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As a teenager, my youth choir toured across the United States each summer during the first few weeks of June. One summer, we stopped in Intercourse, PA (much to the delight of the middle school boys in our group) for a glimpse of the Amish way of life. Based on this experience with “Amish Country,” I associate the Amish with clean air, fresh farm produce, and a simple, environmentally friendly way of life.
However, the idyllic pastures of the Amish countryside may not be as “green” as they seem. Amish farming practices have recently come under scrutiny from the EPA. President Obama charged the EPA with cleaning up Chesapeake Bay, which has long been polluted by runoff from manure and synthetic fertilizers. Lancaster County, where the Amish own more than fifty percent of the farms, ranks at the top of the list of contributors to the pollution, producing more than sixty-one million pounds of manure a year.
Although the Amish typically do not use modern farming technologies, the changes that can prevent manure runoff from polluting nearby water are simple and accessible to the Amish community. Farmers can use fences, buffers, and manure pits to contain the waste from their farms and prevent water pollution.
Despite the compatibility of these methods with the Amish way of life, the EPA faces unique challenges in implementing them. Because the Amish take seriously the Biblical command to separate themselves from the modern world, they are reluctant to accept government subsidies or grants, and construction of manure containment facilities can be expensive.
Personally, I am impressed by the EPA’s conscientious approach to environmental problems in the Amish community. The EPA is working within the technological limits of the community by traveling to meet individually with farmers and discuss changes that are largely consistent with the Amish way of life. Like many Americans, I am intrigued by the simple, family-centered culture of the Amish, particularly when the modern world is becoming increasingly fast-paced and individualized. I hope that the EPA will continue to approach their culture with the respect and flexibility necessary to allow the nearly 300 year-old Pennsylvania community’s culture to continue to thrive, and at the same time effectuate the changes necessary to protect our environment.
– Rachel Purcell
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