Eleven county Farm Bureaus start the New Year with new leadership in place, and it’s Farm Gate’s honor to introduce them. So as not to overwhelm you with their greatness, we’ll start with this batch of four from Allegan, Ingham, Midland and Oceana.
The Allegan County Farm Bureau is now led by Lisa Russcher, who takes over from Brad Lubbers. Lisa is a longtime active member, involved in county communications, candidate evaluation, policy development and Promotion & Education programs.
“P&E is primarily where I started getting very involved 10 years ago,” including several years as chair, Russcher said. “I’ve been vice president for several years now so it just seemed like good timing.”
She and her husband Jeff have five — five — girls, from a toddler to a 10-year-old. Alongside Jeff’s dad and brothers, they operate a farrow-to-finish hog farm near Zeeland in addition to raising corn and soybeans.
Asked about the priorities she’s looking to bring to her first year steering Allegan County Farm Bureau, Russcher was succinct: “Continuing to engage members and trying to find more ways to communicate with them.”
To that end she’s agreed to serve in a nascent think tank of members and staff tasked with designing a re-engineered county communications plan to take the place of the county newsletter program discontinued in 2017.
This is not Jeanine Igl’s first stint as president of the Ingham County Farm Bureau — more like her third or fourth. A graduate of MFB’s ProFile leadership development academy, Igl has previously served on state Young Farmer and policy development committees as well as the commodity advisory committee for feed grains and oil seeds.
She farms with her parents and husband Tony, raising about 2,600 acres of corn and soybeans between Mason and Eaton Rapids. And like everyone else on the planet, she’s eager to resume some kind of post-pandemic normalcy so she can get her 2021 agenda under way.
“One thing we definitely want is to get our legislators on a farm tour — take ‘em to a greenhouse, a livestock operation, a crop farm — so they get an idea of what we do, and that what they do impacts us,” she said.
Two years ago Igl’s farm hosted Elissa Slotkin on the Dist. 8 Congresswoman’s first official farm tour, and in doing so learned the freshman Democrat grew up on a farm near Holly. It was a timely reminder, she said, of the importance of bipartisanship.
“There’s too much partisanship going on,” Igl said. “You gotta work on both sides of the aisle.”
If the name of Midland County Farm Bureau’s new president — Sarah Zastrow — sounds familiar, you may be owed some bonus Farm Bureau points, as she’s recently contributed to MFB’s Farm Stress & Mental Health efforts. Originally from a Saginaw County farm near Freeland, Zastrow now works ground south of Midland with her husband Zack, raising cash crops.
With farm experience galore throughout her and Zack’s families, and the subsequent diversity of advisors, Zastrow turned to Farm Bureau looking for a neutral source of guidance, inclusive of Michigan’s many farm sectors.
“We have four sides of family involved in farming” but little agreement about how to best get things done, Zastrow said. “We started in Farm Bureau because we wanted an authority that wasn’t biased, especially on the business end.”
In two short years of involvement she’s been a Young Farmer award finalist and made it to the Sweet 16 round of the state-level Discussion Meet.
Zastrow’s life’s work is in helping farmers combat stress and other mental health challenges, a mission she’s championed through her business Cultivate Balance since 2016. She’s contributed that expertise as a panelist in MFB’s Farmers After Hours series, and wants to bring the same priority to the fore as county president.
She also looks forward to beating the bushes for fresh Young Farmers, and encouraging members to get involved across the variety of Farm Bureau programs.
Tara Oomen brings some uncommon experience to the table in her first term as Oceana County Farm Bureau’s new president, succeeding Gerrit Herrygers.
The product of her family’s prominent fruit and vegetable operation near Hart, Oomen took a job with Michigan Farm Bureau right out of college and worked two years as the organization’s regional representative in the southeastern corner of the Lower Peninsula.
After that she worked across western Michigan as an agronomist and in vegetable seed sales before settling again not far from her family’s asparagus and carrot fields.
“I actually wasn’t involved in Farm Bureau until I worked there,” but even a short stint on staff is a crash course in the organization’s methods and priorities, which she’s looking forward to applying in her home county as it peeks out from under the pandemic.
“We might have the youngest board of directors in the state, and we’re keeping our focus on involving younger people,” Oomen said, quickly adding that she hopes to improve the all-at-once involvement approach that too often overwhelms and burns out members — especially new ones.
“My focus is on finding new members, but also we don’t want to throw them into everything at once — we want to target more and figure out what they want to do.”
Tune in again Feb. 16 to meet another batch of aspirational new county Farm Bureau leaders.