Lebanon farm gives Amish twist to fence project
Lebanon - To Aaron Miller and his two-man crew, the first Monday of September isn't associated with backyard barbecues, a final summer beach excursion, a day in the man cave watching the Red Sox or Yankees or even reflection on the right to unionize.
"Labor Day - that's to labor all day," Miller said Monday, the next-to-last day of a five-week project his Fort Plain, N.Y.-based company is finishing at the 42-acre M&K Dairy Farm.
Miller's company, E&A Fence, doesn't have a website, nor does its 26-year-old owner bother with Facebook, Twitter or even a laptop computer to promote or run his business.
A word-of-mouth recommendation from a former customer prompted the farm's co-owner Kim Abell to contact and ultimately hire E&A Fence to build a 23,000-foot, high tensile electric fence. And neither Miller nor his workers, Benjamin Stoltzfus and Vernon Peachey, got behind the wheel of a car to reach their far-flung work site, relying on a hired driver to take them and a small camper from their home 217 miles away.
"I love it. It's good work," said Peachey, 29, pounding a nail to anchor a length of wire into one of the dozens of yellow pine fence posts he, Miller and Stolzfus drove into the soil and rock at the farm over the last five weeks. Their workday had begun at 8 a.m., about two hours later than normal because they had gone home for the weekend and rode back that morning. Quitting time wouldn't be until just before dark.
Back home in midstate New York, Miller, Stoltzfus and Peachey are part of a community of about 65 Amish families who resettled there over the last seven years when too much traffic and too many building restrictions on their ancestral farms in Lancaster County, Pa., drove them away.
"We were the first family to move there, in 2006," said Miller, like the other two clad in the signature outfit of the married Amish male - button-up black pants with suspenders, button-down shirt and wide-brimmed straw hat topping a bearded visage.
While their religious convictions prevent them from using many modern conveniences at their own homes and farms, Miller said, they are allowed to employ machinery at job sites. For this project, they used a Bobcat skid loader with a fence post pounder. Chain saws and a rock spike were also put to use.
"You could do it digging by hand, but you wouldn't get work," Stolzfus said.
Miller said the Amish have become more accepting of modern machinery out of necessity.
"To be competitive in the business world, we need to use it," said Miller, who started his company with his brother Elam seven years ago, when he was 19 years old. Four years ago he bought out his brother.
For farm owners Abell and Michael Shaw, the fence-building project will be a major improvement to their operation, which they've been running for the past nine years. A longtime dairy farm, it's part of several hundred acres in town owned and leased by the state Department of Agriculture to several different farmers. A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service is funding the fence building.
"This is so we can do rotational grazing with our cows, so we can make the most of our grass," said Able, as she showed the pathways and gates built by the three workmen. "I really want my cows to be outside, and be feeding themselves, and take away some of the work for us bringing them hay and silage."
Basically, she explained, the network of fences and gates will funnel their herd of 40 milking cows and 30 young heifers and calves from pasture to pasture along fenced-in trails, so no one pasture gets overgrazed and the herd stays out of wetlands. It's a return to traditional, more environmentally friendly dairy farming methods well suited to M&K and the "Ladies of Lebanon" brand specialty cheeses, yogurts and other products it produces, Abell said.
"Basically now, it's a free-for-all," she said. "The cows go to their favorite spots, and they like to scatter. This will make them easier to manage. And they look really cool when they hit the trail. We just have to walk behind them and keep them going, and when they get the gist of it, cows are very quick to learn the routine."
Having the Amish workers at her property, she said, has been a good experience. Her teenage son has struck up a friendship with the young men, sometimes sharing dinner at a local pizza restaurant. Having them around, she said, has caused her to reflect about the benefits of living more simply.
"I think I watch very little TV, but they watch none," she said.
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