In your backyard: Amish country

In terms of distance, Ohio’s Amish Country is easily a one-day jaunt.

In terms of getting to do everything you might want to and sampling the various food, furniture, farm and cultural attractions, you’ll definitely need more time.

That’s why New Matamoras resident Tracey Wright and three of her lifelong friends make a trip to Amish Country, in and around Holmes County, about two hours away, about every other month.

“That’s our day trip,” said Wright, the Washington County recorder. “We take off and do that together and have a blast.”

Getting there is an enjoyable experience, Wright said, especially visually.

“The scenery’s so pretty, especially the different seasons,” she said.

They usually try to go to different shops each time, Wright said, noting she and her friends have been doing a lot of shopping lately in Berlin, less than 20 miles off the Interstate 77 exit at Dover, particularly at antique stores. One

place they do head back to though is Hershberger’s Bakery in Millersburg, particularly for its fried pies.

“Well, I think everybody goes (to Amish Country) for the food,” Wright said.

With approximately 36,000 Amish residents, the region centered around Holmes County – whose county seat of Millersburg is about 100 miles from Marietta – is home to the largest Amish community in the world.

What follows is a look at just a few of the attractions that draw people to Ohio’s Amish Country, examples of why people journey there from around the country and the world. But it’s by no means an exhaustive list. The Amish Country, Ohio, website maintained by the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Office of Tourism’s Amish Country page have more information and links to a host of businesses and attractions.

Amish heritage

If someone wants to learn about the Amish culture and why the people live the way they do, shows like “Amish Mafia” and “Breaking Amish” are not appropriate sources, said Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin.

“Those kinds of shows are not a good representation of the Amish,” he said.

The goal of the heritage center, established more than 30 years ago, “is to explain the history of the Amish and Mennonite people in a way that represents them well,” Yoder said. “And we do that by using art.”

That art comes in the form of a 265-foot-long, 10-foot-high cyclorama entitled Behalt, which means “to keep” or “to remember.” It displays the culture’s history from its beginnings in 16th century Switzerland.

Other exhibits include an original Conestoga wagon, a one-room schoolhouse and an Amish-style barn.

Yoder said one misconception people may have about the Amish is that theirs is a primitive lifestyle.

“They are very modern. They just choose to live differently,” he said. “They are on the leading edge of maybe what you could call off-the-grid technology.”

Farm at Walnut Creek

For a family that can’t agree on whether to go to Amish Country or The Wilds, the Farm at Walnut Creek offers a solution.

In addition to being a traditional, working Amish farm, the grounds are home to more than 500 animals, and many of them definitely not what you’d expect to see on a farm in southeastern Ohio.

“The farm has a new baby giraffe … born back on the 16th” of May, said Pedro Guzman, an employee at the farm.

That new addition joins monkeys, kangaroos, ostriches, llamas, porcupines, elk and more. Visitors can see and even feed many of the animals from their vehicles or on wagon tours.

Meanwhile, workers are tending the farm “by hand, the traditional way,” Guzman said.

“Just last week the guys were plowing, they were putting produce in the ground,” he said.

Furniture

Ten years ago, Amish furniture tended to be made from light oak, a bit chunky, emphasizing quality over style.

But as baby boomers have aged, giving way to a new customer base, style is catching up to that quality people have long associated with Amish products, said Steve Swartzentruber, owner/partner of Green Acres Furniture Ltd. in Navarre and president of The Furniture Heartland, a combined marketing effort of four of the more than 30 furniture stores within a 30-minute drive of Millersburg.

“It is so diversified,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot more (of the) modern, contemporary type.”

A customer of Green Acres doesn’t just go in a showroom, pick out a set and have it shipped from the warehouse to their home. Buyers can certainly look at models, but their furniture isn’t made until they’ve selected the style, type of wood, stain, etc.

“We’re going to build that set for you,” Swartzentruber said. “We’re not just going to run over to a shelf, pull it off the shelf and deliver it to you the next day.”

Green Acres and other Amish furniture shops can also do complete custom jobs, building them from scratch based on a customer’s picture or sketch.

Food

There is a plethora of restaurants dealing in Amish cuisine staples like homemade noodles and mashed potatoes, broasted chicken, wedding steak and the pies that attract Wright and company.

Kurt Kleidon, public relations representative for the Holmes County Tourism Bureau, said Boyd and Wurthmann Restaurant in Berlin is a popular destination, known for its wide variety of pies and its dandelion gravy – although a person might need a little help to catch that dish.

“You have to be in the loop to hear when it’s available, because it goes quickly,” Kleidon said.

There are several places that make and sell Amish cheese, among them Heini’s Cheese Chalet in Millersburg.

“You can come in and watch us make the cheese,” said Heath Fouts, IT director for Heini’s. “You can sample all 50-plus varieties of cheese.”

The cheese is all natural and hand-crafted, even the lactose-free kind made from yogurt cultures.

“We get all of our milk in the traditional, old-style milk cans,” Fouts said. “We don’t bring it in in bulk.”

Heini’s also offers a gift shop, coffee shop and treats like fudge.

And more

There are a variety of other activities in Amish Country, including flea markets, quilt shops, pottery, live theater, a pair of golf courses in Holmes County and more.

Among the newest additions, Kleidon said, is the Millersburg Brewing Co., which opened about a month ago.

“This is a local brewhouse, making their own beers, right in the heart of historic downtown Millersburg,” he said.

And starting this month are the Plain Living Workshops.

“You basically learn how to do something that might be an Amish tradition; it might be quilting or basket-making,” Kleidon said.