Hutterite Myths, Fact or Fiction?
Hutterites Myths debunked by MaryAnn Kirkby (Author of "I Am Hutterite) with input from Paul Wipf and Louie Vetter.
Myth #1: Hutterites don't pay taxes.
Fact: This is complete fiction. Far from being tax exempt, Hutterites pay more taxes than the average citizen and considerably more than neighbouring farmers. Colonies pay taxes on net income divided among all colony workers over the age of 18. They file taxes with the IRS under the Revenue act 501(d). Taxes are determined by dividing total colony income by the number of residents, then adding deductions. They pay income tax (federal and state), sales tax, school tax, health and education tax, property tax, etc.
Myth #2: Hutterites collect “welfare” and other social benefits such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, etc. and get government aid for school lunches on colonies.
Fact: Hutterites do not collect welfare nor social security and other benefits despite the fact that we pay into them. Some Hutterite Colonies in Montana do accept food vouchers for school lunches where they are offered and qualify, just like all the other beneficiaries. And why should they not? We struggle like everyone else and all we ask is to be treated fairly. The bottom line is, we pay more and get less than average citizens.
Myth # 3
Hutterites are thieves. Hutterite women have to be watched in stores or they might steal a TV or a tricycle under their dress.
Fact: How ludicrous. This is like saying Italians are members of the Mafia or Black people are gangsters. Hutterite women are not sophisticated enough to steal a bike or a t.v., neither of which are approved items. Notwithstanding the perils of store security and video cameras it would be far too risky to bring these to the colony and next to impossible not to be found out.
This myth is a blatant case of discrimination. It does not match up with police reports which instead of corroborating this myth establish that Hutterites have among the lowest crime rate in the county and that includes theft.
Hutterites follow the commandments in the Bible and stealing is forbidden and there are serious consequences especially for adult members of the community. I remember only once when I was a young girl that a woman on my colony was caught stealing a package of jujubes from the Woolworth’s store. Everyone knew about it because she was required to stand throughout the church service and be made an example of. I remember how she hung her head and how humiliated she was. It made such an impression on me. Who would risk that?
The irony of it was that after I left the colony I found to my great surprize that stealing was considered a rite of passage in mainstream society. The kids at school thought nothing of going to the local drugstore and stealing a candy bar or items of jewelry over the noon hour. And for the most part there was no consequence unless they got caught.
When it comes up during question period at my public speaking engagements I always ask, “tell me honestly, who here has ever stolen something” and inevitably almost every hand in the room goes up.
Myth #4: Hutterites are trying to buy as much land as they can get their hands on and can outbid almost anyone who purchases it.
Fact: Hutterites are farmers. That's who we are and what we do. To be sustainable and stay ahead of inflation we buy farmland. We will not pay more than the land is worth, to do so would guarantee our extinction. Farmers who live near a Hutterite Colony are guaranteed to get fair market value for their land when they decide to retire and/or move on to other ventures.
Myth #5: You could stay on Hutterite land from Lewistown to the Canadian border.
Fact: The colonies own about 1,000,000 acres in Montana. According to the 2004 census there are 60 million acres of farmland in Montana. Comparing the 1,000,000 to 60, 000,000 and the Hutterites immediately fall into their proper perspective. Again according to the 2004 census there were 28000 farmers, 50 of these farms are occupied by Hutterites. Let us be fair and multiply the 50 colonies by 10 so as to make them average farms and we have 500 farms occupied by Hutterites. Again compare the figure of 500 with 28000 and the Hutterites "problem" is viewed in its proper perspective. The 2004 census showed that the farm population in Montana is 70,000 to the Hutterite population of 4000. Take the total acres of farmland in Montana, 60 Million and divide it by the farm population of 70,000, you have 857 acre/person, let’s take the total acres owned by colonies of 1,000,000 and divide it by their population of 4000 and you get 250 acres/person. With these figures in mind, can any fair-minded person say that the colonies are occupying more than their share of farmland of Montana? In conclusion Hutterites farm 1.67 % of all the farmland in Montana.
Myth #6: Hutterites don’t buy implements and farm equipment locally, so they buy up all the local farmland and then don’t patronize local business.
Fact: When Hutterites buy a piece of farm machinery, they not only get that machine but the service that comes with. Today's machinery is not your grandpa's machinery. Its fully computerized and needs highly trained personnel to troubleshoot and repair. Minimal downtime is critical. So to buy out of the local area would be counterproductive. And as far as patronizing local businesses, why should Hutterites drive out of area to buy? Time and travel cost money in today's word. Hutterites also stay on-farm year round and don't take weeks and months for vacations in exotic destinations. No, they stay at home year round and consequently all their hard earned money gets spent locally and not in some foreign country.
Arguments are being made that if the Hutterites are permitted to expand, it will seriously threaten the family farm and local communities, claiming family farms (some owning in excess of 1000's of acres) can't compete with the colonies. Hutterites are not in serious competition with anybody who wishes to purchase land. The main competition comes from all farmers who have a surplus of funds for investments. Also Hutterites are no more a threat to smaller communities than those who live in and about these communities and who do their shopping and hairdressing in larger towns and cities. In most cases the Colonies spend far more in local communities than those farmers that they replace. Some of the places that a colony will support within local Communities are, lumber yard, tire shop, fertilizer and chemical, grocery store, insurance, meat shop, drug store, automotive, banking, Lawyers, body shops, Veterinary clinic, Farm equipment and vehicles, grain and livestock dealers, etc. Just ask around in Lewistown and it is obvious that Hutterites are very important to the economy of smaller communities.
Another point to take home is this; Hutterites are Primary Producers. They hand raise fresh vegetables of every kind at Farmers Markets. The milk, eggs, beef, chicken, turkey, potatoes, etc that fill the shelves of your local grocery store are more than likely to come from a Hutterite farm. Hutterites have their roots firmly entrenched in the original family farm, where every farm was self-sustainable and existed to supply food and clothing to the rest of the world.
Myth #7: Hutterites aren't allowed to read the Bible or study it on their own.
Fact: Everyone on a Hutterite Colony receives their own Bible (in High German ) from the Colony upon being baptized. This is a tradition and usually occurs in your late teens or early twenties. Until then it is expected that you will share your parents Bible. In our home my father read to us from the Bible every evening. We were very well versed in Bible stories as are most Hutterites. My father also recorded all of our births and other important pieces of family history in our family Bible, as did other colony members. Every home has a Bible and families are encouraged to read it daily.
Myth #8: Hutterite land is all owned by Canadian elders, who can take away everything from colonies that “get out of line.”
That’s like saying the Pope owns the property of Catholics in the U.S. and can take it away from them when they “get out of line.”
Fact: Not an acre of American farm land is owned by Canadian Elders. Every Colony has their own Elders and is an entity unto itself. They decide what and where to buy according to their means and the financial goings on in each community is decided by the Elders that live there. Period. If they however face undue hardship and financial crisis they can and do ask other colonies for help.
Myth #9: Hutterites don't teach their children basic farm safety and so they have a high right of serious or deadly accidents.
Fact: Hutterites value apprenticeship and as such young boys tag along with their fathers, hang around farm equipment, play near augers and sit on tractors at an early age. There is some truth to the fact that there has been an unnecessarily high incidence of mishaps or even deaths that could have been prevented with the proper amount of precautions on Hutterite Colonies. A concerted effort is being made to change that. The same goes for drowning. As a rule Hutterites don’t teach their children to swim. Last month, here in Montana a father took his young son to the creek to fish. When the boy fell in the father naturally jumped in to save him but he couldn’t swim either and tragically they both drowned. It devastated that community.
Myth #10: Hutterites have a problem with in-breeding.
Fact: Hutterites have been the subject of many studies in relation to this topic. In her 1998 study, Geneticist Carole Ober discovered that for the past 100 years Hutterite women have given birth to children with immunity to certain diseases because of an exceptional genetic disposition.
On the common sense front, there is a lot of pressure put on young people not to marry close relatives. For years Hutterite couples including my own parents had to have government sanctioned blood tests before being allowed to marry. Marriage to a first cousin is not allowed. Hutterites treasure their children. Incidences of handicapped, autistic or disadvantaged children are lower than the national average because care is taken when considering a suitor. Publicly, Hutterite blood is prized by blood clinics and the young women are brought to town on a regular basis to give blood.
If there was a systemic problem with inbreeding as suggested, it would manifest in widespread syndromes and diseases and here again, the evidence doesn’t bear it out.
Myth #11: In order to address the (Myth #10) problem of in-breeding, Hutterite invite non-Hutterite men to the colony to impregnate their women.
Fact: A variation on this myth claims that the women are covered with a sheet during the deed as to not make it "too personal."
Of all the myths about Hutterites, this one is the most ludicrous. You have got to have brain damage to believe it. The notion that we would allow our beautiful young women to be raped by some loser for $50 -$100 because we are “too inbred,” is the height of insanity.
Think of the sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, (which is virtually non-existent among Hutterites) we would subject our women and men to!
And to all the male studs who claim to have provided this service it is a poor testimony to your manhood that not one of you has wanted access to your so-called children running around Hutterite Colonies. These claims are patently false. They were born out of too many drinks at the bar and there exists not a shred of evidence to substantiate a single incidence of this kind.
The way this rumour got started is when disgruntled farmers who felt that the Hutterites were unfairly advantaged started, unbeknownst to the Hutterite community putting ads in local papers saying Hutterites were looking for stud service. It was malicious and bigoted but it developed a life of its own when the Hutterite community didn’t chose to even dignify it with a response.
Sex outside of marriage is considered a grave sin and a terrible shame on a Hutterite Colony. Incidences of teen pregnancies is very low and far below the national average.