It was the spring of 1989 and on a parcel of pristine, pastoral farmland outside of the hamlet of Nova, Ohio a controversy was brewing. An international waste management corporation wanted to build a toxic waste incinerator among the hushed fields and farms in this quiet corner of Ohio. Residents around the town of Nova (NE of Mansfield) were divided, with some in favor of the project (jobs) while most others opposed it (would ruin the quiet, country way of life). This was 1989 and the Old Order Amish were just emerging from their American history of insular isolation. When the state of Kentucky recently passed legislation allowing the Old Order Amish to be exempt from the state’s orange safety triangle regulations, it was the Amish that led the way in lobbying lawmakers. But back in 1989 such political involvement by the Amish was still very rare. Groups of Amish who lived near Nova banded together and pleaded with legislators to block the planned project. The “Amish angle” grabbed headlines in USA Today and on TV.
At about that same time, I was a junior in high school and my English teacher assigned our class a “journalism project.” We were to pick a topic from the newspaper and write a research paper about it. Famine was sweeping through Ethiopia at the time and that was covered in many stories. The topic interested me, but the so did the Amish. I had no real experiences with them, other than a brief stop at an Amish bakery in Adams County, Ohio with my parents. In the end, I decided that the Amish story would be a bit easier to research,being located in Ohio. At the same time I was cultivating an interest in journalism. My older brother was also interested in writing and he kept a copy of “Writer’s Market” in his room. The thick volume listed magazines that freelance writers could pitch stories to. As I worked on my English paper I began to think that maybe I had the makings of a magazine article. So on a total whim – something 16-year-olds are good at – I typed a quick query letter to Environmental Action Magazine (sounds like a left-leaning , hippie-type publication, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to break into magazine writing) To my surprise the editor quickly accepted my pitch for a story about the happenings around Nova. So thus began weeks of research (LOL, for an article that I think paid me $75…and, SIGH, so long ago that no one, including me, would know what LOL stood for). The end result was the short article headline “Amish Anguish” shown in the picture.
Occasionally, like today, I’ll stumbled upon the still mint-condition magazine in my office and contemplate the journey it launched. I tell more of the story in my upcoming book, Not So Simple. But it was that magazine article more than anything else that would send me down a path that would ultimately connect me with Elizabeth Coblentz, who would go on to author The Amish Cook column. Making me especially pensive today when I saw the article is spring time. It was about this time of year when I journeyed to Nova a couple of times, playing reporter by day and scrambling to get home on Saturday night in time for my emerging high school social life. It was a neat time, full of promise and potential.
I’d love to go back to Nova someday. I remember a quiet, conservative Amish settlement with home-based businesses and sawmills dotting the backroads. Any of our readers live near there? Nova is in the circulation area of the Mansfield News Journal and a very kind reporter there helped me on my English assignment. I’d never dream years later that something I was editor of, The Amish Cook, would appear weekly in that very paper.