DELHI — Economic opportunity, religious freedom and a scenic rural landscape have attracted a new Amish community to the rolling hills southwest of here.
Organic farmer John Henry Yoder said “religious differences” with the elders of the Edgewood Amish community, the settlers’ former home, played a role in his family’s move to the Delhi area last May.
One of the main disagreements, Yoder said, involved a bishop’s rule limiting Amish men in the Edgewood community to two days per week off-farm work.
“That was a good thought to have more people staying on the land, but some things we have to do a little differently in this day and age,” said Yoder, the father of 15 children.
“I’d really like to see all my boys on the farm, but with the price of land I can’t help them all get started,” he said.
The Yoders are one of 17 Amish families that have moved during the past 15 months from the Edgewood-Garber area of Clayton County to a settlement centered along 220th Avenue in Delaware County.
“It was time to split off, I guess,” said Lydia Borntreger, who with her husband Bennie and their seven children recently built a new home just west of Delhi.
“The elders want us to farm, but farmland is scarce and expensive. Eventually we want to farm, but we have to earn the money first,” she said.
Like many Amish men, her husband works on a construction crew that hires a driver to transport the workers to job sites, she said.
Elders perceive being away from home and family all day as more of a threat to the Amish way of life than engaging in non-farm occupations, said sociologist Donald Kraybill, the leading authority on the Amish in North America.
More than 60 percent of Amish households derive their primary income from non-agricultural pursuits such as shops, businesses, carpentry, construction, retail stores and roadside stands, said Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa.
The Delhi community is the 23rd Amish settlement in Iowa, which ranks ninth among the states in Amish population, according to statistics provided by the Young Center.
From 2009 to 2011, Iowa’s Amish population increased 17 percent from 6,770 to 7,895 — the second-highest rate of increase among the 26 states in which Amish reside. While births account for most of the growth, Iowa registered a net gain of 34 Amish families via immigration from 2006 to 2010.
A new Amish school constructed recently on the farm of Amos Christner on 220th Avenue accommodates 28 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, according to Rosanna Helmuth, one of the school’s two teachers.
Christner, a supplier of metal roofing and siding and one of three ministers serving the new Amish community, said the area’s woods and creeks and the availability of small tracts of land made the Delhi area attractive to the Amish.
“We love nature and spending time in the woods,” said Christner, adding that woodlots are important to the many Amish who burn wood to heat their homes.
Retail businesses in the community include a dry goods store, a bulk foods store, a greenhouse and a bakery.
Edna Borntreger and her daughter Mary sell baked goods on Fridays and Saturdays out of their home at the corner of County Highway D5X and 220th Avenue.
Business has been good, and their new neighbors have warmly welcomed them, Edna Borntreger said.
“Every weekend we get new customers, and we should get more when the lake is back,” she said.
Amish living within the boundaries of the Lake Delhi Combined Recreational Facility and Water Quality District do not mind the prospect of an increased property tax levy — $12.20 per $1,000 of taxable value — to support the rebuilding of the Lake Delhi dam, she said.
“We’ll get good out of the lake, and the increased traffic in the area will be good for business,” she said.
Business also is improving at the Woods Edge Country Store, farther south on 220th Avenue, according to Lori Helmuth, 19, who often tends the store in the absence of her mother, Emma.
The store, which operated in the Edgewood community before moving in September, stocks dry goods, with shoes and kitchen ware among the most popular items, she said.
Amish shop there, but most of the business comes from the “English,” the Amish term for non-Amish, she said.
While construction work is an important part of the livelihood of many Amish men in the new community, many also derive income from specialized agricultural pursuits.
Edna Borntreger’s husband, Joe, for example, sells organic eggs produced by a flock of 5,000 hens.
Yoder, who raises organic crops on 60 acres, tends hens and goats, which produce organic eggs and milk.
Both men say the extra care and work entailed in organic production yields significantly higher prices.
“It’s a good market niche and a better way of life for the family,” Yoder said.
Christner said he tells young Amish farmers to focus on specialties in which their own labor adds value to their products.
“Don’t raise anything that can be combined, I tell them. You can’t compete with a combine,” he said.
Christner, who has six grown children and 51 grandchildren, said Amish life revolves around family and community.
“It’s not ‘you go your way, I go mine.’ We help each other out,” he said.