Mark and Petra's trusty blue healer Ruby watches over the herd of cattle.

Mark and Petra Zinniker are seeking a farmer/farm family to help steward their organic, biodynamic farm into its next phase. This opportunity is particularly unique because the Zinnikers are planning to directly involve the community in their succession planning and decision-making process by forming a community association that will help steward the legacy of Zinniker Farm. 

In 1943, Mark’s grandfather moved from Glencoe, Illinois to this farm in Elkhorn, Wisconsin to begin his journey as a biodynamic farmer. Since then, two more generations of Zinnikers have farmed on this land, making it the oldest, continually-running biodynamic farm in the United States. Now Mark and Petra have begun to look for the fourth generation that will continue this legacy of building soil health and the fertility of the land. 

“There is certainly that need for younger energy,” said Petra.

The farm, located in southeast Wisconsin in the middle of the golden triangle of Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago, is 164 acres with 120 acres of tillable land and the rest in woodland, permanent pasture, and riparian buffers. There is housing onsite alongside rolling hills and a small creek. Currently, the farm produces grass-fed beef, pastured pork, free-range eggs, honey, mushrooms, and soap.

Mark and Petra envision that the next steward of the land will have significant farming experience and would be in the position to take on these existing enterprises and add new projects of their own, such as flowers, herbs, or small ruminants. The ideal farmer/farm family would be interested in a long-term commitment to Zinniker Farm and participating in the initial phases of building a new model of community engagement, which is outlined in more detail below. However, Mark and Petra will also consider proposals from farmers who want to run a completely independent enterprise on the farm. The most important element they seek is for the next steward to have a deep commitment to a regenerative and biodynamic soil, farming, and land ethic. They’ve included all the information for this process on their website.

Mark and Petra Zinniker

One of the most unique parts of this opportunity is the chance to engage and work with the community to take Zinniker Farm into the next phase. Over the years the Zinnikers have developed a network of long-term, loyal customers. This group is currently in the process of forming a new type of community-support model that will play an integral role in the future of Zinniker Farms and the selection process for bringing a new farmer onto the land. 

As Mark puts it, “It’s very difficult to be a steward of the land and make it financially. With our succession planning, that became the question – how do we give somebody an opportunity and how can they thrive?” 

The Zinnikers have conceived of a fresh concept – the Zinniker Farm Stewardship Association (ZFSA) – to answer this question. Members of the community interested in supporting the farm will join the association and be responsible for financially supporting the farm and the farmers. In return, they will share in the bounty of food each season. While the ZFSA has some similarities to a traditional community supported agriculture (CSA) model, it is different because the group will be focused on the long-term stewardship of the farm as a whole and not just on buying food for one growing season. Many of the specific details, such as legal structure, promotional systems, and the exact plan for how to incorporate the new farmer into the ZFSA, are being worked through by the Zinnikers and a core group of members. They aim to launch ZFSA for the 2023 season. Mark and Petra, along with the current members of the ZFSA, are confident this new arrangement will help provide better long-term support to the next generation of stewards. 

You can learn more about the ZFSA here.