Leilani Zimmer-Durand grew up on her family’s farm in southwestern Wisconsin. She is a farm consultant, ecologist and agronomic educator with 15 years’ experience in biological and organic farming. She has written and spoken widely on soil health and fertility and is the former VP of Research and Development at Midwestern BioAg where she developed and tested carbon-based fertilizers.
Leilani will be leading several sessions at the Acres U.S.A. On-Farm Intensive, which will be hosted on her family’s commercial Wisconsin farm in July.
Recently, we asked her about what inspires her work in soil health, her family’s farm, and what to expect from the On-Farm event.
What inspired you to follow in your father, Gary Zimmer’s, footsteps working in the soil health space?
Growing up on a small farm in beautiful southwestern Wisconsin, I developed a great love for nature. I spent countless childhood hours building forts in the woods and riding my horse over the hills and around the woods surrounding our farm. When I went to college, I decided to study ecology so I could work to preserve nature. After working for a number of years in endangered species management, it felt like I wasn’t really making a difference, so I decided to take a position at my father’s company and work in biological agriculture. Agriculture has tremendous potential to do good for our environment, but also tremendous potential to do harm. I see working with farmers to help them build a system centered around soil health, crop diversity and reduced chemical use as one of the best things I can do to help preserve and maintain our environment.
Tell us something that our readers would be super interested to learn about your farms – the ones they can come learn on.
The farms are nestled into the hills in southwestern Wisconsin and our farming methods have to take into account a lot of topography and a lot of different soil types. It’s one of the reasons why the farms are so diverse, and why we’re always looking for new crops, new tillage methods, and new ways to build soil health.
What is really exciting you right now about the work you are doing?
I really like consulting with farmers who are motivated and inspired to make changes to build soils and build resiliency on their farms. It’s easy to just plant corn and beans and farm with chemicals – it takes creative thinking and a willingness to accept some risks to adopt biological farming methods. I really enjoy working with those farmers who are really looking to be the leaders on adopting new practices on their farms to make their farm better.
What is one of the most important things you have learned about soil health in the past decade plus?
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that soil health is incredibly complex, and there is no one way to explain it or to improve it on a farm. The soil is a living ecosystem full of plant roots and soil organisms all interacting with the substrate which is that local soil type in that local climate. It makes working on soil health complex, but also fascinating.
If you had to choose just one take-away you would want our On-Farm Intensive attendees to walk away with after their experience on the farm, what would it be?
The one thing I would like people to be able to walk away with is that idea that no matter what they are farming and where it is, there are always things they can do to improve their operation. Be it new crops in the rotation, a different way of getting nutrients to their crops, a new tillage method, or a different way of improving soil health, there are always going to be ideas and methods out there that will work for them. We’re going to share some of our new ideas and new practices at the farm this summer, and I hope everyone comes away with some ideas they can apply to their own operation.