Farming Among Mennonites in Switzerland

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The Swiss Anabaptist-Mennonites up to the 1950s were always almost exclusively farmers, in spite of the fact that the first stages of the movement in Zürich and Basel included many from other classes such as clergymen and artisans. By 1540, however, the urban phase of the movement was largely past and the survival of Anabaptism was the work largely of peasant farmers in the outlying rural areas, especially in the Emmental. A deep suspicion of all forms of trade and business and urban activity marked the later history of the movement down to the 20th century. Practically all of the modern Mennonites living in Switzerland descend from the original Emmental Swiss Brethren, who lived to a large extent on individual small farms in the region of Langnau.

Most of the Mennonites living in the Emmental and later in the Jura in Switzerland were primarily engaged in dairying and cattle breeding or horse breeding. They made a virtue out of necessity and became extraordinarily successful in these lines; otherwise they could not have survived. Wherever these Swiss Mennonite farmers went later on, as they emigrated into Alsace, the Palatinate, Pennsylvania, or elsewhere, they took with them and maintained their exceptional abilities as farmers. They developed new methods of fertilizing through the conservation and use of animal manure, and also in the use of water for meadows. They were known everywhere as the best farmers.

The Jura Mennonites, living on the 3,000-foot plateau of the Jura Mountains in northeastern Switzerland since 1700 as immigrants from the Emmental and Thun, had to succeed under exceptionally difficult conditions. The land of the Jura is stony and poor in water resources, as well as naturally infertile, but the experienced Mennonite farmers from the Emmental and neighboring territory succeeded in making farming here profitable through their extraordinary industry and rational methods of farming. Here they were compelled to devote themselves exclusively to dairying and cattle breeding, since their chief resource was the cheaper land. Here they developed also an exceptionally fine-flavored cheese called the "Jura" cheese, which found a good market as long as the Mennonites produced it. Until about 1900 the Jura Mennonites also engaged in weaving. Their half-linen clothes and bed linens, which furnished most of their own consumption of these items, were of good quality.

After 1900 cattle and horse breeding enjoyed an unusual vogue among the Jura Mennonites. They bred the Simmental cow and the Freiberg horse.

The modern Mennonite farmer in the Emmental has one of the most fruitful soils of all Switzerland to cultivate, although the soil is often so hilly that it cannot be cultivated with the usual machines, and the land which they own is in the foothills of the Alps, where there are many deep valleys. The exceptionally fine grass in the Emmental is one of the reasons for the world-famous Emmental cheese which is produced here. The Emmental Mennonites largely own their farms, which are usually small in acreage, whereas the Jura Mennonites long had to rent their farms and in the mid-20th century still were not universally owners of their land.

The Mennonite farmers in the neighborhood of Basel, immigrants since 1780 from the Jura or from Alsace, lived mostly on larger rented estates. Since the soil is fruitful and not so hilly as in the Emmental the farming of this region is largely mixed and very different from the other Mennonite areas. The Basel farmers, however, are just as outstanding in skill as those of the other two regions. Before 1890 no Mennonites in Switzerland owned their own farms.

The natural increase of Mennonite population in the 20th century, together with the increase in land values and the limited number of farms available, forced many young Swiss Mennonites into the cities and towns. This was particularly true in Basel and in the Jura watch-making areas, such as Tramelan and Chaux-de-Fonds. This was bound to have a significant effect on the future of Swiss Mennonitism, which hitherto had been almost exclusively rural.


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Author(s) Samuel Geiser
Date Published 1956

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Geiser, Samuel. "Farming Among Mennonites in Switzerland." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 23 Sep 2020.

APA style

Geiser, Samuel. (1956). Farming Among Mennonites in Switzerland. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 September 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 310-311. All rights reserved.

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