Historical Amana Colonies Hosts This Year's Show

The seven villages of the Amana Colonies are Iowa's single largest tourist attraction.

Published on: Aug 23, 2006

Amana Farms, Inc. is hosting the 2006 Farm Progress Show. Located in Amana, Iowa, the site and the area have a lot to offer show visitors.

The 26,000-acre Amana Farms operation is one of a number of businesses run by the Amana Society, Inc., a privately held corporation, in the Amana Colonies, in east central Iowa, about 20 miles equidistant from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. The seven villages of the Amana Colonies are Iowa's single largest tourist attraction - the quaint shops and family restaurants a throwback to years gone by.

Agriculture brought the Amana settlers here in 1855, and it is agriculture that keeps the colonies operating. Now it is agriculture that brings Wallaces Farmer, a Farm Progress Publication, to sponsor the nation's largest outdoor farm show in this picturesque countryside.

Amana not Amish

Folks often expect to see horse-drawn buggies, bearded men and conservatively dressed women when they visit the Amana Colonies. But don't be confused - this is not an Amish community. There are no ties between the two. The Amana people were a progressive people utilizing the latest in farm machinery and adapted to the use of technology such as telephones, electricity, etc., early on as it suited their needs.

A German religious group, known as the Community of True Inspiration settled the Amana Colonies in the 1850s. Founded in 1714 by people dissatisfied with the Lutheran Church, the Community of True Inspiration emphasized personal religious experience and the pietism of the believer.

Persecution by the government in Germany and an economic depression forced the group to look to the New World. By pooling resources, the community bought land near Buffalo, New York in 1843 and 1844. Working cooperatively, the community, then became the Ebenezer Society. They built villages and factories and prospered. Eventually the growing Buffalo area encroached on their lifestyle. A scouting party was sent to the west to find a new location for the community.

Land was attractively priced in Iowa and in 1855 the communal society moved to a fertile valley near the Iowa River. Communal leaders chose the name Amana, which means to remain faithful. Six villages - Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana and Middle Amana - were established, only a mile or two apart.

In 1861 the community purchased a former stagecoach stop known as Homestead on which a railway stop was planned. Thus, the Amana village of Homestead was born.

Communal way of life

In the beginning the Amana Society owned the land and everything built on it, including homes, churches, factories and schools. The church elders assigned each family a place of residence, made work assignments, made the business decisions, etc. Farming was the primary source of income for the Society but other enterprises such as woolen mills, flour mills, and a calico mill were important as well.

The communal system endured until 1932 when members voted to establish a profit-sharing corporation. The Amana Society, Inc., a joint stock, profit-sharing corporation, was formed to manage the farms, mills and other enterprises. Private enterprise was encouraged. The Amana Church, with about 400 members, continues today as the religious foundation.

Amana Society today

The Amana Society is a privately held company controlled by an elected nine-member board of directors. Steve Penney is chief executive officer and reports to the Amana Society Board.

Penney started at Amana Refrigeration in 1972 and remained there 22 years. "My whole life has been involved with Amana. I started with Amana Society in 1995 and was promoted to CEO in 2004."

Today the Amana Society farms the land and owns a variety of businesses, including the Amana Woolen Mill, Amana General Stores, Amana Furniture and Clock Shop and Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse, two bakeries, some gift shops and a utility company, which supplies water and electricity to the community. Annual sales run around $45 million. Around 170 full-time and 50-60 part time employees make up the labor force.

Amana Farms

Amana Farms is Iowa's largest farm corporation, operating almost 26,000 acres of forest, forage and cropland. About 22,000 acres is divided into roughly one-third pasture, one-third cropland and one-third timber.

"We try to farm the land as efficiently as possible while being environmentally sensitive," explains John McGrath, farm manager, who has been with Amana Farms since 1991. "The best soils lie along the Iowa River, which we farm. But the steeper slopes are in timber."

A full-time forester, Larry Gnewikow, manages the 7,000 acres of timberland. He maintains the forest, decides what trees will be cut and supervises planting of 5,000-6,000 seedlings each year.

McGrath came up through the cattle program, which is a 2,400 commercial cow operation consisting of Gelbvieh/Angus cross cows. Distillers grains and corn gluten are purchased from ADM, Cargill and Penford in nearby Cedar Rapids and are used as feed supplements. Besides feeding out their own calves, Amana Farms also custom feeds for investors and others.

They also provide custom recipient cows for embryo transfer. "Embryos from special cows can be implanted in Amana cows," explains McGrath. " We can also custom raise the calf."

Carcass evaluation is another enterprise. "About 1,000 cows are artificially inseminated each year and carcass data of the calves evaluated for customers."

Jeff Buresh is in charge of the cropping program for Amana Farms. Crops consist of corn, soybeans, wheat, rye and oats. Specialty crops include waxy corn, white corn, low-linoleic soybeans, non-GMO soybeans and tofu soybeans.

Amana Farms also has a retail seed business called Amana Seeds. "We represent over a dozen seed companies and sell all types of seed, fertilizer and crop protection products to area farmers," notes Buresh.

Buresh was in charge of selecting the corn hybrids for the field demonstrations at this year's show. "The varieties we selected for the field demonstrations were provided by Midwest Seed Genetics. They range in maturity from 87-92 days so they are ready for August harvest. Fields were planted April 18-20."

Outdoor events

The Farm Progress Show will utilize the Amana Colonies Outdoor Convention Facility for the exhibit field. Constructed in 1988 the 98-acre area is used for a wide variety of outdoor events, including recreational vehicle shows, festivals, farm machinery shows, etc. The 1990, 1993, 1996 and 1999 Farm Progress Shows were staged on this site.

For more information go to www.AmanaSociety.com