Thursday, May 31, 2012

"american hutterites"

As far as farming ventures go, I find the hutterite communal colonies one of the most interesting, and I watched with interest the series premier on National Geographic tonight of "American Colony:  Meet the Hutterites"

The pilot episode centered around a young woman and her rebellion from the rules of the community; she was talking to a boy that had run away from another colony, she wanted to wear her hair down, and she was on facebook. 

I found that less interesting than some of the details.    Carefully watching this show gives you an idea of the hutterite colony.  They have an integrated farm setup, very similar in structure to the farms that you'd find all over the country last century.

There are a mix of animals and crops; their market garden feeds the colony.  Extensive use of canning and preserving of their production feeds them during the winter.  The production for this particular colony includes beef, pork, geese and vegetables.  They also sell baked goods at a local farmers market, and they have big field equipment, so I'm assuming that they grow something as well, and it wouldn't surprise me if they grow a substantial portion of their animal feed.

I had to watch around the teenage girl drama, and there were a few things that I didn't see that were interesting.  One big thing was timestamps on the footage.  Most of the colonists that I've met work a 12 hour day, 6 days a week, as a standard thing, and during a crunch they're working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I wrote about my impressions in a previous blog entry, here.    Some of the scenes were clearly shot before dawn, some long after dark, and unlike other reality series showing work, like deadliest catch,  there was no idea of the scale of work.  They showed the teenage girl shirking her carrot processing duties to text a forbidden boy, but didn't say that she'd probably worked 8 to 10 hours that day already. 

 This colony stated a couple of times that when someone is elected to run one of the colonies many businesses, that position is held "for life" -- which isn't what I was told when I went to another colony located about 150 miles away from the Kings colony.  I was told that the position was held for 3 years, and then possibly rotated, possibly re-elected.  Making the selection for life seems very risky.

Hutterite colonies are very good at acquiring and amassing huge farms.  Communal living and pooling resources means that they have a lot of self-generated capital available to buy the latest, and best, and it really shows.  Most of their equipment is better than the average found on most farms these days. 

One thing that they did show is that the hutterites are keenly aware of the price of their product, and depend solely on their production for the colonies upkeep.  No off-farm jobs for them, which runs counter to standard american agriculture.  Most farmers have an off-farm job these days. 

I'll watch the next 9 episodes with interest.  I'm hoping that the teenage girl isn't the focus.  Their culture and challenges are interesting enough by themselves; we don't need a "real housewives of the hutterites".  I'd like to see more about the basic culture, and decision making, methods and practices of the basic colony life. 

Lots of people want to go back to the country and farm.  The hutterites have a completely different vision and seem to be making a go of doing what the preppers and back-to-farmers want to do:  Live completely off their land in as self-sufficient way as possible. 


Joanne said...

Those people sound like they work the same hours I do. It's a shame that the standard for an important industry like ours is that most farmers make so little money off of farming that they have to hold a second job. There's just so much that's wrong with that paradigm.

But regardless whether a person's farming full time as a sole source of income, which is what I do, or farming as one of multiple income sources, you still have to be very aware of marketing and pricing. and if it's your sole source of income, then, yeah, that has to be top of mind all the time. It a particular product isn't up to snuff because the market's depressed or the margines are too low, you need to abandon it in favor of a higher revenue product. It's really no different than any other business. Bottom line, if you don't make enough proffit to pay your own personal bills it's not a financially viable venture.

becky3086 said...

Unfortunately I can't watch this but I did enjoy going to the website and watching all the clips they had there.

Anonymous said...

I haven't see the show (yet), one thing that might get glossed over by the producers is the faith component. They do what they do the way they do it because of the faith (world view) that they hold. Often breakaway (kids) have not embraced the faith that the rest of the community has. That's also the biggest difference between the prepper/back-to-the-land folks and the Hutterites (or Amish, or any other farm centered faith based group). Preppers/BTTL are often motivated by fear or distrust, you might even say 'a lack of faith in anything beyond their control'.

I agree that this show will be much more interesting if it ISN'T a 'teen drama' but focuses on the who, why, and how of the community.