I bought the book, Everything I Want to Do is Illegal from Mark and Maryann Nolt. I giggled at the title. I listened to Mark talk about Joel Salatin. On the ride home, I started reading. About every other paragraph I would say, “Get a load of this,” and read it aloud to Greg. I read the book from cover to cover in two days. It was informative, enraging and funny.
Later that year, due to a research paper assignment, and a student who borrowed the book and thought it was great, I decided to generate a new unit on the Politics of Food. It was for a class that is co-taught with a history class, so I worked it out with my teaching partner. I thought a couple of chapters from the Salatin book would be great to teach since his style is very engaging. Don’t take this as complaining about teaching, take it as fiscal responsibility: I knew my district would not buy me copies of the book, because by the time I made this decision, we were out of money and in a spending freeze (that may be the year we ran out of copy paper in April). So in January, I wrote to Mr. Salatin to ask for permission to copy a class set of three chapters from his book.
About two weeks later, I was sitting in my classroom grading papers through my lunch period (again, not a complaint, just what I do in order to leave as much work at school as possible), and the phone rang. It was the secretary. She said, “Natalie? I have your friend Joel on the line.”
I have a friend named Joel. Joel Fabian. He is a Holocaust survivor, an extraordinary human being, and the custodian at my synagogue. I had no idea why he would be calling me at work.
The call came through. “Hello?” I was worried. If Joel was calling me at work, something awful must have happened.
“Is this Natalie Winch?” A slight drawl in the speech. Not my Joel.
“This is Joel Salatin.” I’m not sure what he said after that because I was so dumbfounded.
We spoke for about 20 minutes. He was so excited that I wanted to teach from his book in a school that he was sending me copies gratis. And he loved my letter. So much in fact, that he wanted to use it to write an article and publish excerpts from it. I was very flattered. And honestly, what English major doesn’t harbor some secret desire to see her words in print! Of course I agreed.
I forgot about the whole article thing. When the books came, Mr. Salatin also wrote me an awesome letter that I read to the students each year before handing out the books. They get to see his handwriting, which, for whatever reason, makes him more of a real person. We watch Food, Inc, and they read their assignment, with the voice of Joel Salatin in their ears.
Last summer, when we arrived at the Nolts, Maryann came out of the milk shop and asked, “What did you think of the article?” I think I introduced myself wondering if they had us confused with someone else. We only see them once a year, so it was quite possible they had us confused with someone else. And then Mark walked over and asked, “What did you think of the article your friend Joel Salatin wrote about you?”
I was clueless. So Mark ran and got his copy of the Stockman Grassfarmer so I could see that article. That explained it: like most non-grass-based farmer Americans, I do not have subscription to Stockman Grassfarmer. And there it was, on page 7, “Awareness Saga.” I stood there, in the bright August sunshine, reading the article pointing at it and showing Greg. “Look!” I said over and over. I couldn’t believe it! There was my letter with Joel Salatin’s comments and encouragement. Mark’s son went and copied it for me. I looked up at everyone watching me read the article. The Nolts were smiling at me, these big broad smiles of a shared pleasure.
In the beginning of our relationship, we were farmer and consumer. After our first visit to the Nolts, Greg and I realized that they are also teachers. In the intervening years, the Nolts became much more than the farmers who grew our food. We watched their family grow, their business grow. We watched trials and tribulations, and realized their true commitment to their standards. These are not people who say one thing and do another. They are teachers and mentors and guideposts on this journey through life. The saga described in the Salatin article was instigated in great part by the Nolts, so it fit that Joel Salatin never sent me a tear sheet of the article. The inevitable ending to the story is that the Nolts handed me that paper. As more and more people embark on this journey toward better food, they will find the Nolts of their lives. The most important lesson I have learned from Mark and Maryann is to do my work honestly with an open heart committed to high standards. I am indebted to them for the example they provide.