Today is “Throwback Thursday” (TBT) when people sort through their pasts and post them to Facebook. On TBT, I sort through my past and post it here.
The Amish Cook column journey has been long, expensive, and 20-some years later I wonder whether it will ever bear the fruit I had once dreamed. The journey began with $40. I found this letter pasted into an old scrapbook this morning.
The Amish Cook column never would have happened if it hadn’t been for a toxic waste incinerator dispute that was simmering around Mansfield, Ohio in the late 80s. The basics of the story: a large international corporation wanted to build a toxic waste incinerator on prime Amish farmland north of Mansfield. It would have been just another NIMBY type story except for the Amish involvement. The usually publicity-shy Amish banded together and lobbied the legislature in Columbus to kill the project. The story made local headlines at right about the same time I was a junior in high school and we were assigned a research paper about “any article of interest” that we saw in the newspaper. I chose the dispute at Nova and the trajectory of my life would never be the same.
After getting an “A” on the paper in school, on a whim I submitted an article proposal to a tiny magazine called Environmental Action. I can remember coming home from school one day and finding an envelope in our mail addressed to me assigning me an article about the toxic waste dispute.
I put a lot of work into the article, traveling at least once – I think twice – to Nova, Ohio to conduct on-site interviews with people involved in the issue, including some Amish. It was that experience more than any other that really captivated me with the Plain people. Depending on my mood, I laugh or cry when I see the letter: $40. I probably spent $200 to get the $40. Not a good business plan. I never did catch on to the nuts and bolts of business. My college degree in philosophy is great for reflection, not so much for learning business skills. The article appears in their July/August issue of 1989 under the title “Amish Anguish.” And it’s remarkable what a short piece it is, a lot of work for what was essentially a 700 word article, not much longer than this piece is. An excerpt:
“The Amish, who normally shun the public eye have broken with tradition to voice their concerns about the OT project. Many Amish are self-sufficient dairy farmers, drawing water from ground and rainwater wells. Old Order Amish reject plumbing and electricity” (Much more true when this was written). “In May 1987 the Old Order Amish took part in an unprecedented protest in downtown Columbus….Bishop Eli Troyer indicated that hundreds of Amish families would have to relocate if the plant were built.”
For whatever reason July has always been an important month for The Amish Cook column. This letter was dated July 12. Almost two years later to the day, I would meet Elizabeth Coblentz who would go on to write the Amish Cook column. And here we are in July transitioning to a third Amish Cook writer.
There’s so much more to share about the past 20 years: the triumphs, the near-successes, the near-misses, heartbreaks and happiness. Stay tuned for more Throwback Thursdays, and maybe 20 years from now it’ll just be triumphs. The unceasing march of time in its endless arc to tomorrow is unnerving, but it does present the opportunity for a new day every day and that is heartening.