One thing I always suggest to people that want to learn about the area and the Amish culture is to take a guided tour. Sure, driving around the countryside is a great way to get a feel, but why not have a guide along to tell you about the pieces of information you wouldn’t otherwise find out. So, since I suggest it so much, I figured I should take a tour myself and see what it’s about. I’ve done many of the things included in a tour, but not in a complete one-time doing.
First off, I’m going to tell you, I’ve been working in Shipshewana for four years now, and I’ve never learned so much about the Amish culture as I did in the 3 hour tour. The trip was way more extensive than I even thought, and Scotty from Miller’s Buggy Line does an awesome job! He holds a crazy amount of information in that brain, and he proved it as soon as we started the trip. After introducing myself to the two ladies from southern Indiana that were joining the ride, we took off for the country tour portion. As soon as we passed a local, public elementary school, one of the ladies asked about Amish schools, and that got Scotty’s ball rolling! He was spewing out facts about their schooling until we got to the first point of interest 10 minutes later, which just so happened to be an Amish school. Perfect segue!
Making our way further down the road, we were coming into one of the oldest Amish districts in the area. A district is made up of roughly 40 families, and each has their own bishop that essentially decides their rules. Scotty taught us how to tell you’ve entered this district just by looking at their farming practices, certain amenities they did or didn’t have, and their clothing. It’s amazing how traditionally the Old Order Amish still operate to this day. And he continued to remind us, the Amish don’t have to live this lifestyle, they choose to. He’s absolutely right, being a part of the community is a choice they make, giving them that much more pride in their work. It’s a beautiful, simple life they live. Meanwhile, the three of us in the back were taking in the scenery as we slowly traveled over the hills that lined the road, giving us time to actually look at things you wouldn’t if you were driving yourself (And no, I’m not going to give away the road name because you need to take the tour and experience it first hand). We crossed the line into Elkhart County and made a turn down another road to start making our way to our first stop. Before we even knew it, we were in a new district. How could we tell? By the way they stored their hay, which was in bails, while the older community kept theirs loose. It’s the little details!
We had then arrived at our first stop, Dutch Country Market, and even though time flew by, it was nice to get out and stretch the legs. If you haven’t been to Dutch Country Market before, you need to stop! So many homemade goodies from noodles to candy, and everything in between! And you can’t forget about the Amish peanut butter. One thing different about their peanut butter recipe compared to others in the area is they add their own honey collected by the owner, Norm, who is a beekeeper as well. Now I know, you can buy honey peanut butter at the store, but don’t even go there! This stuff is on another level!
After sampling all the goodies there, why not head to the cheese factory to taste some more local flavor.
Heritage Ridge Creamery was our next stop. While they weren’t making the cheese when we were there, we still had the opportunity to look at the equipment through observation windows. That was interesting to look at for a minute, but with samples of every type of cheese sitting out, I knew I had to get to testing before we had to leave. They have tons of unique flavor combinations, but the winner for me was the garlic cheese (garlic always wins me over). I wasn’t the only one eating all the samples too, Scotty was fueling up as well to hold him over until our dinner. With his job, why would you even bring a lunch?!
From there we ventured over to a working dairy farm, who just so happened to be a relative of Scotty. When we pull in, we’re greeted by some of the children playing in the yard. The van was parked next to their horse stalls that are housed in a beautiful, older barn. The harnesses and equipment lined some of the walls, each specific to its own horse. Scotty was taking us around the grounds like he owned the place, but around here, everyone is always so welcoming that nothing is ever a problem. He took us through all of the dairy facilities like the milking room, veterinary area, the tanks that stored the product and how it gets to the truck, and even the birthing area. We just so happened to be there on the right day too. They had three new calves, one being born just an hour before we arrived. Junior, the dairy legend himself and owner of the farm, was there tending to the newborns and added to our new information we learned. We rounded the barns back to the van, passing by a very large, strange building sitting in a fenced in portion of the yard. Scotty tells us that’s the animal’s shelter for their little petting zoo that had all sorts of four-legged friends. All for the kids to learn how to start taking care of animals in a fun way, how awesome!
Now, to the perfect way to end a tour, dinner! Granted, I did eat quite a bit of samples, but I knew what I was about to get into was going to be good! We were meeting some people there that were taking the buggy tour to dinner, and since we arrived earlier than them (I wonder how… van… buggy… you can do the math) we toured their homestead. Back behind the house where we were going to have our meal was their daughter and son-in-law’s home, where he also sells used buggies. We got the scoop on models, options, pricing, you know, all the stuff we needed to know to buy one. But the horse power comes separate, which is a crucial component for the buggy that I don’t have. When we headed back to the dinner home, we slid out of the van, the three of us stood there for a second, taking a look around. The weather was perfect with a nice breeze, but everything was so crisp and fresh out there, it started the right mood for the evening. We walk to the backside of the house to get to the basement where the meal was being hosted. Everything was ready for us, plates, silverware, food, drinks, and of course desserts. We are welcomed with open arms while we greet each other and got acquainted. The rest of the group arrived, and the 18 of us all sat down ready to feast. If you haven’t seen what all is typically included in a Thrasher’s meal, google it, I guarantee it will only back up my argument and make you want to try it for yourself! Dish after dish is passed around with chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, meatballs, bread, salad, noodles, and before you know it you’re out of room on your plate. Of course there’s enough for seconds too, but I had to limit myself. The pies were coming up and I needed room for that too. Double chocolate and fresh berry pies were our options. I took a slice of the berry, savored it, and then called it good for the evening. There was no way I could eat anymore! All this while new friendships are being made and stories are being passed.
It was upsetting to leave the hospitality, fellowship and the great adventure we had. We made it back to Miller’s Buggy Line headquarters and called it a day. The tour completely exceeded my expectations! I knew it would be enjoyable, but I didn’t know it would be this much of a learning experience as well. I highly recommend that when people visit Shipshewana, they take a guided tour. Whether you come for the Amish culture or not, it’s worth the time.
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