Last Wednesday, Nick and I traveled 30 miles east to Belleville where Central Pennsylvania’s mountains provide the backdrop for red barns and alternating stripes of green stalks and wheat grass. We passed horses and buggies and simple white churches with tall steeples. We caught glimpses of young boys wearing dark slacks and straw hats sitting in the shade of trees and the flapping of white aprons hanging from clotheslines. Welcome to Amish country.
When I was younger, my mother took us to Lancaster County to tour an Amish farm. We learned about their religious practices and resistance to modern technology. We rode in a horse-drawn buggy and purchased handcrafted souvenirs. But this experience was different.
In Belleville, the Amish folks live among the “English” folks. They farm adjacent fields and share conversation over ice cream cones. This could not have been more evident than at the Belleville Farmers Market.
Every Wednesday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., the Amish and English congregate in an open space towards the center of town. They bring fresh produce and colorful quilts and recipe books. There are also tables lined with cereal boxes and deodorants and sunglasses — for Amish buyers who cannot travel far for their shopping needs.
Nick and I surveyed and carefully selected our purchases: juicy tomatoes and a full basket of hot peppers, plums and pickles (which turned out to be cucumbers that still required the pickling process). And Nick bought a book of Big Valley Amish recipes from Ben Zook himself. We caught him just before he packed his boxes into a buggy that sat among parked horses. We also bought some sweet bologna from an air-conditioned room full of sausages, steaks, and salomis before tucking out purchases into the cooler in our car.
Next we walked indoors to check out the food auction. An elderly gentleman with a microphone stuffed into his plaid shirt stood on a wooden stage and distributed onions and blueberries to the highest bidder.
Then we were off to the livestock building where they house and tag animals for sale. There were cattle of all ages and and pigs of all sizes. There were ponies and full bred horses. And the “calfe” attached to the building served Holstein burgers. What better place to have lunch?
The highlight of the day was the livestock auction that we attended after lunch. We sat on one of the arena’s concrete levels while dusty fans circulated musty air. Amish men and English farmers occupied the top row of chairs, their muddy boots crowding one another. Amish women and children were scattered around the arena. Two mothers held infants whose chubby hands clutched bottles. Occasionally the mother would blot the child’s cheek with the corner of her apron. One girl — seven or eight years in age — with her blond hair tucked into her bonnet stared at me with wide blue eyes. Nick caught her checking out my orange and pink striped halter, the glint of my sterling silver necklace, the sunglasses perched on my head, and the blue floral purse that rested at my side. We were definitely out of our element.
The auctioneer shouted animal ages and weights while handlers paraded the merchandise. The horses were sold for hundreds of dollars and the cows went for over a thousand. Six little piggies cost just $13 and the big sows were $60. (We could have afforded to throw a pet pig into the back of the Civic!)
What a cultural difference just 30 miles can make! I’m so happy I was able to take off from work mid-week to experience the market. And before heading back to State College, we did something a bit more familiar to us — tasted and purchased wine from a local winery.