From Horse and Plow to John Deere: A Comparative Analysis of Sustainability on Amish, Mennonite, and Non-Plain Farms in South Central Pennsylvania

Stephanie K. Adamczak, Gettysburg College
Sarah E. Cardwell, Gettysburg College
Danielle M. Keim, Gettysburg College
Amy L. Whitehouse, Gettysburg College

Environmental Studies Senior Thesis


In recent decades, local food movements have grown to counter conventional industrial food systems.The presence of plain farming communities, specifically Amish and Mennonite, in South Central Pennsylvania provide a unique flavor to local food systems in this region. Often known for their traditional, small-scale practices such farming communities are popularly valued as sustainable counterparts to large-scale industrial agriculture. To better understand and compare sustainability claims of plain and non-plain, small-scale farms in South Central Pennsylvania, this study uses a mixed-methods approach to analyze three Amish, two Mennonite, and three non-plain farm models. We used qualitative semi-structured interviews and site observations to understand economic and social dimensions of sustainability. We employed a quantitatively assessed environmental index to analyze the ecological dimension. With the exception of Amish farms, our qualitative findings reveal that most farms feel strong economic pressures as they compete within the larger context of the industrial food system. Furthermore, employment outside of the family and consumer engagement are common trends among non-plain farms. Analysis of quantitative index scores suggests no statistically significant difference between the ecological sustainability of the three farm types. Our pilot study illuminates the complex interactions of sustainability’s three components suggesting that economic and social findings can be correlated to the particulars of each community’s support networks, while all farms face ecological challenges.