Teddy Matel ‘22 and I coasted down Cornell’s hills into Ithaca, the sun warming our backs and the wind chilling our faces. When we reached town, Teddy led us to Black Diamond Trail, an 8.4 mile stretch of stone dust, converted from an old railroad bed, that passes through a mix of woodlands and fields along the western shore of Cayuga Lake. The trail ended at Taughannock Falls State Park, a 750-acre park northwest of Ithaca near Trumansburg, and we jetted onto Route 96, the adjacent road.
By this time, the sun was at its peak in the sky. After five miles down the shoulder of Route 96, Teddy and I darted left, and we quickly found ourselves biking on a pebble road. In the distance, we saw a horse and buggy. As we sped past the horse and buggy, we looked at each other: We had arrived in Interlaken, known by many in the region as “Amish Country.” We traveled here because we heard stories about its maple syrup and goat cheese. The previous weekend, we were eating at Creekside Cafe in Trumansburg, and the owners were telling us about the process that the Amish went through to collect the maple syrup. They explained that the Amish in Interlaken, who shun electricity, must burn wood instead, which requires a lot of preparation. They must have 200 pallets of wood chopped and ready for the season.
We had to check it out ourselves.
We finally arrived at our destination: Countryside Amish Market, located right off Route 96. We walked in. The lights were off. Actually, there were no lights. There were no workers either. Nevertheless, Teddy walked over to the array of seeds, and I walked over to the maple syrup, which was housed in great big jugs with handles on the sides. As I was scoping out the shelves, which were also stocked with creamed honey, homemade granola, New York black walnuts, goat cheese, oats and other goodies, a woman entered the store from the back. She was wearing a blue dress and a white hat that looked homemade.
I walked over and said, “This is a lovely place — heard great things about it.”
“Thank you,” she said. “We get most of these foods from our friends.” She explained that every family grows their own food and makes their own products.
When I asked about the relationship between Amish traditions and agriculture, her husband, David, told me, “we don’t go with mainstream culture. Our traditions are precious to us. We can keep our traditions and faith in better balance.” As for the farmers, he told me, “we don’t have cash croppers. We raise our animals and grow our vegetables to eat. This results in more flavor and more nutrition.”
What about the role of youth in the community? He explained, “as a rule, all school work gets done at school. The homework is the chores like feeding the horses, helping around the house and preparing supper.”
As he said this, I couldn’t help but notice a book on the table. It read: “Diary: started in 2011.” When I asked David about the diary, he laughed. He explained that they write down instances of Englishmen (the word that Amish use to describe Americans that are not Amish) asking silly questions about their traditions. We flipped open the book, and I read one entry from a few years ago. It was hilarious. He looked at me with a relaxed grin and said, “You better not share these jokes!” Who am I to disobey?
He turned his attention away from the diary. He continued, “I have a set of twins that are 12. They read storybooks. We have no screens. Our music is the singing we do and the voices of the family.” As he said this, David stood up, smiled and kindly extended his elbow, which I met with my own. We joked about handshakes in the time of COVID-19. And, with that, Teddy and I purchased our items, packed them into our bags and headed back to Ithaca.
On the ride back, I began to think about David and his family’s way of life. I thought about how sustainable, healthy and rewarding it must be to raise livestock, grow food and share goods within a community. I thought about how natural it must be for the youth in the community to read and sing in their young ages rather than stare at a huge iPad. I remembered David’s last words to us: “If more people embraced this way of life, then more people would be happier — and it would be better for us all.”
Jack Waxman is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].