Minnesota Hutterites Continue to Thrive
"Minnesota Hutterites Continue to Thrive." Forum, 19 August 2001, sec. A10.
|Susanne Hofer of the Starland
Hutterian Brethern community in Gibbon, Minnesota, cleans after
the daily community dinner.
Gibbon, Minnesota - Mostly isolated behind thousands of acres of
farmland, Hutterite colonies in Minnesota are thriving as they have
elsewhere for centuries: by maintaining a culture so different from
the outside world that their many children hesitate to leave.
Recent census numbers and a survey of colonies show the number
of Hutterites in Minnesota doubled to about 700 during the 1990s.
Few outsiders join, so almost all the growth is biological.
"They have sizeable families and they do a fairly good job
of convincing their children to stay," said Donald Kraybill,
a sociologist at Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pa., who has studied
Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren for 10 years.
He estimates 96 percent of Hutterite children stay in their colonies.
The few that do leave usually return, he said, unable to survive
in an outside world that emphasizes self-esteem and the rights of
Hutterites reject mainstream notions of diversity, independence
and equality in favor of a communal life where all but a few personal
trinkets are shared and everyone is taught the concept of "total
surrender" to the good of the colony.
Joel Decker, principal of the Starland colony school in this southern
Minnesota town, compares people to grains of wheat. Alone, they're
fit only for animal feed; together, they can become bread.
Hutterites cling to sermons written in the German of the 1500s.
Among themselves, they speak their own Austrian dialect, Hutterisch,
although no Hutterite has lived in Europe in a hundred years.
Women wear bright colored jumpers with white aprons and black scarves
in their hair; with no makeup. Married men have beards, single men
are clean-shaven. All men wear black pants and shirts with buttons
and collars. Property records show Hutterites own about 19,000 acres,
with each colony averaging 2,100 acres.
Economically, Kraybill said, the Hutterites are as advanced as
any of their neighbors. They farm with $80,000 tractors equipped
with radios. They talk on cellular telephones. Some colonies advertise
their wares on the Internet.
"This is a community that has lived without individual property
that has been remarkably successful for hundreds of years,"
he said. "They are so efficient and are extremely productive."
Though the colonies are doing well - five new colonies were founded
in Minnesota in the 1990s, bringing the total to nine - they are
nevertheless becoming less isolated.
Farming alone isn't profitable enough to sustain many Hutterite
colonies, so they are embracing new industries and exposing themselves
to more of the popular culture they have worked so hard to reject.
The Starland colony farms about 1,500 acres, but now makes most
of its money from a machine shop that makes tools for farms and
industry. The business has opened the colony to the outside world
in ways that would be hard to imagine 20 years ago.
One Hutterite spends most of his day on the Internet buying and
selling steel. The colony has a Hutterite pilot who flies the men
to trade shows throughout the Midwest. The machine business has
a Web page, and some Hutterites have their own e-mail addresses.
Decker was unconcerned by the infiltration from the outside world.
It's hard for Hutterite children to wander away because the school
starts them on the right path, he said. About 40 of the 100 people
in the colony attend the school, which includes such modern touches
as a computer lab.
They learn from teachers like Jakob Decker, 24, Joel's son, who
is one of the first Hutterites to graduate from a public college
with a teaching degree. He says Hutterites disagree with many lessons
taught in public school.
"It's all about taking God out of education and teaching garbage
like evolution," Jakob Decker said. "The homosexual community,
they are trying to teach that (homosexuality) should be accepted.
I just pass it by. I don't accept it."
For centuries, the schools taught Hutterite kids how to be farmers.
Nowadays, the children also learn in a computer lab, evidence that
the colony is adapting to changing economies.
As new equipment has reduced the need for manual labor, colonies
have been forced to find new ways to put people to work. The Starland
colony makes steel tools. The Spring Prairie colony near Hawley
in western Minnesota has a printing business. A colony in Alberta,
Canada, makes pancake mix.
"It's a matter of economics and efficiency," said Robert
Rhodes, a Starland member. "We would rather do our jobs efficiently
and spend time with our families. The Hutterites have never tried
to live an unmechanized life."
Reprinted with permission of The Forum.