This guest blog post and photos were provided by Tim Hogan.
Farmstead Lodging is a small farm with only one room to rent, so they are usually booked! If you would like to see other farm stays with an Amish connection, check out our search results for "Amish".
My first of many stays at the Farmstead Lodging was on the last day of summer in 2008. On the way down there from Cleveland I was impressed by the change in the terrain, which went from absolutely flat to being so hilly that it no longer seemed like Ohio. Now I'm used to it, because I've lived in Holmes County for well over a year. The decision to move here had a lot to do with the warmth and friendship of Willis and Kathy Miller and their children Diane, Krista and Timothy.
I read about
the Millers' farm stay bed and breakfast in a feature story in the travel section of the "Cleveland Plain Dealer" in August, 2008. It interested me because, unlike most of the B&Bs in Amish country, this one was in the home of an Old Order Amish family. The day of my arrival was warm and sunny, and before going to the house I ate at Mrs. Yoder's Amish Kitchen, a very good restaurant about a mile away. When I arrived at the farm I parked in the circular gravel driveway, feeling sort of nervous. The Millers live in a large white two-story home with their three children. Willis's parents live in a smaller white house near the larger one. That's a typical Amish arrangement; fathers will often pass the farm on to a son (or daughter and her husband) and continue to live on the property in what is known as the dawdi haus. Dawdi is Pennsylvania Dutch (or Deitsh) for grandpa. My knock at the door was answered by Diane, who at that time was 15. She called into the house, "Mom, the bed and breakfast guy is here!" Then Timothy came to the door, followed by his mom, Kathy. Tim and Kathy led me to an exterior door leading into the daylit basement, and we entered the room, which has a small kitchen and a full bath. Everything was neat and clean, and several windows provided nice light. Two large beds and a gas woodstove furnished the main room, along with a dining table and a rocking chair. I had wondered about how I would charge my cell phone, but Kathy pointed out to me an extension cord that ran into the room from a doorway that leads to a stairwell. The cord is connected to an inverter, so I could use the coffee maker, charge my phone, or, if I had chosen to bring it, run my laptop. Otherwise, the room was equipped with propane light fixtures, and there was no TV or phone, which pleased me. Being without those things was part of why I wanted to stay there. The stove, oven and refrigerator all ran on propane.
After Diane showed me the room, I followed her outside to bring in the 30 or so Holstein milk cows from the field. The cows are rotated among several large pastures which are defined by a single-strand electric fence run by a generator. Diane said that after forgetting one time to kill the power before handling the wire, you wouldn't be likely to forget again. I was in the field with the cows, listening to Diane and noting how the animals knew what she wanted them to do with little prompting, when I stepped into a steamy, freshly laid cow pie. They aren't very pie-like when they're fresh, though. It was like stepping into a bucket of warm chocolate cake batter that happened to smell a whole lot more like methane than chocolate. As I cleaned my shoe on the grass, I marveled at my stupidity, and I noticed that Diane was so sure of her own footing that she was wearing sandals. We brought the cows into the barn, and I met Gear Up and Joe, the Millers' buggy horses. Both are standardbreds, which, for the Amish, often come from the ranks of the pacers and trotters who make up the harness racing circuit. They are preferred because of their even temperament, strength, and ease of training. The disposition of a buggy horse is critical, because on the road they are routinely passed just a few feet away by vehicles moving at 50 or 60 miles per hour; some of those vehicles are huge, loud semi trucks. Most buggy horses wear blinders. The gait of pacers involves both feet on the same side moving at the same time; trotters run with a diagonal gait. Willis told me that Gear could pace at about 10 MPH for 12 miles with no problem, barring too many hills.
I fed Gear and Joe and then met the group of Belgian draft horses that do the field work. Those horses towered over me, being closer to seven feet tall than six. Depending upon what the job is, there may be a team as large as six harnessed together. Diane showed me the calves, including one that had been born the day before. One was up on her feet and constantly sticking out her tongue in anticipation of being bottle-fed. On a dairy farm, female cows are desired and the bulls that are born will quickly go to auction. The herd is milked at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., but not by hand. A generator runs a milking machine; it's a concession to modernity that Old Order Amish are permitted. Whoever is milking draws some fluid out of each of the four teats and then dips them in iodine. After they are dried, the teats are connected to the milker, which is attached to a vacuum line. The volume of milk is measured in pounds; eight pounds equals one gallon. The normal output for one cow is 50 pounds per day, but after calving the output can reach 100 pounds. Kathy showed me the milking room, and while she shuttled the cow in from an adjoining barn, we chatted about her way of life. Amish children attend school only through the 8th grade, at which time their education continues in the home, not only in the ways of agriculture for the farm children, but in values as well. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the practice of ending formal schooling after 8th grade as integral to the religious beliefs of the Amish. Many Amish children attend parochial schools, which are typically one-room buildings that house all eight grades. All three Miller children attended or attend Mount Hope Elementary School, a public school which only Amish children currently attend. Buses provide transportation, and the teachers in the school are not Amish (which means they are English, as the Amish would say). As darkness fell, I lit the propane lamps in my room. When it was fully dark, I went outside and admired the vast, starry, moonless sky. A shooting star fell to the west and I wished upon it. Just the week before, a seven-year-old Amish boy had been killed in Ashtabula County when the buggy in which he and his brothers were riding was broadsided by a van that had run a stop sign. I prayed (or wished, although in this case it was the same thing) for his soul and for some semblance of peace for his family, and also for the healing of his three critically injured brothers. Coincidentally, the boys' surname is Miller, a very common Amish name. I thought of Timothy, who at the time was also seven, and full of life and wonder and astounding energy, and it made me want to cry. Near total darkness. That's what you find at the intersection of County Road 77 and State Route 241 after (in September, anyway) 10 p.m. or so. Long before that, though, all the lights but mine were extinguished in the Miller house. When my lights went out, there was just darkness. Darkness like the kind we English see only when the power goes out. No street lights, no house lights, no driveway lights, no traffic lights, no lights. Sometimes a car will go by and the intensity of its headlights seems out of place. The next morning I enjoyed some of Kathy's delicious baked goods and then went outside to watch Willis hitch up a four-Belgian team to the tiller. The horses are ridiculously large and very good looking, with light brown coats, blonde manes and tails and white stockings. Most are geldings, and it takes quite a bit of hardware and leather to get them situated in harness. When they were ready to go, Willis invited me up onto the tiller to ride out to the field with him. Willis had the only seat, and I stood next to him kind of precariously. We rode west across the property to the field in question, where I jumped down and watched Willis start the blades turning and go to work. Eight hours later, eight acres had been tilled, and the Belgians looked none the worse for wear, but Willis was very dirty.
I enjoyed an evening meal with the Millers, and it was like something out of an old movie, where a pioneer family welcomes a guest with heaping platters of utterly delicious food. Willis told me that his family begins each meal with a silent prayer, and we all bowed our heads until he said "amen." Then the bowl of mashed potatoes was passed around, followed by the gravy, green beans, wonderfully seasoned chicken breast strips, homemade applesauce and finally custard pie. Willis encouraged me to have more of everything, which did not present a problem for me. The meal was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable I've ever had. I've known the Millers now for more than two years, and have lived in the heart of Amish Country for over a year. The Amish have a remarkable closeness of family that is so rare these days, and they possess the diligence required to complete every task faithfully and well, from quilt making and cooking to plowing and butchering. They gently instill in their children a commitment to excellence that is driven not by pride or ego, but by love of God and neighbor. They truly are remarkable people and I am always grateful to be among them. There are about 150,000 Amish in the U.S. with 19,000 or so living in eastern Holmes County. The tri-county area of Holmes, Wayne and Tuscarawas represents the largest Amish settlement in the world. -Tim Hogan