Conservation farmer gets energized by working the land

Married couple Jim and Pat Ziola are shown on their farm in Rush Township. Jim Ziola has been named 2019 Conservation Farmer of the Year by the Shiawassee Conservation District.

RUSH TWP. — Jim Ziola does all the work on the 480 acres he farms, including the steps he has taken to prevent or minimize agricultural pollution risks on his land.

The Ziola Farm has been Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program-verified since 2012 — one of the reasons the Shiawassee Conservation District has named Ziola its 2019 Conservation Farmer of the Year.

“Jim practices beneficial conservation methods on his farming operation and is committed to being a good steward of the land,” Conservation District board Chairman Joshua Crambell said.

“His commitment to protecting our environment and his partnership with the Shiawassee Conservation District makes him very deserving of the title of Conservation Farmer of the Year.”

Ziola, 66, said he was surprised to receive the honor.

“I still can’t believe it,” he said. “It’s nothing I was really shooting for. I just like the concept of protecting the environment and doing what I can.”

Keeping his farm MAEAP-verified is a point of pride.

“A lot of what you’re required to do shows that your conscious about the environment in your tillage practices and what chemicals you put on or don’t put on to fertilize the soil,” Ziola said. “I also feel it’s the right thing to do.

“We need to do more. We have to show people farmers are doing their best to protect the environment. We’re leaving it better than we found it.”

Ziola grew up on a farm with cash crops and cows, pigs and chickens in Fairfield Township. It was operated by his father and two uncles, and he worked for all three.

“I always loved the farming life,” he said. “I started driving a tractor at age 7 or 8.”

He bought his property on Friegel Road in 1976, building a house and moving in a few years later. Several out-buildings have been added.

During the years when he and his wife, Pat Ziola, were raising their three children — Jamie, Jim and Dan — Jim Ziola worked in a factory in addition to farming. He retired from General Motors as a tool-and-die maker seven years ago.

“I would be tired after work, but once I got home, I’d go outside and reenergize, and go to it,” he said.

Ziola’s farm grows cash crops only these days, corn, soy and wheat, though pigs and chickens were once raised there. The 480 acres includes 77 rented acres and a 40-acre woodlot for which he manages timber and wildlife.

He said he has no plan to stop because farming gets in your blood.

“You can’t get rid of it,” Ziola said. “As long as I feel good and can keep up with it, I’ll keep going.”

In his spare time, Ziola builds cabinets and collects John Deere precision models. He also enjoys snowmobiling, camping and hunting.

On Feb. 20, a banquet was held by the Shiawassee Conservation District in Ziola’s honor. He and his wife, and three of the children attended.

Ziola was presented with a plaque, and certificates of appreciation from the offices of U.S. Congressman John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow. He stood up and said a few words to the 100-plus people who came.

“The award was a great thing to get,” Ziola said. “It also says a lot when your neighbors stop and ask me how I do things. They watch and look. I think that really says a lot.”

Wife Pat Ziola said: “I’m very proud of him. He works hard and he always sees the job to completion, and he deserves this. When you think about what we started out with and what we have now, it’s amazing how far we’ve come.”

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