Thursday, November 5, 2009

Meeting the Hutterites

Today I learned about the Hutterites, who are often seen at farmers markets throughout Montana. 

The Surprise Creek Colony is located near Stanford, where they sell their vegetables and baked goods at the Stanford farmers market.

The most obvious thing you will see when you go to a Hutterite colony is people hard at work. Although my hostess, Judy, took time to show me around and explain things clearly, it turned out this was her day off and she was eager to get back to her sewing as soon as possible. Hutterite women sew all the clothes for the colony and when they have some free time, they love to make extra dresses for themselves. At markets you will often see them in their beautiful going-to-town clothes, which are cheerful and colorful.

Judy explained that the Surprise Creek colony is part of the Dariusleut branch of the Hutterites. Their women wear long dresses and aprons of matching material, with their heads covered in scarves covered with small polka dots. A woman who wears an apron that doesn't match her dress is from the Schmiedeleut branch, according to Judy. 

My goal was to learn about food, and this is certainly something that takes up a lot of the women's time. My tour overlapped the lunch hour, and so I watched dozens of chicken pieces being fried in an immense vat by the head cook. She has two official helpers each week, but all the women who are not assigned other tasks for the day will pitch in. They have to feed the 73 members of the colony, more than half of whom are men and growing boys.  

A dinner bell first calls the children, 6 to 15 years old, who eat in their own section of the communal dining hall. Then the bell rings for the adults to sit down, men on one side, women on the other. Each table is covered with a variety of food, all grown and produced on the colony.

children's dining area

adults' dining area


At lunch time, the men rush into the dining hall from their work in the fields, the minister prays, and they eat vigorously. The women settle in a bit more slowly, but then they, too, eat quickly; I doubt they spend more than 15 minutes at their meal, although they chat happily with one another in between bites. After another prayer, the tables empty as the men return to their outside work and the women wash dishes with the energy of a speeded up film.

The storage area is well-stocked with canned vegetables and fruits, large bags of potatoes and carrots and onions, and piles of squash. Three large freezers are filled with all sorts of delicious and nourishing things, including pies.

I was told the colony grows their produce naturally, spraying cabbage only minimally for worms. Cattle are fattened in the colony's feedlot. There are also dairy cows and pigs. Two thousand chickens spend their lives producing eggs by standing crammed into small cages. They, like several dozen fat white turkeys, never go outside.

Each woman learns all the chores needed to keep the colony fed and clothed. Thus, you'll never know exactly who makes the bread and cinnamon rolls you buy at market. But I can tell you, the Surprise Creek women do a fantastic job with baked goods.

Undergirding all the frantic activity of the colony is their deep faith, based on Acts 2:44 in the Bible: "All the believers were together and had everything in common." The church building is simple and doubles as a classroom for weekday German lessons. On Sunday, the children sit at their desks at the front of the church, while the adults sit in the pews, men on one side, women on the other. The service is conducted in High German, similar to the Low German they speak in their homes. English is learned as a second language when children start school.

Judy said that going to the farmers market was an enjoyable part of her life. The women keep a rigorous schedule during market season, beginning on Tuesday to bake extra bread and rolls to sell on Saturday morning. But, Judy said, it made all her hard work worthwhile to see people finding pleasure in what she had made for them.


  1. I hope you partook in some of that good-looking lunch. Terrific photos, Mary.

  2. That is a picture of the lunch I ate. I wish I could have spent more than 15 minutes enjoying it -- those gals really know how to chew!

  3. The Hutterites make the best sauerkraut I have ever tasted! I so look forward to it every year, theirs is the only kraut I like.

  4. Thanks for the tip! I've just learned to like sauerkraut so now I know where to get some.

    For anyone who sees Hutterites at markets served by the Harlowton colony, please buy from them! Their land and crops (and thus their livelihood) were severely affected by the 2011 flooding.