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Amish community near Clark offers variety of homemade, handmade goods

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:04 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 12, 2012
Customers travel to Clark, a small town in Randolph County, to purchase produce, baked goods and handmade items from the Amish community along Highway Y.

CLARK — The smell of fresh bread floats through Marie Bontrager's home every morning once she begins her day's work.

Homemade bread, pies and cookies fill the shelves of her front room for her customers, who drive the narrow gravel roads near the town of Clark year-round to buy her baked goods. 

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Across the lane, her husband runs a leather shop. Directly east of their house, her sister sells cloth rugs. 

Bread, leatherwork and rugs are just a few of the items for sale around the Amish community near Clark in Randolph County. Families along Highway Y hang signs from their mailboxes to advertise everything from eggs to baskets, furniture, produce and horse tack.

Bontrager's Bakery and Leather Shop

To get Bontrager's bread, hungry visitors will have to navigate the maze of gravel roads veering off the blacktop.

Bontrager does much of her baking on the weekends, when she gets the most customers.

"We get busier all the time," she said, adding that Christmas and Thanksgiving are her busiest days.

Bontrager bakes in a four-level wood burning stove in a room adjacent to her house. She opens all the windows to let in even the smallest breeze, as the oven quickly heats up the room.

"It's a hot job," she said on a recent Friday as she sank her arms wrist-deep into a pan of wheat dough. To make a 20-quart pan of dough, she uses a bread mixer hooked up to a gasoline motor. The volume of the ingredients is too difficult to mix by hand, she said.

By noon, she estimated that she had made around 100 loaves. Customers such as Ed and Jeannette Glover trickled in and out throughout the morning.

The Glovers, who drive from Columbia, are regular shoppers in the Amish community and have developed relationships with the families. They say produce such as beets and tomatoes is especially appealing.

"It's refreshing to come out and see the simpler way of life," Jeannette Glover said.

They had brought their granddaughter Greer, who lives in Indiana, and a neighbor, Abbey. Both girls are 13.

"We brought them to expose them to a different way of life," Ed Glover explained.

He pointed out a buggy traveling by the highway to Greer.

"It's different, but it's cool," she said.

Bontrager's husband, Ora, runs a leather shop on the family's property. He repairs damaged saddles and halters and makes chaps, bridles and other tack on manually operated machines.

Building a harness takes the most time, he said as he repaired a saddle, restitching a piece that had worn out.

The sharp aroma of tanned leather filled the air, and myriad ropes, reins and leather strips hung from the beams.

A family dog, Tibby, lounged on the cement floor to stay cool as Bontrager sorted  through the projects on his workbench.

Many of his customers request custom work, and Bontrager said he does "a little bit of anything with leather."

The Rug Loom

Lydia Borntrager and her daughters make strip rugs and also sell soap — lye and oatmeal.

Borntrager learned how to make the rugs from her mother when she was a young girl. She finds fabric at rummage sales, and also gets donations of unwanted material, she said.

With the help of her daughters, Borntrager cuts the fabric into long strips and weaves them on a hand-powered loom. After threading the fabric, she yanks back a lever to cinch the strips together, one row at time. This process takes around two hours for a 45-inch rug. 

Her customers request different sizes of rugs, but the average size is 45 inches. She will also customize color schemes, such as variegated greens or denim blues.

"If you do it all day, you get sore shoulders," she said.

The quilting shop

Ada Gingerich sells quilts, baked items and canned goods from garden produce in the small shop next to her house on Highway Y.

Gingerich was one of the first bakers in the Amish community. At one point, she had to slow production to care for her growing family, but she still bakes at least 10 pies for the annual fireman's fish fry in Clark.

Although she sometimes pieces quilts to sell, she usually gets them already put together and stitches the backing for customers.

The rear room of her store held at least 20 finished quilts on a bed frame, ready to be picked up by their owners.

She and her husband, Ammon, married in 1965 and had 10 children together, and now 53 grandchildren. Ammon died 18 years ago.

"What would he say if he could see all these grandchildren?" she said. "I don't know what I would do without them."

South Side Sales bulk food store

Another Gingerich owns a bulk food store on a gravel road off Highway Y. South Side Sales stocks 16 kinds of beans, 18 kinds of flour and over 100 kinds of spices.

Freeman Gingerich, the store owner, said he recently expanded to serve his growing business. Gingerich said the demand for bulk foods seems to be related to the state of the economy.

"Bulk food is a cheaper way," he said.

Many of his products sold in the store come from Dutch Valley, a company in Pennsylvania that uses products from many of the Amish farms in the southeastern part of the state.

Gingerich said his produce is all local. He and his hitch team, Dixie and Dolly, drive their wagon to the homes of the area's Amish families and load up with $1,300 to $3,000 worth of fruits and vegetables to sell.

Columbia resident Mary Ann Groves said she buys bulk from South Side Sales for the prices. Groves has supported Amish business since 1998 for baked goods, kitchen utensils and free-range chicken.

"I come for the clean food, the organic food and the prices," she said.

Gingerich has also introduced gluten-free products to his shelves, but his bestsellers are peaches and "fry pies."

A tractor-trailer load of peaches comes from southern Missouri every Wednesday throughout the summer. He said he has around 600 customers who visit the store to purchase fresh peaches.

His other big seller, 6-inch fry pies, are sold on Fridays and Saturdays. His sister makes nearly 200 of the fruit or cream pies in advance, he said, and they're gone in a weekend.

"I try to eat one every week, but sometimes I don't get that done," Gingerich said with a laugh.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.


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Comments

Michael Williams July 11, 2012 | 8:03 a.m.

Good timing, Missourian.

I was in Clark yesterday at the produce auction. It's an enjoyable twice-weekly event where I can get high quality bulk produce (for home canning) at great prices....and the homemade ice cream is to die for (You can any flavor you like, so long as it's vanilla). The auction near Versailles is just as enjoyable. The bidding is spirited and fast at both places; show up early so you can get used to the auctioneer's cadence and not bid 50 dollars on a box of okra when you were trying for tomatoes. Keep the kiddies away from the horses and don't bring your pets for the same reason.

This hot weather has really affected (adversely) the taste of tomatoes. Anyone else noticed this? I think we'll make a lot of spiced-up tomato sauce instead of plain juice or table tomatoes.

PS: Where does a bunch of that produce you see for sale by the side of the road and/or farmer's markets come from? I'll give you one guess.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 11, 2012 | 8:22 a.m.

Michael Williams wrote:

"This hot weather has really affected (adversely) the taste of tomatoes. Anyone else noticed this?"

Yes, it's affected both the taste and the yield of my tomatoes. In years past, my heirlooms had set 5-15 tomatoes per plant by this time, while this year the most I have is three, and many have none. I have a commercial hybrid variety in my front yard that is more heat-resistant, and they have a good yield, but even they were having trouble setting fruit last week.

Peaches, on the other hand, are EVERYWHERE. I've had to stake up some of the branches of my one tree, even though I thinned them earlier in the year. I think the dry conditions have helped minimize brown rot also.

DK

(Report Comment)

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