Make shopping thrifty in Ohio’s Amish Country

Thrift store shopper by Bruce Stambaugh
Marlene Burrell of Mineral City, OH shops regularly at the Harvest Thrift Store in Sugarcreek, OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Frugal shoppers will find a bonanza in Ohio’s Amish Country. The area is abundant with several well-stocked thrift stores, which is a reflection of Amish and Mennonite values.

The Amish and Mennonite cultures have a reputation for being thrifty. Recycling clothing, house wares and other household items and much more not only fits that image but their theology of service as well. Accordingly, profits from all the area’s thrift stores go to various charities.

Great bargains covering a wide range of items can be found in each thrift store. All resell clean, functional and stylish merchandise for the entire family.

On the eastern edge of Amish Country is the Harvest Thrift Store in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Located at 1019 West Main Street, the Harvest Thrift Store has been in operation for four years. A second store at 102 East Main Street in Wilmot opened last May.

All proceeds go to youth ministries and to local non-profit organizations like Every Women’s House in Wooster. According to store manager Holly Lehigh, 30 to 40 percent of her customers are from out of the area.

“We have some people from out of state who come back three or four times every year,” she said. “They tell me that what they spend on gas they more than make up in the savings of what they buy.”

In Wayne County’s Kidron, MCC Connections offers its items in a pleasant and well-organized atmosphere. Store manager, Bill Ressler, said that a number of tour buses stop at the store on occasion, the most recent from North Carolina. He attributes those visits to the promotion of the store by the Wayne County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

According to Ressler, all proceeds from sales at MCC Connections go to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Akron, Pennsylvania. MCC assists peoples around the globe in education, water projects and agricultural initiates, encouraging health, hygiene and sustainability. MCC Connections is located at 4080 Kidron Road, Kidron.

Back in Holmes County in the hub of Amish Country is Berlin, where Share and Care Thrift Store operates on U.S. 62. Share and Care sends 80 percent of its profits to Haiti missions and uses the balance for local needs, such as fire victims and personal disasters.

Day manager Noah Troyer estimated that at least 50 percent of the store’s business is from tourists. He said that amount increases during peak tourist time.

“We have had people here from Arizona and California,” Troyer said.

Millersburg, the county seat, hosts two thriving thrift shops, the internationally known Goodwill Industries, and Save and Serve Thrift Shop. They just happen to be catty corner from one another on South Washington Street at Rodhe Drive.

Like it’s international corporation goals, Goodwill’s objective is to finance the employment of those who need jobs. Store manager, Josh McWilliams, said most of his customers are local residents, though the number of tourists who frequent the store increases seasonally.

“They are mostly looking for down home, Amish-made items,” McWilliams said.

According to Helen Glick, co-manager at Save and Serve, about 25 percent of their customers are from outside the immediate area.

“Our on-going silent auctions seem to attract collectors and others interested in unusual pieces and antiques,” Glick said. A look at the silent auction bid book indicated customers from all across Ohio as well as several from other states.

Eric Raber, co-manager at Save and Serve, credits the community’s continued support for the long-term success of his store. Save and Serve was founded in 1975.

“Even in a down economy, the local people continue to provide us with amazing amounts and quality items to offer at reasonable prices,” Raber said. Like MCC Connections, all of the profits at Save and Serve are sent to MCC. In its 35 years of operation, Save and Serve has sent $3.3 million to MCC to help fund its global projects.

Whether from near or far, bargains galore are sure to be found in the thrift stores in Ohio’s Amish Country. And emblematic of the holiday spirit, all of the profits from sales go to those in need.

Thrifty shoppers by Bruce Stambaugh
Kay Schrock, Mary Hoefer, and Jo Troyer, all of Goshen, IN, and Becky Christophel of Harrisonburg, VA, shopped several Amish Country thrift stores, including Share and Care in Berlin. The three sisters and their mother, Troyer, enjoy their frequent rendezvous' in Ohio's Amish country.

The trellises worked: A tomato success story

Brandywine tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Red Brandywines ripening in the shade of the tomato trellis.
Tomatoes ripening on the vine by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes ripening on the vine.

How did our tomatoes grow this year? They did quite well, thank you very much, and little thanks to me. My wife did most of the work. I just took the pictures and enjoyed the bounty.

As you may recall, we tried something different this year. Tired of the weighty tomatoes collapsing the stakes and metal cages we “secured” them with, my wife found a plan for tomato trellises. Our son, who has become quite the food guru, lives in a loft in Wooster, Ohio, 16 miles north of us. He and his wife have no outdoor space for growing the vegetables and herbs that he loves to use for his gourmet cooking. (See the May 27, 2010 post entitled “A beautiful morning well spent.”)

Amish farm Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
The Amish farm on which our home is built.

Our house is built on an Amish farm four miles southwest of Mt. Hope and four miles northwest of Berlin, the unofficial capital of Ohio’s largest Amish population. In other words, we’re out in the country with Amish neighbors and farms all around. Since our son drives right by us every workday, he asked to join us in our limited gardening. After the drought of 1988, we gave up most gardening. My wife turned to flower gardening, which adds a multitude of color to our little acre and a half each growing season.

Wildflower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
The backyard wildflowers are only some of the beautiful flowers my wife cultivates each year.

The tomato trellis plans called for plenty of space, which required me to dig out more yard along the bricked garage wall at the south end of our home where we annually grow the tomatoes. We have discovered that the tomatoes seemed to thrive on the extra heat radiated by the bricks.

I dug out the grass by a couple of more feet, spaded the ground and added some horse manure the neighbor supplied when he fertilized the fields adjacent to our home. Our son, my wife and I erected a pair of the trellises on May 15. My wife purchased and planted a dozen heirloom tomato plants. Varieties included Hillbilly, Striped Zebra, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifters, Red Brandywine, Roma’s, and Old German. A friend from church also gave us an unknown variety. And several Yellow Pear tomato plants volunteered from last year’s crop.

Driving tomato stakes by Bruce Stambaugh
Our son drove 7 ft. stakes into the ground to form the support of the trellis.

We purchased seven foot oak stakes at a local nursery. The original plans called for eight-foot stakes, but the sevens were the best we could find without having some special ordered at a much-increased price. The main stakes were pounded into the ground, and the lateral ones were spaced and tied with garden twine.

The plants seemed to grow slowly the first month. But once the summer heat and humidity really kicked in, the tomato plants boomed. My wife repeatedly tied the ever-increasing shoots as best she could. Still, the end result looked like a jungle.

The plants are still producing, but with the peak of the season behind us, the plants production has slowed considerably. We did have to fight a bit of blight throughout the summer, but the plants continued to thrive. And we enjoyed their abundant production.

Green Zebra tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Green Zebra tomatoes growing on the vine.

I especially enjoyed the Green Zebras and the Hillbilly. They were sweet and low on acid. Sprinkled with a little sea salt, they made many summer lunches on the back porch tasty and enjoyable.

My wife also made delectable tomato salads with slices and chunks of the different varieties offered on the same plate, sprinkled with fresh mozzarella cheese and virgin olive oil. Cuttings of fresh basil perfectly seasoned the offering.

Mixed tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
A plate of colorful heirloom tomatoes.
Sliced heirloom tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Heirloom tomatoes ready to eat.
Canned tomato products by Bruce Stambaugh
Just some of the beautiful and delicious handy work of my wife.

Of course my industrious wife also canned whole tomatoes as well as chunked tomatoes, made tomato soup, and peach salsa. I did persuade her to reveal her delicious tomato soup recipe, which is as follows:

Tomato Soup

Group 1
14 qts. cut up tomatoes (preferably Roma’s)
14 stems of celery cut up
14 bay leaves
27 whole cloves
1 green pepper diced

Cook the above until all vegetables are soft. I use a roaster. Then put through a strainer. I let the initial liquid drain off before cranking the strainer handle. I can this for juice. Keep hot until ready to add group 2.

Group 2 (Note that any recipe with dairy products like butter and cream should be properly pressure canned.)
12 Tbsp. flour
1 # butter
6 tsp. salt
1 cup cream
16 Tbsp. sugar

Slowly cook group 2 to make a paste.

In a kettle/roaster bring the strained group 1 to a boil and add group 2. Stir often. Bring back to a slow boil. This is not a thick soup.

Put in jars, makes approx. 17 pints. Process in a water bath 30 min.

When ready to use put 1 jar in kettle with ½ jar milk and heat thoroughly.

Neva Stambaugh

Of course I tried to document the progress of the tomato growing and harvesting throughout the summer. Following is a sequence of how our tomatoes grew following the May 15, 2010 installation of the trellises.

Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-July by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-July.
Tomatoes mid-August by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-August.
Tomatoes mid-Sept. by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-Sept., beginning to die out.
Tomato blossoms by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes in blossom.
Green tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Green tomatoes on the vine.
Ripe tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Ready to pick.

By the way, after the first frost, the plan is to disassemble the trellises and store them for the winter. We also plan on extending the growing area yet again to allow more room to maneuver between the garage and the trellises.

We found several advantages to using the trellises. They were much more effective in cutting the loss of tomatoes to dry rot. Varmints, especially the four-legged variety, caused less damage, and the tomatoes were much easier to pick.

If you used trellises or have other options and suggestions, we would like to hear them. Please leave a message with your successes, ideas and lessons learned.

Enjoy your tomatoes while they last.

Bruce Stambaugh
Sept. 29, 2010

Roma tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Roma tomatoes awaiting the canner.
Picked tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
A variety of heirloom tomatoes.

Directions of a different sort

Buggies at Mt. Hope by Bruce Stambaugh
Buggies tied at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope in the heart of Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Word to the wise. If you ask for directions in Holmes County, Ohio, you just might want to get a second or even third opinion. Better yet, use a map, atlas, a GPS or a combination of those geographical aides.

Here’s why. With three to four million visitors to our fine county every year, some of them get lost, or at least do not know exactly where they are. Shoot. Some might not even know where they want to go.

Coming and going by Bruce Stambaugh
Wagons come and go during the oats harvest in Holmes County, Ohio.

But given what I have observed and heard over the years, that’s not a problem either. The genial folks who live here will gladly offer some directional advice if asked.

Generally, the directions given answer the directions sought. But not always. Holmes County has its fair share of ornery characters.

Of course, I wouldn’t be one of them, though living where I do I certainly have had plenty of chances. While working outside, it is not uncommon for a car to slow on our busy highway and have either a passenger or the driver ask how to get to Berlin or Millersburg, or a specific business.

I try to be as succinct as possible, using landmarks and road numbers and the appropriate “turn right” or “turn left.” I like to end with what I have heard countless other locals finish their directional spiel. “Like we say in Holmes County, you can’t miss it.”

Goldfinch by Bruce Stambaugh
An American Goldfinch enjoys the fresh seeds of a volunteer sunflower. With its many habitats, birds are among the tourists who flock to Holmes County every year.

Meant as affable words of encouragement, too often I fear they are the deathblow to everything that preceded that comment. Since I never see the persons again, I can’t testify whether the colloquialism is true or not. But it could be worse, and sometimes is. The following antidotal incidents are completely true.

After a tourist inquired of a local where a certain person lived, the native immediately asked in all seriousness, “Do you know where the eight-sided barn used to be?” The point of reference had burned to the ground several years previous.

Here’s another. A tourist asked for directions to little unincorporated Saltillo, a cluster of homes at the diagonal crossroads of two county highways. These were the instructions. “You go up a long hill, over a small hump in the road, then it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from there.”

They get better. The state superintendent of public instruction, driving a state car with state license plates, stopped and asked for directions. Seeing the distinguished gentleman’s suit and tie and glancing at the plates, the unsuspecting superintendent got directions that took him far out of his way. Fortunately, he had a good sense of humor and understood the county’s suspicions towards state and federal officials.

A friend of mine was standing on the square in Millersburg when someone in a car going west asked directions to Berlin, five miles to the east. My friend sent them north to Wooster, east to Canton, south to Dover and west to Berlin, a distance of 96 miles.

Baling hay by Bruce Stambaugh
Millions of tourist visit Holmes County's Amish country annually to see the Amish work in the fields.

The same friend was once asked for directions from Millersburg to Mohawk Dam in Coshocton County from someone from out of the area. The vehicle was pulling a fishing boat.

My friend figured someone was sending this poor fellow on a wild goose chase. Since the guy had driven this far, my friend figured he might as well complete the ruse. The proper directions were given and the man and his boat were on their way.

Mohawk Dam is a flood-control, dry dam. I’m sure they couldn’t have missed it.

August sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
A glowing August sunset in Holmes County's Amish country.

Vivian Miller offers compassion through cards and visits

By Bruce Stambaugh

After the doctor informed Vivian Miller, 68, four years ago that she had Parkinson’s disease, he asked how she felt about the diagnosis.

Miller didn’t flinch. She mustered up her usual pluck and said, “It’s not going to put me in a corner someplace.” Indeed it hasn’t.

In the time since, Miller has spent her life quietly helping others.

“It’s not about me,” she said modestly. “God uses me as an encouragement and support for others.”

Miller, who lives in Berlin, Ohio, intentionally looks for those in need, though she clearly tries to be subtle and discreet. If she finds out about someone with health or personal problems, Miller doesn’t hesitate to help, even if it’s simply by sending a homemade card.

She uses a software program to create personally appropriate cards. Miller often incorporates a picture of the person or herself into the card’s design.

Vivian Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
Vivian Miller enjoys making personalized cards for people.

When she was unable to go on a cruise with her Sunday School class, Miller knew what to do. Instead of being envious, she made a welcome home card for each member. On the front of the card was the picture of the cruise ship on which the group had sailed.

“I wanted them to have a special memento from their trip,” Miller said.

That statement pretty well sums up Miller’s approach to life. Her doctor told her she would do well with that positive attitude, and Miller has. Miller said it really boils down to a pretty fundamental formula.

“It’s about listening to others,” she said. “Everybody has a story, and all you need to do is listen.”

Miller retired as a deputy director in the Holmes County Treasurer’s office in 2006. She had also worked in the office at Rodhe’s IGA in Millersburg for several years.

“From my vantage point in the office, I would see the same people come into the store over and over,” she said. “They usually just wanted someone to talk to.”

“I try to see the goodness in people,” Miller said, “no matter what their situation is.”

Miller credits her term as a deaconess at Walnut Creek Mennonite Church with giving her the courage and opportunities to be in a helping mode. She did hospital visits and checked in on the less mobile.

Miller looks for every possible way to help and to meet new people. She even works at the polls at times to help expand her circle of friends.

Miller especially has sought out others who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She explained that support, no matter what the issue, is critical for quality of life.

According to the National Institute of Health, Parkinson’s disease is a motor systems disorder, which is the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The four primary symptoms of the disease are tremor or trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face.

Often times the onset of Parkinson’s is due to surgery or a head injury. In Miller’s case, she noticed the symptoms after a series of unrelated surgeries following her retirement.

For Miller, the disease has affected her left side. She discretely calms her left arm with her right hand and continues her conversation. That in itself is a physical sign of the inner awareness that Miller has. She is determined to share her compassion no matter what.

“Sometimes people seek me out,” Miller said, “and sometimes I go to them.”

Each situation is different, and Miller tries her best to be mindful of that. Miller just takes her illness in stride.

“Now it’s my turn to help,” she said. “Some of my best friends have come as the result of just being with families in need.”

Strident comforter that she is to others, Miller recognizes that she, too, needs support to do what she does. Miller credits her husband, Duane, and adult children, Valerie Gerber of Sugarcreek, and Scott Miller of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with providing the emotional and physical uplifting that she needs to maintain her active and involved pace.

“Duane has been wonderful,” she said, “and Valerie calls me everyday.” Her son sent her a laptop computer while she had an extended stay in the hospital. In part, that gift is what led to Miller’s practice of designing, printing and sending the personalized cards.

“I have been blessed by everyone I have met,” Miller said. Most likely, the recipients of her kindness could say the same thing about her.

This article was initially published in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.