It’s no secret that farming and gardening are an integral part of Amish and Mennonite life. As a little girl, I remember spending many days picking row after row of string beans and corn in my Opa’s orderly plot. However, you don’t need acres of land or even a green thumb to eat like the Amish. Here are a few suggestions to help you make Plain food choices—the bonus is, they’re good for your health and good for the Earth, too!
Grow Your Own
Don’t think the only way to grow your own food is to slave away in a huge kitchen garden. All you need is a patch of sunlight, some creativity, and a little elbow grease. If you have a free windowsill, grow a planter of greens or some herbs. Have a patio? The internet is full of great ideas for edible container gardens. If you’re blessed with even a small plot of land and a bit of ambition, then bust some sod and turn that water-guzzling grass into delicious fruits and vegetables. You can find some great gardening planning aids at almanac.com, the online home of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
If you want to eat like the Amish and grow your own, feel free to think outside the box. A garden isn’t the only way to put home-grown food on your table. Even an urban yard can support a flock of laying hens, and believe me, once you taste an egg collected fresh from the chicken coop, you’ll never want to eat one from the store again. Bee hives are another great small space option for those with the courage to try them. If you have a large yard and enough time on your hands, you might consider a family milk cow like a Miniature Jersey.
Buy Fresh and Local Foods
If right now you’re thinking that all this sounds great, but you’d never be able to find the time to grow vegetables or raise chickens, you can still eat like the Amish. The good news is that you don’t have to be a farmer to access food fresh from the farm. Dedicate one Saturday morning a month during the growing season to visiting a farmer’s market. You might have so much fun you decide to do it every week! If you’re really serious about eating farm fresh food and want to ensure you get the best deal, consider joining a CSA program. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and essentially means that you buy a weekly share of whatever a certain farm produces. That’s my kind of investment!
Websites like localharvest.org, sustainableconnections.org and pickyourown.org are a great way to find farms to patronize. You can always use a search engine like Google, as well. Most farmers these days are internet-savvy and have at least rudimentary websites. We buy seasonal fruits and vegetables and meat from local farms, and all the farms I purchase from I found online. If you’re willing to drive out to the farm, some farmers even offer a discount for on-site pickup.
Preserve What’s In Season
I live in Western New York, where for six months out of the year, nothing grows. By January all the delicious local produce I had access to over the summer would be only a distant memory and I’d be back to buying everything from the grocery store if I didn’t preserve foods. This is something I’m striving to do more of as each year passes. The two most popular ways to preserve foods are by canning and freezing. I’ll be honest with you—I’ve never tried canning, but I hope to this summer! Freezing is an extremely easy way to preserve seasonal food—while some produce items require blanching prior to storage in the freezer, most fruits can simply be washed and frozen. You’ll be glad you put in the time to preserve over the summer when you sit down to a bowl of (almost) farm fresh blueberries in December.
If you want to start eating like the Amish, take baby steps. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Choose one or two goals to tackle year. Before you know it, you will have formed new food habits. Your taste buds, your health, and your family will thank you!
Laura Weymouth is a Canadian Mennonite girl currently living in Western New York along with her husband, two daughters, and ten chickens. When she’s not chasing children or poultry you can find her at church, at the library or in the kitchen. Laura loves long books, hot cups of tea, anything made with yeast, snail mail, and simple living. She’s almost always working on a novel manuscript, and perhaps in future will let one of them see the light of day.