LANCASTER, Pa. — With simplicity as their credo, Amish farmers consume so little that some might consider them model environmental citizens.
“We are supposed to be stewards of the land,” said Matthew Stoltzfus, a 34-year-old dairy farmer and father of seven whose family, like many other Amish, shuns cars in favor of horse and buggy and lives without electricity. “It is our Christian duty.”
But farmers like Mr. Stoltzfus are facing growing scrutiny for agricultural practices that the federal government sees as environmentally destructive. Their cows generate heaps of manure that easily washes into streams and flows onward into the Chesapeake Bay.
And the Environmental Protection Agency, charged by President Obama with restoring the bay to health, is determined to crack down. The farmers have a choice: change the way they farm or face stiff penalties.
The challenge for the environmental agency is to steer the farmers toward new practices without stirring resentment that might cause a backlash. The so-called plain-sect families — Amish and Old Order Mennonites, descended from persecuted Anabaptists who fled Germany and Switzerland in the 1700s — are notoriously wary of outsiders and of the government in particular.
“They are very resistant to government interference, and they object to government subsidies,” said Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College who studies the Amish. “They feel they should take care of their own.”
For now, the environmental agency’s strategy is to approach each farmer individually in collaboration with state and local conservation officials and suggest improvements like fences to prevent livestock from drifting toward streams, buffers that reduce runoff and pits to keep manure stored safely.
“These are real people with their own histories and their own needs and their own culture,” said John Hanger, the secretary of environmental protection in Pennsylvania. “It’s about treating people right, and in order to treat people right, you’ve got to be able to start where they are at.”
But if that does not work, the government will have to resort to fines and penalties.
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