Amish Insights on: Big Families


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This Month’s Question:

Springtime is a busy time of the year for homesteaders. How do you keep such large families seemingly so organized during busy seasons?



Emily: “Out with the cold and in with the spring” is what comes to mind as the sun shines these days. Pretty soon, we’ll notice the first Coltsfoot bloom in the ditches and the Spring Beauties pop up in the otherwise bare lawn, and we are assured once again that the next season is almost here. It would be lovely if we could spend long hours in the neighboring woods, observing the reawakening that is happening, but in all reality, it is also the beginning of a busy time for most of us. Fruit trees and grapes need to be pruned, gardens planned, early crops planted, lawns raked, spring cleaning finished up, and much more. For us farmers, it’s getting the fields prepared for the spring seedings, the fences fixed so the cows can go on pasture (oh happy day!!), and thinking about first cutting hay. So how do such large families seemingly stay so organized during this busy time? Let me put in a disclaimer: first, we do not have a large family, and second, I do not consider myself the model of efficiency, but there are many, many women I greatly admire and who have taught me much over the years. And I could add “homesteaders” doesn’t quite fit our mold; our farm is our livelihood.

It seems much of our culture is rather structured, with everything having a rhyme and a reason. There is stability in knowing that each season brings things that need to be done in order for us to be able to enjoy the beauties of the season coming in. Summer is planting and harvesting, Autumn is preserving and preparing for the cold months, and winter is spent preparing for spring. Closets and drawers get sorted, organized, and cleaned; March might begin with the walls, ceilings, woodwork, window whites, windows, furniture, and floors all getting a thorough cleaning. There is something so gratifying about washing curtains and hanging them back up in a sparkling, clean room…


Sketch of a father and son carrying milk pails with Daniel's answer about keeping big families so organized.


Daniel: Here are some homespun observations regarding this interesting question. I suppose it’s mostly wrapped up in family structure, a work schedule that’s doable, and camaraderie in heaping doses. The long and short of it is that it’s not that difficult to figure out. A large family doesn’t happen overnight. As year follows year, the children, by succession, grow into the tasks they’re capable of doing; a natural progression that creates its own order of work, from oldest to youngest.

Large family or not so large, the overall approach to cooperation remains much the same. Anyone who grew up on a farm knows firsthand about the busy season. It happens every spring on every farm and is apt to stretch into summer, and fall for that matter. The earth wakes up, farmers begin their fieldwork, the oats get sowed, the sun warms the soil to a certain temp, and then… boom!—everything happens at once. A fair amount of corn seed is in the ground by now, and a fair amount is still in the bags it was bought in, meaning planting season isn’t over yet. The hay crop is ready, and the weather is favorable for cutting it. At this point, the lady of the house drops not-so-subtle hints that she couldn’t think of a better time than right now to get the garden plowed and prepped.

The bottom line is there are only so many minutes in a day. No matter how fast the farmer picks up his feet and puts ‘em down, it’s not fast enough. Here’s where a large-size family shines, their superior numbers making short shrift of a big workload—the more, the merrier. On any work project, Dad, Mom, and older siblings provide leadership—actively promoting the spirit of teamwork. Children generally respond favorably to situations where Dad or an older brother rolls up his sleeves and leads by example—“Watch me, here’s how you do it.”

From day one, these children grow up in an environment of working with a cheerful heart. Dads try their hardest to set a pleasing tenor to the day, whistling, singing, telling stories. All the folks in the neighborhood operate in like manner. The children see it and sense it, day in, day out. They mimic it, and it becomes an integral part of how they go about it themselves. Another thing: parents put a high value on seeing their children happily finding their places in the family setting and discovering contentment in their world of work, play, and school days…


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Emily Hershberger with her husband and two children have an organic dairy near Mt Hope, Ohio. She enjoys farming, gardening, garage sales, and a good book.

Daniel and Mae live on a 93-acre farm between Walnut Creek and Trail, Ohio. Five children, hay-making, and Black Angus cattle take up any spare time after work at Carlisle Printing. Questions and comments welcome: 330-893-6043.


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