16 Mar

Geographical Review Preview: Old Order Dairy Farmers in Wisconsin

By: John A. Cross

What is the main purpose of your study? 
The study seeks to describe and explain the changing involvement of Old Order Mennonites and Amish within Wisconsin’s dairy industry between 2012 and 2020, a period of considerable stress that has seen many other operators quitting. The paper notes that similarities and differences in response are related to the religious practices of these Anabaptist groups.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? 
Policies and programs of government agencies and businesses that fail to consider religious practices and goals of Anabaptist, including both the Amish and Old Order Mennonite, dairy farmers are unlikely to be successful. Not only do Anabaptists view their occupation differently from other farmers, but there are differences in the application of their beliefs among the Anabaptist groups.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
While considerable academic work has explored the role of Amish dairy farmers, very little has looked at Old Order Mennonites. Given the increasing proportion of dairy farmers who are from these two groups, failure to include their operations leads to an incomplete understanding of dairy farming.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? 
Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites account for increasing share of the nation’s dairy farmers. Recent stresses have been experienced differently by Old Order farmers and others, yet responses also differ among different groups of Amish farmers.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? 
The analysis of the viability of agriculturalists and practitioners of other occupations that overly focuses upon economic factors is inappropriate when evaluating groups whose goals are intertwined with religious imperatives. Economic success is not the underlying goal of Anabaptist farmers. Sustaining their non-worldly way of life, focused upon employing the family members in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs, is their primary goal.

How does your research help us think about Geography? 
As geographers we think about places and things spatially. Yet the presence or absence of a population group changes that place. Furthermore, how that place is viewed among the Amish and Old Order Mennonites differs from how it is viewed by those farm families who are selling their lands, creating space for these Anabaptists to occupy and reshape the landscape. Anabaptist populations are growing rapidly and spreading into new areas of the nation. While the physical geography of these areas remains the same, the human geography is impacted, altering the economic and cultural geography.

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