Hopefully this is the last time readers will hear from me in awhile. This is a difficult essay to write, and I pen this with a tinge of sadness of what might have been, but also feel the exhilaration of a possible new beginning. Careful readers of the column have probably seen this coming for some time.I have come to the conclusion that the economics of The Amish Cook simply don't work. They never really did. Newspapers pay on average $3-$6 a week for the column, and it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out how difficult that can make things.

Newspapers are not the "bad guy", that is simply the price the market will bear for a syndicated feature. The Amish Cook is the "little column that could."

It's defied the odds for years in an age of media consolidation, shrinking newspapers, chopped media budgets and the onslaught of the Internet. I cannot believe The Amish Cook column is actually still around almost 19 years after it began, but it is because of the readers, because of you.

For most of my adult life, I've felt like the performer at the circus spinning plates atop a giant pole, praying that they wouldn't one day come crashing down. The Amish Cook column is not a matter of national security or world peace. Some even consider it a rather frivolous feature. Your daily newspaper would survive fine without it. Still, and I'm biased, I think the column has a place in today's world, offering up helpings of simplicity, sincerity, family and faith. I've tried things like cookbook orders and my latest attempt to keep the column going was to offer Eicher family yodeling for readers to listen to. I thank everyone who called in or logged on, but it gave Lovina more publicity than she prefers and did little for the long-term survival of the column.

In actuality, though, I think the column's white knight has been here all along in, you, the readers. In an attempt to build a long-term future for The Amish Cook, we are trying something new. Introducing:

THE AMISH COOK

FRIEND CLUB

First of all, under this arrangement the column will continue weekly in your paper just like always, but instead of relying on cookbooks and yodeling, we will formalize and make official what has always been the case: reader support. When I suggested the idea of a "fan club" to Lovina, she said she preferred the term "friend", "fan" sounded too much like a celebrity to her. And we do consider readers to be friends.

In fact, another reason for this "friend club" is to help allow Lovina to stay out of the spotlight, to not be a celebrity. With reader support, this column can go back to its bread and butter basics and Lovina can live quietly full of family and faith and still share it with us each week. In an effort to keep the column free of "commercial clutter", these "membership drives" will only appear certain times of year. This membership drive will continue through April 30.

Joining The Amish Cook Friend Club is an exciting, fun way to keep the column going. If response is good, over time the club can be made more and more fun. Just as the tiny city of Green Bay is able to support a professional football team because the fans literally own it, the friend club gives readers a stake in the Amish Cook.

There are several levels of support to Lovina that you can offer to the column within the official Amish Cook Friends Club:

BASIC ONE-YEAR MEMBERSHIP $10; you receive a "Lovina Eicher name card." Name cards are business-card like momentos with a person's name and a saying or design that are often exchanged by the Amish at singings, potlucks, or other gatherings.

ONE-YEAR SILVER $25; name card, signed 8 X 10 color photo of the Eicher's horse and buggy or meal-time scene. Free access to any paid products at amishcookonline.com

ONE YEAR GOLD $50; all of the above, plus a quarterly newsletter, "The Amish Cook Extra", with family favorite recipes, color photos of Lovina's home, stories, and Amish information

EDITOR'S CIRCLE $75; All of the above, plus a happy birthday card from Lovina sent to the home of one loved one per year.

To sign up, please send membership dues to: Oasis Newsfeatures, PO BOX 2144, Middletown, Ohio 45042 or call

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