One of the things we've loved about living in central PA so far is that there's a really unique sense of community and partnership out here. I grew up in Kansas, which is definitely a friendly place, and my town was certainly community-counscious. But there's something different out here. I don't know if it's because there's really nothing nearby of the "big city" variety (when Altoona is the nearest metropolis, you know you're in the sticks), but there's this embracing of farmers, local workers, etc. that I just haven't really seen before. I really dig it. Every week there's a farmer's market, if you travel a little farther out you can even go to, for example, vegetable auctions and bid on someone's fresh produce and other products (we haven't done this yet, but I think it'd be fun). There's plenty of things I miss from "real" cities (museums, where are you?) but there's a lot to like here if you go look for experiences.
We had a great experience yesterday, for example, when we drove with a group of about 25 other people to a farm outside of Rebersberg and ate dinner with an Amish family (we paid $10 per person to help their costs and make it worth their while to make a meal for so many people). The little dirt road we drove in on was lined with corn on one side and tobacco on the other, about a mile or two back from the highway (and when I say highway, I mean one of the many two-lane roads that cut through the Pennsylvania farmland). As we drove up, the buggy was already put away for the night, but the old house (built, I later learned, in the mid to late 1800s) looked very inviting.
The woman who had organized the trip introduced us to Jonas Yoder, the farm owner and our Amish host. Jonas was small--only 5'4" or so, and wore the traditional Amish beard, along with the suspenders, simple blue shirt, and coarse slacks that you would expect. He introduced us to his wife Lydia and two of their children (whose names I didn't catch, since they didn't actually eat dinner with us). After going to the barn to see the young calfs and a couple litters of two-week old pug puppies (they had several dogs, and they were selling the purebred puppies for $550. I totally wanted one), we went inside to eat.
The house was actually more homey-looking than I expected. There were couches and comfortable chairs, all dominated (for this night anyway) by a long table spread through the house. We took our seats and began feasting on a whole slew of homemade Pennsylvania Dutch cooking: roast meat and gravy, homemade mashed potatoes, homemade coleslaw, corn fresh off the cob, fresh bread and homemade strawberry jam, a zuchinni suffle, noodles with cheese sauce. It just kept coming, and it was all delicious. I can't imagine the amount of time it took to prepare such a huge feast (and I'm sure Lydia and the daughter did all the work. Jonas told us he had been out of town for most of the day buying and delivering 32 bushels of peaches to some neighbors--he'd left at 4:00 that morning). For desert, there was chocolate cake with the most delicious cream frosting, fresh peaches and blueberries, and cherry pie. I mean, this food was incredible. Even the pickiest eaters among us were happy, and everything was fresh and tasty.
Jonas was very friendly, but no one else in his family ate with us. The women were in the kitchen bringing out meals (and beginning work on doing the dishes almost as soon as we sat down) and the son, who ate earlier, served us water. There was a young 9 year old Amish boy there named Samuel, who apparently helps Jonas with the farm work and then eats dinner with the family. He was very polite and had the coolest accent. After dinner Jonas asked us all to sing with him, so we sang Amazing Grace, then wandered around the farm for a few minutes and went home.
I have to say, it was a pretty cool experience. The family wasn't nearly as austere and cold as, say, Witness would have you think. Everyone was kind and pleasant, and we had a great time. I also have to say, I don't think I could ever be Amish. I like my amenities too much. Props to them, though. I gained a new respect for the lifestyle they lead and the hard work they do. Definitely $20 well spent.