Amish lifestyle peddled on the Internet

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    By Jonathan Wardle

    Among the more ironic Internet finds are sites dedicated to non-electric living.

    For example, www.amish.net is dedicated to helping people get information about the Amish, as well as allowing people to purchase Amish-made goods. The site even helps arrange tours in America”s Amish Country.

    While no Amish people work on the Web page, the founders of the site are in contact with members of the Amish community, said Leslie Kelly, one of the co-founders of the Web site and company.

    One of the links on Kelly”s site leads the curious surfer to www.lehmans.com, the online version of Lehman”s, a store specializing in products for those interested in a more old-fashioned way of life.

    An online shop for non-electric living may seem paradoxical. But then, so does a high-speed Web site dedicated to the Amish.

    “It”s a real source of information for people who are interested in baking bread, natural pesticides or just sort of the old-time way of doing things,” said Glenda Lehman Ervin, the marketing director for Lehman”s.

    “The company was founded to serve the Amish,” Ervin said. She said it has since found many other people who are interested in the products they sell.

    The Lehman family is not Amish, but they do belong to a religion that shares some history with the Amish. Ervin has no problem driving a car or using a telephone the Internet. But, like most Mennonites, she suggests caution before embracing technology.

    “We like teaching our children a different way of life,” Ervin said. “I”m not Amish, I never said electricity is evil. But it makes sense to have some sort of backup heat. Some people, if the power went out for three days, they would have no way to have heat, light, food.

    “What we caution people to do is to temper it a little bit,” she continued. “Don”t accept new technology just because it”s available.”

    Ervin said Lehman”s has many customers that do live “off the grid,” a reference to those who do not have electricity in their homes. Roughly 10 percent of their customers are of the Amish faith, Ervin said. The Amish customers do not access Lehman”s from the Web, but visit one of its two stores in Ohio.

    There are, however, customers who live without electricity and still manage to access their Web site. Ervin told of a man in West Virginia who lives in a teepee. She said he takes his own computer to and from a library in a wagon so that he can access the Internet, and Lehman”s Web site.

    She also told of some missionaries in South America who “hacked their way through the jungle” to a city after a hurricane destroyed their village. Upon arrival in the city, they went to a cyber caf? to order some water filters and other necessary supplies online from Lehman”s.

    Lehman”s fills a unique niche, but in recent years that niche has received increased attention. Fears of Y2K amplified awareness of their business, as did the attacks of Sept. 11, Ervin said. But they are interested in more than just selling old-time products.

    “We think it”s very important not only to keep products alive, but also ways of doing things,” she said.

    Galen Lehman, Ervin”s sister, took over the title of company president from his father just two weeks ago. He said it is not always easy to fill such a unique market role.

    “It”s a hard niche to fill,” Lehman said. “It”s not like there are people out there who are interested in everything that we do.”

    Lehman”s sells gas refrigerators, wood stoves, propane and kerosene lamps, 300 different cookie cutters and many other products.

    Lehman said he isn”t certain what people are going to be wanting in the next twenty years, but he considers himself fortunate to be in the business.

    “We”re lucky because it”s something we love,” he said.

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