It’s not surprising that a Mennonite farmer from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom had never heard of Temple Grandin, whose animal welfare and autism awareness work landed her a spot on Time magazine’s annual list of most influential people in the world. What is surprising is that Jonathan LeBlanc, 30, cold-called Grandin, the subject of a Golden Globe-winning film starring Claire Danes, and bent her ear about pig chute design while a table full of breakfast guests waited for them to finish their conversation.
“Basically, we were having trouble loading pigs for Walden. It was a nightmare,” LeBlanc, who came across Grandin’s name in an Organic Valley article, said. “So I asked my friend if he could find out who she is and see if there’s any phone number I can just reach out to her on.” His friend scoffed at the idea, even though he was able to locate her contact info. He told LeBlanc that she was a big deal and was probably not available. He downloaded a bunch of her blueprints off the Internet, hoping it would be enough for LeBlanc. But, undeterred, Jonathan dialed the number and Grandin answered.
“She was actually getting ready to eat breakfast with a bunch of guests and said she didn’t have time to chat for a while,” LeBlanc said. “But then she asked what problem was and we proceeded to have a 15 minute chat while her guests waited.”
LeBlanc is a third-generation dairy farmer. Despite being certified organic since 2005, the family farm has felt the effects of an industry in decline in Vermont. In the last two years, dairy prices have fallen $15 per hundredweight, according to LeBlanc. With a friendly voice and a cheerful laugh, he described his transition from a dairy-only to a pork-and-dairy hybrid operation, back when the farm still belonged to his father. “It was trial and error,” he said. “Also, my dad hated pigs!”
But with hard work and gumption, and a little help from Walden members like you, LeBlanc and his wife, Rachel, have grown the operation from five pigs to almost five hundred. Which is helpful, because their family is growing, too. The LeBlancs adopted two twin three-year-old boys. Just recently they decided to also adopt the twins’ little sister, whom they have been raising as foster parents. “We probably wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for Walden.”