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Archives for July 2009

The modern world intrudes on the Amish

Justin Rowlatt | 13:39 UK time, Thursday, 16 July 2009

Have you ever seen an Amish man yodelling with a horse? In fact, have you ever seen anyone yodel with a horse? Thought not. Take a look at this:

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Watching our film it is easy to forget just how private and closed Amish communities usually are. Many Amish refuse to be photographed, let alone filmed for television, so it was a real privilege to be invited to stay and work on an Amish farm.

In keeping with the Ethical Man ethos we were travelling by train from Washington DC down to Texas. And, if you want a non-ethical argument for taking the train rather than a plane, this trip is it.

As the train drew out of Washington station we discovered that the actress and eco-activist Daryl Hannah was sharing our carriage. She, very kindly, agreed to be interviewed for our programme.

The Amish boarded when we changed trains at Chicago. The producer and I couldn't believe our luck. Are there two more extreme examples of the American experience than a Hollywood star and the Amish?

Since you are wondering train travel is permitted in Amish communities. They are just not allowed to actually drive trains - or cars.

I asked them what they were playing and they invited me to join their game. In the end Elam and I ended up chatting into the night. The next morning - completely unprompted - he and Rachel separately invited us to stay.

It would have been rude not to.

And what a fascinating couple of days it was. Even though - as our film shows - the Amish community is becoming much more open it is still a remarkable and unique part of American life.

They did make me work hard though. Feeding and watering 79 horses was even more effort than cleaning up the mess I made a week earlier at the Vegas pig farm.

I suppose it is evidence of just how much work living a low impact lifestyle can be. Elam told me that lots of people say they want to join the Amish and some even spend time living amongst them, but almost all give up.

"A lot of people that didn't grow up with it couldn't live this way. If they had been born and raised like we were they could live with it," he told me.

"The hardest thing is what causes global warming, the vehicle" Elam believes. "They can't put that vehicle away, the television away and electricity away and live an old-fashioned life."

The fact that the Amish are finding it hard to sustain their traditional lifestyles gives a sense of the challenge we all face. The ease of energy-intensive lifestyles is clearly hard to resist.

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