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Published by Leah Walker

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Published by: Leah Walker on Feb 03, 2012
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--DRAFT-- Rural Hutterite Colonies: How does an isolated egalitarian community thrive in a postmodern, post-industrial society?
Here’s the deal. You will likely live longer, have better health, never go hungry, enjoy the company of family and close friends round the clock, you will worship in an all engaging religious community, your welfarewill be assured from birth to death, you will be bilingual, you will not need to worry about paying the bills, youwon’t need the latest gadgets, and loud noises will emanate from a cappella choir practice, farm equipment andthunder, but from nowhere else. The downside? Your work on a farm will be determined by your sex and yourage, so you may have no vote in colony decisions, and you will be expected to produce and raise a large family.Because you know of little outside the colony, and you were raised within a strict religious village dominatedby an old guard patriarchy, you will have no choice. Having a high school education, you will possess few skillsmarketable on the outside. You will be stuck. Is it worth the trade? Would you be willing to give up yourindividualism and the right to make your own choices for a guarantee of having your basic needs met for therest of your life? Is the security and certainty worth it?The growth of bureaucracy and the problems associated with the structure of large scale human serviceorganizations (HSO’s) have long been an issue among social work scholars. The rise of alternative institutionalforms that might be considered at the other end of the organizational continuum, such as food coops,neighborhood gardens, and the like, have been of more recent interest (Kanter 1976, Morris and Hess 1975,Rothchild-Whitt 1978).While some have championed the development of smaller, more local and cooperatively owned agencies(Zwerdling 1978), published studies have focused on small local agencies within a largely hostile neighboringbureaucratic environment. Hence, discussions in the literature tend to compare and contrast two ends of acontinuum. Those involved in such ‘counter-culture’ agencies are constantly faced with competing demandsfrom established systems. Competition for scarce funding and difficulties obtaining supportive resources arementioned as reasons that alternative smaller organizational forms do not survive.Neighborhood Help Groups---------------------------------------------------------Large Bureaucratic HSOsHutterite colonies, on the other hand, represent an example of extreme alternative that may form anotherbranch, which has gone relatively unnoticed.Neighborhood Help Groups---------------------------------------------------------Large Bureaucratic HSOs|||||Hutterite BrethrenThis chapter examines the social organization of Hutterian Brethren, a communal agriculturalcommunity who have outlasted many other groups that attempted communal cooperative living in the US.Having engaged in communistic form of separatist culture for the past several hundred years, communalHutterites of the north central plains in the US and Canada have survived by combining their ideology of areligious community with strict norms and a commitment to a form of separatist fundamentalism sinceimmigrating to the US from Russia in the 1870’s. A central question to be considered is: What can we learnfrom ‘third way’ rural communities that have survived by largely avoiding the surrounding social, cultural,political and economic environments, using rural isolation to buffer the demands of postmodern, mass society
by sharing everything equally among members? This chapter describes the typical Hutterite Colonyorganization, examines how members solve a number of key social welfare concerns, and considers whatlessons might be learned from these communal groups for those of us unable and unwilling to make the trade.One of the many Anabaptist groups that arose directly out of the Protest Reformation of the 16
century,the Hutterian Brethren have survived as one of the few true communal groups in the US. Their history includesa century in Moravia (formerly Czechoslovakia), two centuries in Hungary and nearly 100 years in Russia (3).The modern Hutterites derive their name from Jacob Hutter, who took his concept of ‘gelassenheit’ (thepeaceful submission of individuals s to the larger group of believers, together forsaking private property) fromHubmaier (4). According to Hostetler “It was Hutter, who, regarding himself as an apostle appointed by God,firmly established the practice of communal living a means of salvation. The source of Hutter’s concept of Bruderhof (colony) is not known…but it is known that the practice of communal living was nothing new inHutter’s time; there were other pacifistic communal groups in Bohemia and Moravia.” (5).Hutterites had lived in several different locations from the 1600’s to the mid 1800’s when they moved toRussia. In 1871, while farming in the Ukranian frontier, an edict was issued which nullified the Hutterian grantof exemption form military service. As had been their pacifist tradition, the Hutterites fled this region andimmigrated to the US. After spending several years visiting other communal groups in the US seeking acommon arrangement, approximately one hundred families settled in the first Hutterite colony in the US, nearYankton, SD, establishing the Bon Homme colony. The Hutterites who formed colonies along the James Riverbasin in South Dakota belong to a subgroup known as the Schmiedeleut (or ‘smiths’ people). They have opened35 colonies in South Dakota. Two other Hutterite groups, somewhat more conservative are the Lederleut(‘leaders’ people) and the Dariusleut (Darius’ people), who are more numerous in North Dakota, Montana,Minnesota and have established over fifty colonies in Canada.The Hutterites familiar to the author settled in South Dakota in the 1870’s and had few problemsadapting to the agricultural economy or difficult winters as they were familiar with both from their most recenthome in the Ukrane. The Hutterites were greeted upon their arrival in the Midwest as a hardworking group, theYankton Press and Dakotan said “…give this class of immigrants the best chance possible, for we have seenenough of their thrift and enterprise to convince us that they will make most desirable citizens” Localresentment arose however after the outbreak of World War I. Hutterites refused to buy war bonds, participate inpublic celebrations or consent to the military draft, and discontent soon followed.A protest group known as the State Council for the Defense lobbied the SD state attorney general’soffice to bring legal action to revoke the Hutterites’ articles of incorporation. This was a successful strategy asanti-Hutterite sentiment was increasing. Hutterites were now described as a menace to society for deprivingtheir children of the right to mingle with outsiders. Most of the existing Hutterites colonies sold their land andemigrated to Canada, where they remained until 1937, when they returned to SD. In 1930’s the South Dakotalegislature revised the legal code to allow for the return of communal farming….as the Great Depression hadtake a heavy toll on the regional economy, and Hutterites were welcomed back. Since 1936, the Schideleut havebuilt 42 colonies (or Bruderhofs) in SD.Each colony consists of approximately 5000 acres of farm land, a central complex of dwelling units(some families live in their own homes and others in duplexes or apartments), and livestock pens, barns andother outbuildings, a school house a common dining hall and kitchen and church form the typical community.Only a limited number of families reside on a colony with perhaps between seventy and one hundred a fiftypeople spread throughout ten to fifteen families. The average family might consist of a couple with ten children.Hutterites have found from their experience that they maximum number of members per farm is aboutone hundred and fifty. Therefore, each colony plans on splitting or branching into two colonies whenever aBruderhof reaches it’s maximum capacity. This division makes up a major portion of colony time planning assuitable land must be located and purchased, buildings erected, sewage and utilities installed, equipment
purchased. Funds for these efforts must therefore be saved, helping to account for the fact that little is left overfor personal consumption. If colony members agree on who will leave to begin a new settlement, families willplan to elect new members to a council and new work roles will be allocated. If members cannot agree, nameswill be drawn from a hat to determine who will move and who will remain.The new, or daughter, colony will receive considerable financial support from those remaining in themother colony, and workers from nearby settlements will assist with the production of new crops. A new colonytypically moves through several stages after leaving the mother farm. For the first several years a colonytypically has little additional income to invest in modern farm machinery. The use of up to date agriculturalequipment is one of the key ways Hutterites differ from other Anabaptist separatist groups that have settled inthe United States. Hutterites derive the largest share of their corporate income from the sale of farm produce.The second stage may begin relatively early on during a daughter colonies’ life cycle, or it may takeseveral years before a colony is financially secure enough to stand on its own. Work on the farm, while arduous,is not necessarily backbreaking and modern equipment and the ability to bring a large labor force together onfairly short notice means that barns, bridges and other buildings can be construct with maximum efficiency.During the third stage, which may span a few years up to a maximum of twenty years, a typical colonyprospers, relatively speaking. For these last years before the next branching the colony enjoys the benefits of more efficient mechanization and income and profits may accrue. During this period money and resources areacquired and saved for the next splitting.Typically Hutterites grow most or all of their own food and only occasionally need to acquirepreservatives for preparing or storing food. Their canned supplies are intended to see them successfully throughthe winter. They purchase large quantities of material for making their own clothes. Most colonies have accessto electricity, gas and other resources needed to provide heat. While the Hutterite Brethren shun theaccumulation of material wealth, they are careful to purchase sufficient supplies so as to keep members healthyand rested. As with some rural farming communities, some Hutterites colonies have outdoor toilet facilities.The average couple may have as many as a dozen children. Hutterian religious beliefs place emphasis onlarge families and pressures for reproductive success assure that colonies will grow in preparation forbranching. Until a child is old enough to enter kindergarten, she or he attends the colony ‘German’ school. Herethe child is taught to read and write in German, learns Hutterite traditions and church history, and is socializedinto the Hutterite Brethren way of life. The child is raised to be God-fearing, to obey elders and eschewpersonal wealth or luxury. Hard work is thought to be the essential ingredient to salvation, and time on earth isbut a temporary hardship. The influences of the external world are generally in absence, with newspapers,television, radio, and the internet in short supply. Contact with outsiders, other than during colony visits or tripsto town, are to be avoided. A child lives at home with his or her parents, but is taught for the first several yearsby the ‘German’ teachers, typically one couple selected for this purpose. Children in German school typicallydine in a separate room, and spend a good bit of time learning to live as a group member.By the time a child reaches school age, s/he is already familiar with Hutterian subculture. An elementaryschool is located on the colony and is maintained by the settlement. A public school teacher instructs children ina format typical of a one room rural school. Children are encouraged to continue their education only until age15 or so, at which time they are expected to take on adult responsibilities. Children of school age have dailychores and participate as apprentices in adult work roles. Children for the most part are not exposed to radio,television or other electronic media. They have learned from their various teachers what Hutterites consider tobe appropriate knowledge of the larger world. An occasional trip to a nearby colony or local market is the onlyofficial contact children have with life on the outside.After completing school, a young male will be given a seat in the adult dining hall. He will sit with themen on one side of the room. When he is judged by the elder members to be competent in the ways of the

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