The Amish community in Missouri has been growing.
What does this mean for rural Missouri and community planning?
Dr. Krista Evans, director of planning at Missouri State University, has explored these questions in her recent research.
Local student project sparks interest
Evans’s interest in the relationship between the Amish and community planning was sparked while teaching one of her courses, Planning Practicum.
“During a downtown revitalization project with the Practicum students, in Seymour, I learned about existing conflicts and issues between the Amish and the English, or non-Amish,” Evans said.
However, among the local community, there were also positive perceptions of Amish growth. People looked favorably on the economic opportunities the Amish bring to the community.
“So I thought, ‘Hey, I need to delve into this further.’”
Along the way, Evans discovered a gap in literature.
“There’s a lot of literature in the fields of anthropology and sociology about the Amish, but there’s basically nothing from the urban and community planning field regarding the Amish,” she said.
Evans investigated three Amish communities in rural Missouri: Seymour, Jamesport and Clark Madison.
She began by speaking with three planners and one Amish leader in each community.
“I spoke with planners at the regional, county and city levels, in addition to an Amish bishop or leader at each case site location,” she said. “I wanted to get their perspectives on issues of governance and land use.”
Less regulations, more interest
Turns out, Missouri is a sought-after area for this group of people.
Many counties in Missouri have no zoning or land use regulations, making the area very attractive for the Amish to settle in.
“The Amish are very interested in areas where there are very few land use regulations,” she said. “For example, typical zoning regulations might not allow horses in a residential area. No zoning allows Amish to not only have horses but run businesses out of their home and live off the grid.
“Furthermore, the cost of rural land [in Missouri] is comparatively affordable, as opposed to places like Pennsylvania or New York.”
Change in cultural interactions
Evans also found that interactions between the Amish and non-Amish (English) cultures is increasing.
Their traditional cloistered agrarian lifestyle is becoming less and less attainable.
It is not economically feasible for everyone to farm, so they are moving to occupations such as carpentry. “Though cultural norms dictate that the Amish remain distinct from larger society, economic realities necessitate alternative ways of making a living,” Evans’s study finds. “As the Amish pursue occupations other than farming, increased interaction with the non-Amish results.”
Contribution behind the scenes
Many people would assume that the Amish would not participate in local governance or planning processes, but Evans found that to be false.
“The Amish do in fact participate in planning and governing processes; however, they generally do so indirectly. They will let their voices be heard if their unique culture is taken into account.”
For example, a planner leading a community input event should make sure participants have a place to park horses and buggies, and not rely on high-tech technology, like Smartphone polling at such events. Steps such as these increase the chance of Amish participation in the planning process.
A concept of high importance
Evans’s research will be vital to understanding community planning processes that include the voices of the Amish.
“With the high birth rates they have, and the number [of Amish] that are starting new communities in the area, we are going to experience significant growth in the Amish presence,” she said. “With this, it is important to understand how community planning processes can be modified to meet the needs of both the Amish and the English communities.”