|Barnyard Lilacs, 8X10, by Carol L. Douglas|
Today I’m taking my Texan friend to see the Mennonite/Amish areas of the Finger Lakes. The Amish have a significant presence in New York, despite the impediments to agriculture here. It’s a population that’s growing.
|Finger Lakes Overlook, 8X10, by Carol L. Douglas|
New York’s farmland is fertile and productive, and cheap compared to Ohio and Pennsylvania. About a quarter of New York State is farmland. However, farming is a tough industry here: between 1997 and 2007, the amount of farmland declined by 7.9 percent. Farms are increasingly being consolidated, although most remain small and family-owned. Moreover, New York is consistently rated worst for business start-ups in the US. So how are these Amish communities moving in and succeeding?
|Finger Lakes Farm, 11X14, by Carol L. Douglas|
It’s not by evading taxes. The Amish have a religious exemption from some payroll taxes, because they do not believe in commercial insurance or taking money from the government. At the same time, they don’t take those benefits from the state: they care for their own unfortunate, elderly, and disabled within their own communities. But beyond that, they’re subject to all the same taxes we are, including hefty school taxes that they don’t see any direct benefit from (since they educate their own children).
|Field in Paradise, 16X20, by Carol L. Douglas|
Historically, the Amish settled in Chautauqua County, south of Buffalo, but there are now Amish communities throughout the state, and particularly in the Finger Lakes region. I’ve painted in these towns many times, but it never would have occurred to me to stress the ‘quaint.’ The Amish are our neighbors; they’re as much a part of pageant that is New York as I am.
|Spring Blossoms, 8X10, by Carol L. Douglas|