ETHRIDGE, Tenn. — The Amish population is growing in rural areas of Middle Tennessee.
The Tennessean reports the population boom is part of a national trend — there were 251,000 Amish living in 456 settlements nationally in 2010 compared to 100,000 in 179 settlements in 1989.
In Ethridge, about 75 miles southwest of Nashville, the number of Amish people has grown to about 1,500 — large enough that they are starting to run out of room and have sent members to other communities to begin new settlements.
Experts said the population growth is due mostly to a high birth rate and children sticking with the religion.
In Ethridge, Amish families have purchased much of the available farmland and sell wares to tourists such as handmade baskets, food and furniture. They also work closely with their non-Amish neighbors.
For example, a group of Amish farmers helped fund an open-air auction barn with drive-thru lanes that allow for horse-drawn wagons. Auctions, which are open to the public, run from April through October.
“Today we have pumpkin, gourds, peanuts, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes and radishes,” Lynn Ward, the auction house manager, said recently. “We even had a few bushels of blueberries.”
She works with five Amish farmers to run the barn and said board members hope it helps ensure the future success of the farming industry.
“We work together, elbow to elbow, on whatever needs to get done,” she said of working with the Amish.
Tour guide Joey Martin brings visitors to see the Amish farms, but said they must first agree to ground rules such as no cameras since it is against Amish beliefs to pose for pictures.
“I grew up playing with Amish kids,” he said. “I think we need to respect everyone’s religion.”
Meanwhile, new settlements are also growing.
Three years ago, 100 members of the Ethridge Amish community moved about 75 miles away to Stantonville, which has lots of farmland close together available to purchase and is close enough to allow buggies to travel into nearby Adamsville.
Joe Donnermeyer, professor of rural sociology at Ohio State University and director of the Amish census, said Stantonville has the attributes that Amish look for when moving.
“They like to be close enough to find a grocery store,” he said. “Everyone has to live within a reasonable buggy ride from each other.”
Adamsville Mayor David Leckner said the Amish settlement has proved to be good neighbors, and he’s hoping to build a farmer’s market for them to sell their produce in town.