Amish Population Growing, Heading West

Jeff Martin, USA Today, September 14, 2010

Bright yellow signs with a horse and buggy symbol dot the gravel roads in the gently rolling hills near here, and the town has placed hitching posts for horses along Main Street.

The new road signs, more familiar in rural areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, are emblems of a trend being seen in many Western states which are welcoming an increasing number of Amish.

The Amish population is growing and embarking on a westward migration that has now reached as far as Colorado, South Dakota and Montana, according to an annual survey by Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, which tracks the Amish.

In the past year, the North American Amish population has grown 5%, an increase from 237,500 in 2009 to 249,500 today, the survey found.

{snip} The survey attributes the population boom to Amish families tending to be large, with five children or more on average.

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Reasons for the Amish migration are varied, but some have left states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania as development has encroached into the rural areas where they’ve traditionally lived, says Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College who has done extensive research on Amish culture.

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In southeastern South Dakota, about 70 Amish live near the small town of Tripp, and routinely visit local stores to pick up supplies for their dairy farms.

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Klatt makes the handmade signs seen around town that advertise weekly bake sales at one of the Amish farmsteads, and she visits them occasionally and tries to bring along strawberry-flavored marshmallows or some other special treat for the Amish children.

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In Pennsylvania, the state with the most Amish (nearly 60,000), the economic downturn has led some Amish to seek work they’ve never considered before. Outside Lancaster, Elias Beiler recently bought a restaurant business and potato chip company because of a slowdown in the building industry.

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