Amish Farmers Hurting the Environment?

April Peveteaux

amish farmers bad for environment
Flickr photo by cloudsoup
While the Amish way of life is one of frugality and conservation, the EPA is now scrutinizing the plain-sect dairy farmers of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, due to the volume of waste being produced on their farms.

In one of the most counterintuitive stories I've read today, The New York Times focuses on the large amount of cattle in this county, and the toxic runoff from manure and synthetic fertilizers that is contaminating the water supply.

The Amish own 50 percent of the farms in Lancaster County and an EPA survey from 2007 showed 61 million pounds of manure generated from these farms in one year, which is more than six times the amount of the other counties.

What also makes this story fascinating is while the EPA is stepping in to help the farmers change their practices by offering grants and assistance, the Amish community is wary of government help and does not want to accept the grant money. Which puts the farmers in a bad situation, as they cannot afford to revamp their farms to comply with the new standards.

As the article points out, this group of people has a long history of independence from the government:

Persuading plain-sect farmers to install fences and buffers underwritten by federal grants has been challenging because of their tendency to shy from government programs, including subsidies. Members neither pay Social Security nor receive its benefits, for example.

Luckily some progress is being made in a roundabout manner through a local organization that has been awarded a grant to give free walkthroughs and informative sessions to the farmers. Of course the lack of technology is a challenge not only in communicating with the farmers, but in making any major changes in their farming methods.

Still, more than 200 farmers have come around to working with the organization and creating manure pits away from water sources, in the hopes of avoiding the next step -- steep fines from the EPA. Either way, it's a lot of interference in a group of people that has successfully lived independently for so many years.

Do you think the Amish dairy farmers should be forced to comply? Or be left alone?

Read More