Amish in the City

Thankfully, Not Another TV Show

The Amish and the Media have always been an odd pair.  As much as the Amish would prefer to stay out of the spotlight, the machine that makes “spotlights” loves the Amish, as the group is just too compelling of a subject matter to leave alone.  Simply put, the Amish make for great TV, even when it is a silly spoof or an inauthentic expose.

Ever since we’ve had “reality TV,” we’ve had a steady stream of Amish “documentaries” that seemed each after the other to compete for ridiculous lows.  In 2004, it was a series called “Amish in the City” which basically played on a hackneyed and stilted cliché of plucking a backwoods hayseed hick and dropping them in the middle of the Big Apple, cameras at the ready to capture the “fish-out-of-water” hilarity.  I didn’t find it all that funny. 

When I recently saw a news report about an Amish man commuting to NYC each day, I thought I was seeing a dreaded reboot of this genre, but indeed I was wrong.  This scenario is a real, authentic “Amish in the City” episode, one that captures the attention without playing for exploitation. 

John Stoltzfus, 58 years old, could sell his produce, meats, cheeses, free-range eggs, etc. off his farm in the Lancaster County locale of Lititz, like any other straw hat-wearing, bearded entrepreneur of the Sect, like so many others in the area.  But he’s chosen a non sequitur approach to selling his farm’s products, taking his product directly to the urban masses of NYC, rather than trying to attract them to his roadside stand when they are here for vacation. 

Stoltzfus has opened a retail store on the Upper West Side, on Broadway between 97th and 98th Streets, which he staffs Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  He leaves Lancaster County at around 3:00am, with a hired driver who not only takes him to NYC, but also transports goods from Stoltzfus’ farm, which is then sold at the store.  It takes about 3 hours to get from his home to the store, which he has open from 7:00am to 4:00pm.  He arrives back home again a little after 7:00pm. 

So, how does an Amish farmer wake up one morning and decide to open a brick-and-mortar retail store in New York City?  Well, it didn’t just happen, at least not like that.  Stoltzfus had already been selling his farm’s products through various farmers markets and gourmet stores in the five boroughs for nearly 20 years, basically selling wholesale to middle men who then sold to retail customers.  His products proved to be popular, and his farm, Millport Dairy, had become a well-known and sought-out brand name in the city.  His idea to cut out the middle men and sell direct to consumer, even if it meant a 6-hour roundtrip commute, was not totally out of the blue.  He carefully phased out his product line with the wholesalers, and diligently looked for an available space that made sense in the city.  What he found was a dry cleaner who was going out of business.  He leased the space after they moved out and has been there since the beginning of the year.  While he is the face of the business, the farm wouldn’t function without the whole family.  Everyone gets involved with making things for the store.  The ladies make the baked goods.  The boys collect the eggs (both duck and chicken varieties) and others, including Aunts and Uncles help raise the other animals which leads to meat, cheese, yogurt, even chorizo sausages.