Midland County’s Sarah Zastrow has packed a lot into her four short years of membership and involvement in the organization, and all of it comes to bear in her trophy case now housing Michigan Farm Bureau’s 2022 Young Farmer Leader Award.
With multi-generation farming legacies stretching back in both their families, Zastrow and her husband Zack weren’t short on guidance or advice. But as is often the case among the young, the ambitious, and the independently minded, they wanted to forge their own path forward.
“Grandma and grandpa do things one way and that’s great — it’s worked for them for 75 years,” Zastrow said. “But we were interested in trying out some new things.”
So when a friend suggested they might benefit from the fresh and varied perspectives of a diversified peer group — by way of a Farm Bureau membership — they saw the potential and jumped in with both feet.
“Zack and I joined Farm Bureau four years ago because we wanted to see if there was a better way of doing things — to be more organized and if we could take the best parts of each farm and make it our own.
“We wanted some help with that from professionals” outside the family, she said, “and it really was interesting to look at the statistics and information Farm Bureau had to offer.”
But little did she know what else was in store.
“From there it really took off and I joined the Midland County Farm Bureau board and became the Young Farmer chair and then county president and got involved in the Young Farmer leadership awards and the Discussion Meets…
“It just kinda exploded from there,” she said, and included winning last year’s state-level Young Farmer Discussion Meet, which led to her representing Michigan on the national stage at the AFBF Annual in January.
Few boxes remain unchecked on her resume of Farm Bureau involvement: county president, ProFILE, Promotion & Education, rural-urban, state-annual delegate, candidate evaluation… She’s attended MFB’s Young Farmer, Voice of Agriculture, Lansing Legislative and Growing Together conferences, and even helped launch a new Community Action Group.
Now she’s swiping her young leader gold card at the state level as District 8’s new representative on the state Young Farmer committee.
“It’s really great to continue the leadership track at the state level,” she said. “Our families were not in Farm Bureau but we had friends who were involved in the organization, so that’s how we got involved. Since then we’ve invited other friends and neighbors just to make it a little more fun. Now our Midland board is made up of 90% Young Farmers!
“It’s been really great to meet new people and network, and the member benefits and conferences have really been invaluable.”
Beyond the familiar involvement channels, Zastrow has also brought to the organization her expertise as a farm-stress guru, reflecting a passion that’s become both her calling and her livelihood. Her business, Cultivate Balance, and Throwing Wrenches Mending Fences podcast both strive to combat mental health challenges in the agriculture community.
“I teach farmers how to manage stress and build stronger relationships so the hardships of agriculture don’t weigh so heavily,” Zastrow said.
Her own farming involves four active generations working some 1,400 acres of corn and soybeans in both Midland and Saginaw counties. Her roles include key business planning and decision-making, financials, inputs, purchasing, marketing and managing risks and assets.
“There’s a lot of family involved and we all help each other,” said Zastrow, who brought a fifth generation into the world earlier this year. The newborn is still a little young for field work, but expectations are high.
In the coming years Zastrow hopes to expand acreage, earn MAEAP verification and diversify their commodity profile to include specialty crops, vegetables and possibly even fish production with an aquaponics system.
Outside Farm Bureau she’s involved with various community organizations, contributing her rural, agricultural voice on topics ranging from rural broadband expansion to deepening the roster of region-specific leaders.
As the state-level Young Farmer Leader winner, Zastrow receives a lease on a New Holland compact tractor or utility vehicle from Burnips Equipment; a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate; up to $1,000 of business/estate consultation from Clark Hill; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF FUSION Conference, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.