Today I demonstrate how travel opens your eyes and teaches new ideas. I visit a Hutterite colony. I am transported back in time. This community, Riverview, is one-half hour outside of Saskatoon, Canada, but there are similar communities in far northern US states, such as Montana. I called ahead for a tour of a unique way of life in this agrarian religious sect.
The Hutterites derive from Germany and are somewhat similar to the Amish and the Mennonites. They farm and ranch for a living, while living an extremely minimalist life. They dress in handmade clothes and eat as a community in a large dining area.
Riverview has one hundred people in twenty-six families. As the community grows to around one hundred twenty, their tradition is to form a new community starting with 60 people, leaving 60 people behind in the old community.
On the drive into the community over rural dirt roads, you pass through fields of golden canola, wheat, corn, peas, and other crops, all on a vast farm. My tour guide upon arrive is Bertha whose everyday language is “low German,” but she give the tour in hesitant English, explaining how the community operates.
She is one of four community cooks. Her husband is the assistant minister. His father is the community “boss,” responsible for all the finances of the community, relieving all other community members from having to concern themselves at all with money. At Riverview everyone has an assigned job. The community meets three times a day at the dining room for meals, and daily for male-led religious services in a newly-built church building. In the dining room, men and women sit separately, seated in assigned seats, arranged by age. Those under age 16 eat separately, also seated by age and gender, with an adult couple assigned to supervise their meals. Children under six eat at home.
Every family has its own home, but as all meals are communal, they do not have full kitchens.
Some of the assigned jobs in the community are limited to men. They involve various aspects of the farming operation which include chickens, cattle, pigs, lamb, and goats. On the day of my visit the community had just slaughtered their egg-producing chickens from the prior year and had started growing new chickens. People travel from all around to get eggs and fresh chickens, as well as other frozen, butchered meats. The chicken operation is run by men and women of the community together in a barn with a freezer and stainless steel benches to prepare the chickens for sale.
A community carpentry shop makes everyone’s furniture and also sells furniture to nearby stores for resale.
Laundry is done twice a week by each family, but two women are assigned to the laundry room to assist.
Children attend a one-room school on the community grounds with a teacher supplied by the local city. School is only through grade nine. A couple of community men are selected for trade school after that to learn electrical and plumbing trades so the community can build new houses.
There are no televisions in the community. Only the men have cell phones once they reach age 15, as they are needed in the operation of the farm.
Every person is given a monthly allowance of about $15 for personal expenses such as birthday presents.
No one forces you to stay in the community. If you need a doctor, you go to town. The community uses the local medicine system for healthcare.
Life in this community is mostly set for you. You do your assigned job; you are fed; you make your own clothing from cloth given to you; your time is taken up in community activities. You are isolated from worldly concerns. Whether this life is liberating or feels like a jail sentence depends on the individual. But no matter, Hutterite life is certainly interesting to observe.