Living Simply

From religious traditions to life on the farm, the simple life has never looked better

By Josh Bishop

For some of us, The Simple Life is nothing new. Family farms have been the backbone of agriculture in the New World since the first European explorers tripped over its shores en route to the East Indies, and religious traditions that observe the practices of rural living continue to thrive throughout the United States and Canada.

To a lesser extent, people have turned to aspects of the simple life — backyard gardens, local foods, or handcrafted products — as a response to economic hardship or a statement of environmental concern.

Whatever the reason, there’s something about the simple life that has an undeniable charm. Live off the land. Get your hands dirty. Field to table. An honest day’s work. Sweat of the brow. These are the ethos and appeal of the simple life.

Groups can taste the simple life at religious communities, family farms, and agricultural tours throughout North America.

Shaker simplicity

It’s hard to get more in tune with the simple life than through the religious traditions of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, more commonly known as the Shakers. It was the Shakers, after all, who gave us that quintessential ode to simplicity and humility, “Simple Gifts.” ’

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, the song proclaims. ’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.

While most of America’s Shaker sites are located in New England (see the feature on page 80) or the notable Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, groups can also visit a handful of sites in New York and Ohio.

Mount Lebanon, N.Y., was the center of American Shaker society for more than 150 years. Construction began in 1785, and the community eventually occupied more than 6,000 acres and hundreds of buildings — including the first Shaker Meetinghouse in America. The Shaker population at the village peaked at about 600 before declining until 1947 when the last Mount Lebanon Shaker died. Today, the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and houses a museum. Arrangements can also be made for tours.

At the Watervliet Shaker Historic District, also in New York, group members can tour a collection of restored buildings in the 770-acre historic district. Watervliet was America’s first Shaker settlement, established in 1776; its meetinghouse was built in 1848 and was recently restored. Today the meetinghouse is used as the headquarters for educational activities. The Shaker Heritage Society has established a series of educational programs for students and seniors alike.

In Ohio, several sites and attractions are devoted to preserving the memory of America’s Shaker heritage. The Warren County History Center in Lebanon displays Shaker artifacts and inventions in realistic room settings. The Shaker Historical Museum in Shaker Heights features a collection of more than 1,700 objects.

Additionally, the North Family of White Water Shaker Village preserves eight acres and 11 buildings as a testimony to Ohio’s Shaker heritage. One of the original 24 communal Shaker villages, the site, which is located west of Cincinnati, retains most of its original structures.

Amish and Mennonite tours

Like the Shakers, the Amish are known for their simple living. Unlike the Shakers, whose numbers have declined to a handful of faithful, the Old Order Amish today have a population of more than 225,000. They’re concentrated in several unique regions — primarily in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, and Ontario — and are easily recognized by their plain clothing and horse-powered buggies.

Many Amish communities are willing to share their lifestyles with group tours, generously opening their homes, businesses, and tables to visitors.

One such group-friendly destination is Buggy Lane Tours in Shipshewana. The small Northern Indiana town is a highly regarded Mennonite and Amish community, perhaps best known for its furniture production, the weekly Miscellaneous and Antique Auction, and sprawling Yoder’s Dutch Country Store.

Buggy Lane Tours provides a genuine Amish experience, including guided wagon rides or step-on guides for visiting motorcoaches. A traditional Thresher’s dinner can be prepared and served at an Amish home, and tours of farms, buggy shops, produce or horse auctions, and covered bridges can be arranged.

Another of America’s largest Amish communities can be visited in Lancaster County, Penn., where groups can fi nd tours, family-style dinners, roadside farm stands, and quilt shops. For more information about Lancaster County, see the feature on pages 106-107 and the Amishthemed itinerary on page 120.

In Perth County, Ontario, groups can pay a visit to the Mennonite settlement at Millbank, where they can tour the Mennonite Information Centre, enjoy traditional country meals and fresh-baked breads, visit a Mennonite home, or see a harness maker’s shop. During dedicated Amish Tours in October, several Perth County Amish homes and businesses are accessible to visitors who wish to get an inside look at the simple lifestyle.


Back in America (and back in the day), the Chautauqua movement was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Considered a type of rural educational movement — and intimately connected to old-time Americana — the Chautauqua reached people in thousands of communities each year. Today, despite the long-standing Chautauqua Institute in New York, the tent movement is all but gone.

Groups can relive the Chautauqua in the Gallipolis City Park from July 20–24, 2010. Beneath the sprawling trees, atop lush green lawns, tucked between the Ohio River and the nostalgic small town — and inside the enchanting red and white striped big top tent reminiscent of yesteryear — five days of Ohio’s Chautauqua will capture the hearts and minds of everyone. It combines living history, music, entertainment, education, and theater. The audience interacts with an intimacy in which the good-old-days and small-town Americana are remembered and for which Gallipolis is still known.

Gallipolis is the only town in all of Southern Ohio that has been bestowed the honor of host site for the 2010 Chautauqua, presented by The Ohio Humanities Council.

The 1930s theme is fitting for the summer of 2010 due to the many references the “Great Recession” has to the Great Depression Era. As such, this year’s Chautauqua program is free to attend. It will present different living history programs each evening during which a figure from the past involves the audience in an odyssey that reveals his or her impact on American history and culture. The audience will have opportunities to interact and ask questions.

Down on the farm

Another incarnation of simple living has persisted despite sweeping changes in agriculture and food production. The family farm is simultaneously a productive, modern means of living and a testimony to simpler times. And with an increased awareness of sustainability, food quality, and the importance of local shopping, farm stays and agritourism are becoming increasingly popular.

The Vermont Farms! Association provides information, itineraries, and guidance for group tours interested in visiting a working farm, orchard, sugarhouse, vineyard, or cheese maker. From overnight farm stays to day trips, these local farms offer an inside look at a simpler lifestyle.

Applecheek Farm, for example, is a certified organic, sustainable family-owned farm that specializes in organic dairy, grass-fed beef, pasture poultry, and other humane products. The Hyde Park farm can accommodate groups of up to 100 people for a number of activities, including farm tours, sleigh rides, and horse-drawn wagon rides. Want to get dirt under your nails? Applecheek Farm can give group members a glimpse of butter making, felting, and lessons on organic dairy production.

Not only do visiting groups get to see first hand how the folks at Applecheek Farm raise their food, but they can taste it, too. Groups can make arrangements for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, each one prepared using organic, grass-fed meats and pasture-raised poultry, as well as other products from local farms. Additional destinations with the Vermont Farms! Association include Boyden Valley Winery, the Vermont Maple Outlet, Billings Farm and Museum, Champlain Orchards, and Green Mountain Sugar House — among a dozen other locations.

Of course, farm tours can be found throughout the Northeastern United States and Atlantic Canada. All it takes is a taste for the simple life and a willingness to do a little digging.•

This article was published in the Summer 2010 Northeastern issue of Group Tour Magazine. To see the full archived magazine, click here. Click here to print a pdf.