The Refreshing Taste of Community

nuCamp is located in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, and many of our workers are from the Amish Community in Holmes County. Reuben Shetler is a former team member of nuCamp. Reuben shares stories about the Amish Culture to allow nuCamp owners a look into the Amish way of life.

The handle of the wooden ice cream freezer went around and around, squeaking with each rotation. A strong, tanned hand was wrapped around it. A man’s biceps flexed effortlessly as he propelled that handle in an endless rotation. Each turn became more difficult than the previous one because the ice cream was beginning to harden. However, the arm didn’t flinch. The handle continued to turn at a steady pace.

I stood transfixed, watching my dad make homemade ice cream. We were outside, and the ferocious summer sun beat relentlessly on the back of my neck. The ice cream freezer sat on the sidewalk with a feed sack full of ice.

This was the climax of summer on an Amish farm. When the weather became humid and hazy, and the crickets began to sing in the evening grass, it was time for the neighborhood ice cream supper, a tradition for the Amish families residing in Sugarcreek and Holmes County, where nuCamp is located.

Lending a helping hand

When I was a boy growing up on the farm, our family was part of a threshing ring. The rules of the ring were simple. We help you thresh oats; you help us thresh oats. Three farmers were in the ring, living less than a mile apart. Throughout July, we did the threshing. We’d begin at one farm and wouldn’t stop until the last farm was completed. This usually took several weeks.

The farmers enlisted some additional neighbor boys to help as well. These were the strongest, most ambitious 14–18-year-old boys. They would show up early in the morning with pitchforks in their hands and straw hats perched on their heads.

These boys had some specific goals in mind for the day. They must determine who can toss an oats sheave the farthest, who can tell the wildest story or the funniest joke, who can kill the most snakes in the field, and who can eat the most mashed potatoes for lunch. And, of course, there was always the water trough battle. If someone stepped out of line during the day or got lazy and didn’t do enough work, the boys would gang up on him at the end of the day and throw him into the water trough. Humiliating, yes, but it wasn’t all bad. The cold water felt amazing on a 90-degree day.

These confident young boys were my heroes growing up — how I admired them! I tried to chew on an oats stalk like they did, to wear their unconcerned sneers, to turn my hat at a crooked angle just like one of those models of unfettered youthful vigor.

Threshing oats was quite a task. We loaded the sheaves in the field under the oppressive sun. Then the wagons went to the barn, and the farmer tossed the sheaves into the threshing machine. This huge, roaring machine was co-owned by the three farmers. It was powered by a belt drive on an ancient steel-wheeled tractor that puttered a thunderous growl all day.

The machine separated the oats and the straw. This was a dusty process, and a huge cloud billowed out of the barn. After the wagon was unloaded, it returned to the field. There was no rest for the weary. With three wagons going back and forth, there was always a wagon ready to be filled.

Celebrating hard work

A few weeks after the threshing was finished, the long-awaited ice cream supper arrived. The farmers took turns hosting. Everyone who helped with the threshing was invited. We would have a big meal with homemade food, but the best part was the ice cream.

The ice cream was made in a wooden-bucket freezer with a hand crank. First, the women stirred a liquid mixture of milk, eggs, sugar, and whipping cream. The men put ice chunks into empty feed sacks and whacked the sacks onto the sidewalk with all their might, breaking the ice into small cubes.

The liquid mixture was put into the freezer in a metal canister. The freezer was filled with ice, water, and salt. Then the cranking began.

Each farmer had a freezer on the sidewalk — all in a row. Each freezer had someone doing the cranking. The ice cream began to harden, and it took muscle to keep the handle turning.

Of course, the young neighbor boys all wanted their turn when the cranking was the hardest. They must prove their strength. As a young child, I watched in awe, eager for the day when I, too, could help make the ice cream.

The ice cream was soft and cold on our tongues. It refreshed the body and the soul. It was a reward for hard labor, a token that the work was done. It was the refreshing taste of community, the cold sweetness of sitting on the green grass in a circle of people that were family, neighbors, and friends. The ice cream supper was the highlight of our summer when everything good in our lives came together into one refreshing bite.

A feeling of community

In the Amish culture, we are happy to lend a helping hand to our neighbors and join together as a community to enjoy camaraderie and fellowship. Just like the Amish, that feeling of community is an important part of being a nuCamp owner. From Facebook groups to rallies, nuCamp owners connect with one another and form bonds.

Today, threshing rings are rare, a thing mostly of the past. In this community, more Amish people work in factories than on farms. Many of the workers at nuCamp experienced threshing rings in childhood but not during adulthood.

But that doesn’t mean the ice cream suppers went away. When friends, family, and neighbors get together, they often make homemade ice cream. The handle still turns, the guests still sit on the green grass, and the ice cream still tastes like community.

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