were greeted warmly at each place. “I really enjoy visiting with the Amish families out on the tours as they are kind, appreciative and humble people,” Ruen said.

    The Amish women we met on the tour were in their work clothing: dresses in a subdued, single color closed with straight pins or safety pins and caps to cover their hair. The black and white dress, we were told, is only for special occasions and church, and the bonnet is worn only for traveling.

Stores open to all

Though some may be concerned that Amish tours exploit the Amish and their culture, the stores they have are open to everyone, not just the tour businesses. “We needed more income,” a young Amish woman told me when asked about her store. She said other family members were at one of the local farmers markets selling items as well.

    Amish shops are usually in a building separate from the house and are filled with quilted items, baskets, leather and beaded goods, furniture, soaps, candles, and jars of jelly, jam, honey and other canned produce. Goods are handmade by members of the family.

    “It’s a side job for us,” another Amish woman on the tour explained. They have been selling goods for 15 years. “I enjoy meeting the new people.”

    A stop at the Amish bakery delighted us with the wonderful smell of newly-baked breads, bars, rolls and donuts.