MEC launches sustainable agriculture program to make Michigan a good food leader

Proven problem solver Zimnicki joins group as agriculture policy director

The Michigan Environmental Council has launched a new sustainable agriculture program to promote state, local and federal policies that support Michigan in growing a diverse abundance of food while promoting the long-term well-being of our water, wildlife and climate.

Tom Zimnicki will lead the program as agriculture policy director, MEC announced Tuesday. Most recently, Zimnicki was a project scientist for Kieser and Associates, a Kalamazoo-based environmental science and engineering firm.

While MEC has long worked at agriculture's intersections with water quality, land use, healthy food access and other issues, this marks the first time the 36-year-old organization has had a program focused on farm issues.

"Farming is an integral part of Michigan's economy and can play a vital role in keeping our people and our land healthy," said Chris Kolb, MEC president. "However, policies and subsidies in place today too often encourage unsustainable agricultural practices that lead to toxic algae outbreaks, habitat loss and other troubling trends. There's a clear need for a unifying voice in the State Capitol to advocate for a more sustainable food system in Michigan. We are excited to step into that role and provide that voice."

Some common farm practices -- such as transitioning diverse croplands to monocultures, making heavy use of pesticides and concentrating livestock in factory-scale facilities -- contribute to biodiversity loss, climate change and water quality problems like toxic algae outbreaks that periodically threaten drinking water supplies. Research has shown that 85 percent of algae-fueling phosphorus entering Lake Erie from the Maumee River basin -- which includes portions of southern Michigan -- comes from farm manure and fertilizers.

The new MEC program aims not only to discourage practices that harm water and wildlife, but also to elevate Michigan -- second only to California in crop diversity -- as a good food capital.

"I have a ton of respect for Michigan's farmers and the hard work they do to grow our food and our economy," Zimnicki said. "This is a big opportunity to work with farmers, policymakers and others to solve problems together and protect the water, wildlife and natural beauty we all care about. As someone who has always enjoyed spending time outdoors and on the Great Lakes -- and, frankly, as someone who loves good food -- I'm eager to prove that Michigan can be a leader in food production while also preserving a clean, healthy environment."

Zimnicki's role at Kieser and Associates involved leveraging market drivers and incentives to achieve positive environmental outcomes. He worked on projects across the country, including helping Iowa regulators create plans for managing nutrient runoff from farms and exploring market-based options for curtailing phosphorus loading in Lake Erie.

An Allen Park native, Zimnicki holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Adrian College and master's degrees in environmental science and public affairs from Indiana University.



Tom Zimnicki

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