John and Wendy Winkel did not grow up farming, but when they saw Grandpa Tiny’s Farm in Frankenmuth for sale almost four years ago, they knew they needed to buy it.
“We discovered this farm with a small petting area kind of on a whim. What started as coming here once a year, turned into twice a month and then twice a week,” Wendy said. “Everything just fell into place and then three months later we moved up here to Frankenmuth. Took over the farm and started farming, doing agritourism, inviting school groups and education and everything else that goes with it.”
The Winkels enjoyed educating their community about taking care of the environment and farm life but they felt like they could be doing more. When visiting their local Michigan State University Extension office, they heard about the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program.
“We went to the (Michigan State University) extension office and they recommended looking into the program. We really liked the long-term sustainability, mission and what was being presented. We hope to pass this information on to other farmers,” John said.
MAEAP is a voluntary program aimed at helping producers protect the environment by implementing conservation practices on their farm. To participate, producers work together with their local Conservation District to identify steps they can take to prevent pollution.
“The process to become MAEAP verified wasn’t very difficult,” John said. “Any farm could benefit from the program.”
After working with a technician from the Conservation District, producers may have to make changes on their farm and implement conservation practices. These changes vary from farm to farm. The technician will help farmers in finding cost share or other assistance if changes are costly.
“The team made it very easy for us. We made a few changes. We have a creek system in the middle of our farm that runs into the Cass River. We wanted to ensure that nothing from our property went into the river. We didn’t have to make any big changes,” John said. “The process was not very costly. It put us on the right track. We knew if we needed to invest in anything moving forward, we were going in the right direction.”
The Winkels are verified in the farmstead, cropping, and livestock systems. They decided to get involved in MAEAP because they wanted to make an investment in their farm.
“We actually found it very helpful, as new farmers, to have these guidelines from MAEAP on how to set up our farm correctly,” Wendy said. “I think a lot of times, farmers believe that someone is going to come along and tell them they are doing things incorrectly. But these guidelines are very reasonable, and they only help us out in the long run.”
The Winkels continue to educate their community about the importance of farming and taking care of the environment. They want to continue to host field days for producers and let them know about MAEAP.
“Producers don’t need to be hesitant about MAEAP. This program is really looking at the longevity of farming. So, if folks want to stay in agricultural systems, this program helps farms establish a legacy that can be passed down from generation to generation,” John continued.