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Look to Amish for good idea on solar powerLook to Amish for good idea on solar power

Hoosier Perspectives: What do the Amish know that others are missing?

Tom J. Bechman

October 9, 2023

2 Min Read
Solar panels on a red barn in a rye field
BRIGHT IDEA: A trip through Amish country in northern Indiana revealed many Amish farms with solar panels on house and barn roofs, or freestanding in yards.Thomas Winz/Getty Images

A weekend spent in Amish country in northern Indiana yielded more than relaxation. My wife, Carla, and I came away with observations that forced us to reevaluate how things are done outside Amish communities. Perhaps they’ve discovered techniques that others should consider adopting.

Most striking was the number of Amish farms with solar panels on house roofs, barn roofs or freestanding in the yard. These weren’t makeshift solar panels either. They appeared to be properly installed. Far more Amish houses and farms sported solar panels than in non-Amish communities.

At first, we questioned ourselves. Are those really Amish farms? Yet there were no wires running to buildings. Why would Amish folks have solar panels?

Growing trend

Some time spent browsing the internet confirmed that we weren’t seeing things, and we weren’t crazy. Yes, those were solar panels, and yes, they were on Amish farms. According to NPR, the Amish are indeed early adopters of solar technology. They’ve discovered that capturing solar polar and creating electricity to power basic functions in their homes is more efficient and much safer than burning candles and kerosene.

In fact, NPR reports that 80% of Amish families in Holmes County, Ohio, a major Amish settlement, use solar panel technology. At least one enterprising Amish man even sells solar panels to his neighbors.

Wait a minute. Aren’t Amish opposed to using electricity? According to saveonenergy.com, it’s not that Amish aren’t allowed to use electricity, it’s that they don’t want to be on the grid. That ties them too closely to the world, threatening their culture.

What you don’t see

What we didn’t see driving through Elkhart, LaGrange and Noble counties — where at times you will encounter more buggies on roads than cars, even at night — were fields covered with solar panels. Instead, fields were reserved for crops, horses, cattle and sheep. The only place we saw solar panels were on rooftops or in grassy areas, like a yard.

Obviously, the Amish community still understands the value of growing crops and feed for livestock on every possible acre. Just because solar panels are popping up on Amish houses and barns doesn’t mean they’re likely to appear on Amish farmland anytime soon.

That begs this question: Why aren’t there more solar panels on rooftops in non-Amish communities? If power companies must line up energy sources because coal plants are going offline, a subject for another day, why aren’t the roofs of rural homes, toolsheds and confinement barns covered with solar panels? These spaces can’t grow crops, but the sun shines as brightly on those surfaces as it does on what were once farm fields.

If you give up one resource opportunity (growing food and fiber) to gain another (producing energy), what have you really gained? Nothing. If you give up nothing to generate electricity, as the Amish do, what have you lost? Nothing.

Who is still living in the 20th century? Are you sure it’s the Amish?

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About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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