Hutterites take to web, Twitter to tell stories

Moving with the times | Not all colonies agree with the use of the internet and other modern technologies

A newly updated website hopes to shed more light on the Hutterite way of life.

Mark Waldner relaunched in April and the website has had 35,000 visitors from across North American and Europe.

“I wanted to share our lifestyle with the outside world and those who want to know how we live,” said Waldner, a teacher at the Decker Colony near Hamiota, Man.

“I wanted to share our beliefs and help address and dispel myths about Hutterites.”

Using Google Analytics, Waldner is able to tell that 70 percent of the visitors to the website are new and that visitors spend about five to six and a half minutes at the site checking out the blogs and pages.

It’s not a totally new website. Waldner designed his first Hutterite website in 1995 while a student at Brandon University.

The latest version includes sections on the history of Hutterites and their beliefs and also has a photo gallery of life on the colonies.

Waldner waffled about adding a photo gallery. Some southern Alberta colonies have gone to court be-cause they were opposed to their photographs on driver’s licences.

“I don’t have a problem with it as long as they don’t make an idol out of a photograph,” he said. “The photographs describe a lifestyle.”

Waldner said not all colonies are happy with the website.

“They are concerned it will be misused as a tool.”

Some colonies are totally against the internet, viewing it as evil, while others see it as a tool that should be used carefully.

There are three Hutterite sects, Schmiedeleut, Dariusleut and Lehrerleut, all with varying beliefs and opinions.

The Schmiedeleut sect, mainly in Manitoba, normally lead the way in education. Children graduate from high school and often embrace technology and social media tools, including Facebook and Twitter.

Paul Wipf, farm manager for the Viking Colony and a blogger on the website, believes social media can help give people a better insight into Hutterite life.

He welcomes comments and questions about what he writes on his blog.

“It makes people think and improve,” said Wipf.

“Not everybody must think and believe in the same way.”

His iPhone contains apps for weather, futures markets, news, cattle markets, currency, oil futures and the commodity exchange in Winnipeg.

“I use the Winnipeg commodity futures continually. I’m really good at it. Every time I sell, the price goes up,” laughed Wipf, who has given several presentations to help bridge the gap between Hutterites and non-Hutterites.

Wipf uses Whatsapp, a forum group application that allows members to discuss seeding questions such as kernel weight and seeding rate. It was through similar discussions that he decided malting barley would be the second crop seeded after peas this spring.

“We talked about the fertilizer needed and how to grow it. It’s leading edge stuff.”

The agricultural discussions, via smart phones while on a tractor or combine, also help members feel less isolated, he said.

“Now you’re in contact more. Before, all we had was country music, which really depressed us,” joked Wipf, who knows Hutterites have a difficult time balancing life in a modern world while trying to preserve their faith, language, culture and history.

“Colonies are not out there changing things, things are changing them.”

Recently, social media sites such as Twitter have provided an outlet for some people to criticize Hutterites with relative anonymity.

Recently, Real Agriculture blogger and tweeter Shawn Haney called for a halt to Hutterite bashing on Twitter.

“For some it is easy to pick on Hutterites. They dress differently than you and I. Hutterites live a lifestyle that is not appealing for many. Once you get past the shallow obvious differences, one needs to really try to get informed on some of the positives that colonies bring to our industry,” wrote Haney.

“I can definitely tell you from my experience at Haney Farms that there are great farming colonies and there are some that are not as good. This is no different than many of our other farming customers.”

Wipf, who also uses Twitter, be-lieves these kinds of discussions help increase the understanding of Hutterite life.

Like Haney, Wipf believes not all Hutterites are as open and welcome to new ideas as they could be.

“It’s a little bit hard on those who are trying hard. Maybe those bad ones could wear yellow or red,” said Wipf, referring to the plain black clothes Hutterites wear.

“Being criticized may hurt, but it is also a challenge to those who are lagging behind.”

Wipf said he will update his blog as often as he has time, but his first commitment is to his job as farm manager. His next blog will be about his daughter’s wedding and how he prepared for it amid the “hype and hoopla.”

“It’s about the culture, emotion and celebration. It’s more of a reflection of family. People are interested in the social end of life. It’s going to be a really good story.”

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