“Fire in the Sky” read the neon paper sign on its wire frame, blown flat at the Kidron Evergreen Park in Northeast Ohio. The woods were populated with Morgan Horses, the graceful and beautiful beast of burden that most Amish prefer. Tied to trees, their harnesses were lifeless and pelts wet from hauling their masters into town that day. Nineteenth century style black buggies with large skinny wooden wheels were scattered among the trees. It was a Solar Energy event. Small and isolated by most standards. That doesn’t matter. The Amish have never much cared to be famous or noticed.
This is the small town where I was raised up. The Amish have always lived here in what has been seen as a back to the earth, pre industrial revolution lifestyle. They have piqued the curiosity of the world around, gazing in at what seems anachronistic and “backwards”. Soon the Amish will be surpassing the world around in the race for renewable energy and a sustainable future for their communities. They never did quite buy into the industrialization of their lives and farms. Lucky for them. The inevitable collapse of and transition from the earth destroying fossil fuel industry, will be less painful.
Green Energy Ohio ran an article on the explosion of solar technology among the Amish of Northeast Ohio 10 years ago. In it, they noted the forward thinking Amish already reading the writing on the wall. Whether they know or care that the green revolution they’ve been living for centuries is coming back into vogue, it matters not a whit. The earth is being destroyed and polluted at an alarming rate by our fossil fuel driven lifestyles. They are pragmatic and wise stewards of God’s earth. That’s what matters to them. “I am a Christian and I am Amish.But being Amish is not a religion. It’s a way of life”, said Jake Raber.
Though still resisted by a few hard-line Amish denominations, this technology that NASA relies on for its most advanced spacecraft is being heartily embraced by more and more of the plain-spoken folk. They view it as a safe alternative to lighting their homes with natural gas, white gasoline or kerosene.
Organic dairy, beef and chicken farmer Owen Nisley on County Road 600 near Charm, describes solar as natural as nature itself – “no different from my cows eating the grass that has captured the sun’s energy.”
Nisley’s solar panels generate about 500 watts of power. “The initial setup was very expensive,” he said, “but we love the solar, even in the winter when there are a lot of dark days.”
The equipment has become so prevalent that Green Energy Ohio is organizing an Amish Country tour during the American Solar Energy Society’s 36th annual convention, July 7-12, in Cleveland. About 1,800 people from across the nation are expected to attend the conference and trade show.
Squaring solar panels with Amish religious beliefs is easy. “I am a Christian and I am Amish. But being Amish is not a religion. It’s a way of life,” said Jake Raber, co-owner of The Lighthouse of Ohio Distribution, Ltd., in nearby Fredericksburg. “Being Amish means being independent.” Raber and his wife Betty ordered $50,000 worth of solar panels last year from suppliers in Michigan and Japan. They sold them all.
“Use common sense,” he said. “You can fill a 50-gallon drum with white [clear] gas at $4 per gallon twice a year, or you can install solar. It’s renewable. You can spend $600 on a solar panel, but it lasts 20 years.”
For bees this is good news. They have their own little solar collectors on their backs. They are the quintessential solar energy savers on the planet.They are animated by the sun everyday. They are light beings. They orient their flight patterns and dispense directions to the hive for nectar flows, pollen gathering and new digs based on the sun’s arc and movement across the sky. Like the Indigenous peoples they are experts at reading and living by the rhythms of the planet. “Going solar” is a way of life.
The Amish and bees….showing us the way forward.