“Can I talk to him?”

My uncle looked over his shoulder at the elderly Amish gentleman and said, “I don’t know why not!”

We were sitting at the counter of a country diner, having lunch on a chilly February day. I was just 22 years old, visiting my grandmother who lived in the little town. The old man had come in and removed his coat and hat, and after the waitress took his order I asked my uncle again if he was sure. I had seen Amish people on my visits in the past, but they were a mystery to me. I wanted to ask questions about their culture and lifestyle, but didn’t know how to get the ball rolling. So here was my chance, and I took it.

“Excuse me,” I said as I approached his table. “I’m from California and don’t know anything about the Amish people. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”

Without hesitation the old man, with smiling eyes and his beard reaching down below his chest, said in a quiet voice, “Have a seat. What do you want to know?”

We spent the next hour talking. I hardly noticed when my uncle left the restaurant; I was too engrossed in our conversation, even though I knew it meant I would have to walk a mile back to my grandmother’s house in the snow on a very cold day. Finally he said to me, “Why don’t you come out to the farm this evening for supper?” I happily said yes and we parted ways.

That night I met three of his ten grown children, three ladies in their thirties who still lived at home. They welcomed me warmly and graciously, and fed me the finest meal: farm-fresh fried chicken, garden peas, and mashed potatoes with chicken gravy. For dessert we had the best homemade apricot pie I’d ever tasted, with homemade vanilla ice cream! I still remember the feeling of satisfaction as I scooched my chair back from the table.

After dinner we played a card game called “Tease Your Neighbor”. The Amish do not use face cards, choosing instead to use Rook or Uno cards for games. We played, laughed and talked until after midnight, and then I went home. I was hooked.

A few years later I brought my newlywed wife, Laura, to meet them, and she too fell in love with these friendly people and their ways. Eventually we were exchanging letters regularly with three different families, and when we planned vacations we felt drawn to them. Our children have grown up listening to their letters being read aloud, filled with stories of hunting, baking, plowing, and preparing.

More than a quarter-century later our friendships have grown stronger and stronger. We attended an Amish wedding a few years ago, and in 2009 I returned for the funeral of the man I met at the diner back in 1985. Our visits with these wonderful friends continue to be rich and rewarding experiences for us.

And now you can join us on this venture with our Amish friends. For years we’ve listened as some of the men talked about having to work factory jobs away from their homes because it has become too costly to farm effectively. They long to be at home with their families, teaching valuable traditions to their children.

With this in mind we decided to start Amish Workshops. Our goal is twofold: to help English (non-Amish) people gain a better understanding of the Amish people, and to provide an avenue by which Amish craftsmen and women can earn additional income by selling their wares. We hope you will find the website interesting, and the products beautiful.