Going down to Amish Country, Indiana, this week I expected to see American Standardbred horses pulling buggies on the roads competing in traffic with cars and tour buses. I expected to see well-kept houses with vegetable gardens, laundry hanging out on lines and Draft horses working in the fields. I expected we’d be served lunch by Mennonite woman wearing long, plain dresses in pastel colors and to see Old Order Amish women in their black garb and covered heads shopping in stores and riding bicycles. And I saw all those things, but what I didn’t expect to see was an Amish camel dairy farm.
When our 50 passenger tour bus pulled into Dallas Bender’s driveway we were greeted by his ‘yard camel,’ a gentle giant of an animal who at first glance looked like a statue standing not 200 feet from a busy road without a fence or tether to keep her confined. The first question I asked Dallas was, “What keeps her from going on down the road?” Without missing a beat he grinned and replied, “Common sense.” After we all quit laughing he added, “She’s going to have a baby in a day or two and she’s not going anywhere. I keep her close by so I can be on hand when she gives birth.” Dallas is 34 years old, movie star cute with a quick wit and a playful personality that I did not expect from an Amish guy. I was charmed right from the moment he and his young son stepped on our bus to give us the Cliff Notes version of raising camels. He was originally from Iowa, moved to Indiana to marry his wife and when he told his parents and friends he was going to raise camels, they all tried to talk him out of it and that made "the rebel in him" want to do it all the more. That was seven or eight years ago and now he has 20 camels, both one humps from Africa and the Middle East and two humps from Central Asia. The milk is sold to a broker in California who resells it for $26 a pint. It’s used in homeopathic medicines and is said to be good for autoimmune disorders. This camel diary farm is one of only seven in the USA.
Growing up, our summer cottage was near a large diary farm that we kids used to visit from time to time so I was fascinated with the differences between diary cows and dairy camels. Camels are milked twice a day and produce six gallons each time but unlike dairy cows, camels won’t produce milk if you take their babies away. So the camel dairy farmer and babies share the milk for as long as they nurse which averages 12 to 18 months. Camels get statue-still and teary-eyed when the milk is ready to drop (after the baby has nuzzled their mom to primp the pump, so to speak) and the farmer then has 90 seconds to work the four teats as fast as he can. After that it takes another ten minutes before a second batch of milk is ready to drop down and at that point he lets the babies nurse. Dallas said camels get a bad rap about spitting. It’s their only defense mechanism, he said, but if you treat them well they are very sweet, affectionate and well-behaved. They are also intelligent and adapt well to cold climates. Camels cost around $1,200 each but he paid $1,700 for a white one. Mrs. Bender makes hand cream and soap from camel milk and many of us bought some. It’s the best hand cream I’ve ever tried! My hands and elbows have never been so soft and it doesn’t seem to wash off when you wash your hands. The ingredient list is short and sweet: camel milk, coconut oil, E-wax, water, optiphen and floral oil.
We went to Shipshewana to go to a Quilt Gardens and Mural Tour. I wasn't all that impressed, mainly because our step-on guide talked more about herself than anything else and she took up a lot of time that would have been better spent either getting home 45 minutes earlier or seeing more gardens---we only saw four out of twenty in the area. For the sewers in our group, we all enjoyed shopping in Yoder’s Hardware for quilting materials and supplies. I’ve never seen so many yard goods in one place in my entire life although I didn’t buy anything. What did I buy on this long day trip? Three different kinds of peanut butter out of the ten or so variations sold. (We were told it's a staple for Sunday meals in Amish communities because they don’t work or cook on Sundays). I also bought orange slice candies that are a comfort food for me because my mom always kept them in a drawer near her rocking chair. Orange slices, being rocked and motherhood is the Norman Rockwell painting in my head. A post card and something called Traffic Jam that’s made with six different fruits rounded out my purchases. Thirty bucks worth of retail therapy and contributions to the Amish economy.
I should have taken a photo of the contents of the purse I took on this day trip because the topic of what each of us take with us came up when a women on the bus needed a Kleenex, another needed a Wet-Ones and someone else was asking around for an aspirin. I had them all to share and when I came up with a zip lock plastic bag for someone who needed something to put a broken hearing aid in my seatmate remarked, “You sure come prepared!” Kleenex woman said because everything is paid for in advance she only takes her car key in her pocket and nothing else. A couple of others only take a charge card and/or a tube of lipstick tuck in their pockets. I couldn’t go to the grocery store five miles away without my purse! But I’m less “Boy Scout prepared” now than I was in the days when I serviced weddings. Back in those days I carried stuff like smelling salts, a sewing kit, safety pins and clear nail polish to fix runs in nylons. Maybe the fact that I don't live as bare-bones as others is the reason I'm so fascinated by the Amish. No electricity, no TVs, no cars or modern conveniences of any kind. I used my imagination to view their romanticized lives and came home relaxed and happy and glad for the opportunity to slow down and smell the roses...and literally get kissed by a camel. Did I mention they love to have their necks scratched and to nuzzle your hair? ©
|A twelve week old baby camel. They are 75 pounds at birth.|
|Camels stand between 6 to7 feet tall at the shoulders. Fully grown, they weigh over 1,500 lb.|
|The camel that kissed me on the cheek.|
Four Quilt Gardens