Lancaster is the heart of Pennsylvania's "Dutch Country," but to see how Amish and Mennonite farmers really live, skip the tourist attractions of the Lancaster County seat and head north to Ephrata.
Open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every Friday, Ephrata's Green Dragon Farmers Market offers produce, baked goods, fresh meats and much, much more.
In addition to the weekly market, the town of Ephrata is home to some unique attractions. Regular visitors usually hit Green Dragon first and then head elsewhere in the afternoon.
Don't hesitate to get off the main routes. On a recent spring day, we found cute handmade dresses at a yard sale run by some Mennonite ladies. We passed our share of horse-drawn buggies. And as the sun set on the way home, we waved at Amish children as they started their evening chores.
Green Dragon Farmers Market and Auction (955 N. State St. (Route 272), www.green dragonmarket.com): With 400 vendors to visit, it's easy for one to spend the day at Green Dragon. Arrive early and watch the Amish, Mennonite and "English" farmers bid on hay they'll take home to their horses and cattle. There are seven large market buildings. In fair weather, outside vendors offering everything from china and crystal giftware to novelty T-shirts commandeer much of the grass.
Regular market-goers - they're the ones wearing comfortable shoes and carrying cloth or wheeled tote bags - return time and again to their favorite stands. Specialties include doughnuts, whoopie pies (an Amish dessert) and over-sized cookies at Dutch Maid Bakery. We also like the beef jerky, hog maw (an old-fashioned farm dish) and other meats at New Holland Meats Inc. If we sit down for lunch, we might grab a counter seat at Jake and Leola's Restaurant (look for the big birch beer barrels). But usually, we snack as we walk, buying hot pretzels, a sandwich or Knepp's Caramel Corn (the kids love to watch the popcorn being stirred in the big copper kettles).
The myriad offerings at Green Dragon on a recent Friday included hardware sold by the pound, Japanese parasols, antique dishes, cell-phone accessories, tin cookie cutters in many shapes, handmade pillows, NFL and NASCAR collectibles, old books, Amish-made oak furniture and pet tags that are engraved while you wait.
Don't miss the market stables where the Amish park their horses and buggies for the day.
Ephrata Cloister (632 W. Main St., www.ephrata cloister.org): This historic site is a former religious community begun in 1732 by German immigrants awaiting the second coming of Jesus Christ. The congregation included celibate members who devoted their lives to God as well as area farm families who used their wealth to support these "Solitary."
At its peak, about 300 people worked and worshipped at the cloister. Members operated a printing press, a sawmill and a flour mill, raised crops, tended gardens, did carpentry, wove textiles and made candles. Eight of the original buildings still stand. Volunteers dressed in authentic costumes lead daily tours.
Ephrata Performing Arts Center (Cocalico Street, 717-733-7966): A $2 million renovation of the historic "Playhouse in the Park" is nearly complete. The current season includes 1776, Nine and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife.
Seiverling Antique Car and Pedal Car Museum (66 Lancaster Ave., 717-733-1027): More than 150 antique pedal cars as well as a number of rare full-size automobiles. Call ahead to schedule your visit.
Eicher Indian Museum and Shop (407 Cocalico St., 717-738-3084): Indian artifacts from southeastern Pennsylvania. Handcrafted jewelry, baskets and dolls from Hopi, Navajo and other tribes.
Doneckers (100 to 409 N. State St., www.doneckers.com): A department store in the grand tradition, Doneckers is an empire unto itself. Begun in 1949 as a mail-order shopping club, the Doneckers moniker now includes inns, the store, a restaurant, an artists' complex, a spa, a fine-furniture gallery and a huge Christopher Radko glass ornament gallery. The store has a busy schedule of trunk shows, makeovers and fashion events more typical of a metropolitan area. The restaurant features ostrich and quail as well as traditional fare. The Artworks at Doneckers are artist-in-residence studios offering one-of-a-kind works ranging from handmade kaleidoscopes to fine jade jewelry. Closed Wednesdays and Sundays.
Ten Thousand Villages (240 N. Reading Road [Route 272], 717-721-8400): A nonprofit endeavor of the Mennonite Central Committee, this international chain offers fair-trade jewelry, pottery, linens, toys, art and more. The menu in the popular Nav Jiwan Tea Room spotlights the cuisine of a different country each week. Closed Sundays.
Good's Store (1686 W. Main St., 717-733-7356): A general store in the truest sense of the word, Good's sells everything from fabric to barn boots, grills to scrapbook materials. This isn't a store set up to lure tourists - all the other customers who came in while we browsed were Mennonite. Closed Sundays.
Weaver Nut Co. Inc. Outlet Store (1925 W. Main St., 800-473-2688): Nuts, dried fruit, coffee, candy, candy-making supplies and other products; offered by a family-run company that serves a 15-state area. Our bag of "Sweet Cream Almonds" (seasoned with vanilla and cinnamon) were so good they barely lasted the car ride home.
Take Interstate 83 north into Pennsylvania to Route 30 East. Follow Route 30 to Route 222 toward Reading. Follow Route 222 to the Route 322 exit toward Ephrata. Continue on to the square in Ephrata at Main and State streets.
For more information
Call the Ephrata Area Chamber of Commerce at 717-738-9010 or visit www.ephrata-area.org.
For more regional trips, see Page 41.