Writer, Naturalist, Amish Farmer

David Kline is an Amishman and environmentalist. He has authored two books and is the editor of Farming Magazine. He is also a full-time organic farmer in Millersburg, Ohio. Kline asked not to have his voice used on the radio because the Amish church prohibits electronic reproduction of their members.

In the hills of eastern Ohio a black, horse-pulled buggy trots on wet asphalt. Along one side of the road, red and white cows stare sleepily across a barb-wire fence. On the other side there is a small white house, several wooden barns, a windmill, and no telephone wires. This is the farm of David Kline: writer, naturalist, Amish farmer.

In a barn behind his house, Kline is shoveling silage for his cows to eat this winter. He wears a full, reddish-brown beard with no mustache.His blue denim jacket is fastened with buttons because zippers aren't allowed in the Amish church.

Kline is only about 5' 8". He's is in his late 50's and his brown hair is balding on top. But he's stout and has ditch digger hands. He shimmies up a ladder to a small silo. He tosses grain from the silo down a chute, to the cement floor. He then shovels the pile into a metal trough.

While working, Kline chats about politics, religion, and history. He quotes authors as often as relatives, and with equal ease and familiarity.

I ask Kline, "do you miss not having luxuries like a TV?"

"Oh my goodness," he says in his thick, Dutchy accent. "Miss a TV? It's like do you miss not having smallpox? It's just so mind controlling. I'm just so thankful I don't have to watch the news ñ it's almost always gloomy, and the weather report is usually wrong."

Kline doesn't like our involvement in Iraq. Or the consolidation of power in the current administration. He says we need to conserve oil. "The Amish use bicycles," he says. "True sun power."

Environmentalism is a way of life for Kline. He farms organically, doesn't drive a car, and uses only solar or wind-powered energy.

He was drafted for the Vietnam War in the mid sixties. To fulfill his term he spent two years serving in a hospital in Cleveland. When finished, he returned here, to the farm he had grown up on. Kline manages the farm with the help of his family. He wakes up at 4:00 a.m. to milk his 40 cows. He grows hay and corn to feed them and has a vegetable garden. He uses horses to plow and cultivate his fields.

Kline is quick to point out that farming this way does not mean forsaking quality. He opens the door to a white shed and shows that it is full of yellow, hard-kerneled, organically grown field corn, for his cows. Grabbing a large cob, he holds it proudly in his hands and then snaps it in half. "Does this look inferior?" he asks.

Levi Miller has known Kline since the two were children. Miller spent the first nine years of his life in the Amish church, until his parents became Mennonite. Today Miller is an editor of The Mennonite Publishing House, and a writer on the Amish.

"I think I first met David Kline when his school came over to play our elementary school in playing softball together. I would describe him first of all as a naturalist. He's kind of a twenty-first century Henry David Thoreau in his own kind of way," said Miller.

The two books Kline wrote describe farm life and the natural world of eastern Ohio. Kline farms organically largely to protect the wildlife on his farm. In a recent spring, Kline's family counted eighteen hundred young of 13 nesting bird species within 200 feet of his house.

This afternoon the sky is overcast and light rain mists in the air. Kline sloshes through the sloppy ground, pointing out a bright red cardinal. "Just walking the fields," he says. "Knowing what's out there hasn't been harmed by any pesticides or herbicides is such a good feeling. And I think its right because we should be stewards of the mysteries of God."

Miller says stewardship is a traditional Amish ideal.

"Amish look at the land like a medieval catholic would. That humans are the highest order of creation. And they would have very clear sense that they are the highest order of creation and that therefore they would need to care for the animals, for the earth, and for all life that is here," Miller explained.

Kline feels that humans do have "dominion" over the earth. But he says this brings with it a responsibility. "The farm is a place we live and not merely reside," he says. "We're stewards and we're really here you might say for a season, to care for this. Our philosophy was my dad's philosophy. That we should leave our land in much better condition than when we got it. And my dad surely did."

"Traditionally Amish have wanted to pass on the land to the next generation. So that in itself, by wanting to live on the land and wanting to farm , by you wanting your children to have access and wanting to farm, and believing that their is something Godly there is something Christian about that. That tends to enhance the care of the land," explained Miller.

The Amish have been small-scale farmers for hundreds of years ñ since they emigrated from Europe. They still read scripture seasonally ñ leaving Mathew 13 until the spring because that is when the sower went out to sow. And while most don't farm organically, they still use ancient techniques of rotational cropping and diversified farming.

Kline says many Amish today spend a lot of time outdoors and some could almost be called environmentalists. "We really care what's happening," he says.

Few Amish are as educated or concerned about the environment as Kline. But the number of Amish organic farmers is increasing. Kline estimates that more than ten percent of the Amish farmers in his area either farm organically or are transitioning to organic. Miller thinks organic farming suits the Amish.

"I think for the Amish as small scale farmers it has economic benefits. And it has a certain cultural fit. My parents would never have considered himself to be an organic farmer. But nevertheless that was basically the way he farmed. And especially in doing produce and garden and vegetable farming because in their family system there are a lot of children to help and labor available to do it," said Miller.

Kline has been an advocate of small-time organic farming in a time when most experts say farmers need to expand their operations. Several years ago, he began an endeavor to help those like himself.

In Kline's living room, a wood stove burns warmly. Kline stretches out in a cushy brown chair, taking his afternoon rest. His leathered face creases into a smile. "This is where I spend my evenings," he says. "In the winter the warmth just goes into your soul and you can't stay awake."

A bookshelf near Kline's chair is stacked with bird guides, classical literature, and a King James Bible. Audubon, Sierra Club, and other magazines are piled neatly on top. Kline reaches for a periodical entitled, Farming Magazine ñ People, Land, and Community.

"There are almost no farm magazines that have helpful information for us," he says. "We're small scale farmers who sort of operate in the shadow of agri-business. And we felt that we wanted a magazine with hope."

Kline began publishing Farming Magazine four years ago. He edits it using a solar-powered computer in a log building behind his house. Kline thumbs through the thick, glossy pages of a summer issue. There is a section of poetry, an article by his friend, Wendell Berry, and recipes for zucchini fritters. Perhaps most striking are the vibrant photographs of clover fields, beehives, and blueberries. Looking at this magazine, farming does seem hopeful, beautiful. Just as it does to Kline.

He says a farmer recently asked him why he still raises corn when it doesn't make "economic" sense to do it on a small scale. Kline thought for a second. He envisioned seventy-degree June mornings cultivating cornfields with his horses. The only sounds their snorting, and the larks, and sparrows in the hedgerows. Kline looked at the man and said, "Some people go out and play golf. I plant corn. You know, what's the difference? Just because I enjoy its foolish?"