2020 Conservationist of the Year – Mike Windemuller

The Conservationist of the Year is a prestigious honor, awarded by the Conservation District to recognize to a farm or landowner that demonstrated exemplary conservation efforts in the past year and is as a top environmental steward of the land. In the past, awardees have included those that have supported hazardous waste management, made great improvements to on-farm manure management, river restoration, innovative ag water use and protection and more. The 2020 Conservationist of the Year is Mike Windemuller!  Mike, a resident of southwest Michigan, owns a beautiful 157-acre property just a few miles north of the charming village of Fountain in Mason County.

            Mike is an exemplary environmental steward whose conservation-minded activities range from sustainable agriculture to woodland management.  For example, he is an active organic hay farmer and has been for about 15 years.  He began exploring approaches to hay farming on land in Iowa and Illinois, and currently grows organic hay on the property near Fountain.  Mike has a passion for buying distressed farms that have not been taken care of for many years and are in need of a lot of work.  He cleans up these farms and gives them life again, which is no easy task.  Mike has specifically said that he finds joy in seeing these farms in better shape than when he acquired them.  Some examples of excellent conservation practices that Mike implements on the farm include protection of groundwater and surface water by properly storing his fuel, fertilizer, and other chemicals, as well as meticulous nutrient management to help keep his farm ground sustainable.

            Mike also has a passion for wildlife habitat improvement and has implemented numerous practices on his property.  Mike has used forest stand improvement practices to selectively remove trees in the deciduous forest as a way to provide a more balanced diversity of species, structure and age classes.  Mike has also been working on removing non-native Colorado blue spruce trees that are infested with fungi and insects.  He is also passionate about invasive species management and has been busy clearing 23 acres of the invasive shrub autumn olive on his property!  Given the presence of ponds on the property, Mike has also planted herbaceous vegetation along slopes adjacent to his ponds as a way to minimize erosion that can lead to harmful sedimentation for the aquatic organisms that depend on these ponds for habitat.  Another beneficial conservation practice that Mike has been implementing is the placement and management of native wildflowers and grasses to provide non-forested upland habitat for numerous species of wildlife, including pollinators.

            Because Mike is diligent about implementing conservation practices in a responsible and sustainable manner, Mike’s property is verified in the Farmstead, Cropping, and Forest/Wetlands/Habitat systems of the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).This is a voluntary program aimed to help landowners protect soil, water, and air quality, and implement sustainable management practices on their land.  To quote Mike, “Once you see a MAEAP sign, you know that person is serious about taking care of their land”.  The forested portions of Mike’s property are also certified in the American Tree Farm System, which is a national forest certification system designed to ensure that landowners are managing their forests sustainably while protecting environmental resources.

Mike’s passion for bringing old and abandoned farms alive, his work with conservation, and his desire to improve wildlife habitat, make him a great recipient of the Conservationist of the Year Award.  Congratulations Mike!