From professor to farmer, Dr. Lana Zimmer finds second calling when college closes

Sep 23rd, 2021

Lana Zimmer doesn’t even remember why she started farming. It was 2011. She was a professor at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, helping future classroom teachers learn their craft.

With a doctorate in curriculum studies from Purdue, Lana hoped the volunteer operation might provide some fresh alternatives in the cafeteria while also teaching college students to garden – many who went on to become science teachers.

In the years to come, things kept expanding. Grant money paid for a seasonal high tunnel (basically an unheated greenhouse). She started a sustainable agriculture class. Students would commandeer the campus kitchen used by the priests to showcase the quality and importance of local food. Some were so impacted they went onto get environmentally conscious jobs after they graduated.

“It was a success I thought,” Lana says.

It all came to a screeching halt in May 2017 when St. Joe’s closed due to declining enrollment and financial concerns.

But she wasn’t ready to retire.

Instead, she ramped up production at Heritage Acres Farm where she had been selling garlic since 2010 and even built her own seasonal high tunnel in 2013. She expanded to other crops when the college closed. Above all, she loves the work.

“More than anything, I don’t want to waste food,” Lana says. “I got it. I’m growing it. I want to share it.

She currently maintains 6 acres of her farm as a pollinator habitat with native plants. In addition to the high tunnel where she will graft plants to increase yield as well as provide increased vigor, Lana has a small greenhouse and farms crops on an additional one-half acre.

She grows a tremendous diversity of products including roughly 20 types of tomatoes, 15 types of peppers as well as zesty tomatillos a couple varieties of potatoes. She prefers the vegetables with interesting colors and shapes, even if her customers particularly flock to juicy heirloom tomatoes and sweet peppers.

“I really enjoy producing food you can’t buy anywhere else,” Lana says.

Heritage Acres Farm is a Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) operation which means it uses organic principles and has passed a peer-review process to ensure that no synthetic chemicals or GMOs are used.

For years, Lana had been selling all her produce to a wholesale buyer. But when they went out of business, she was left searching for a new way to get her produce to hungry customers – which is why Market Wagon was a perfect fit.

“Market Wagon provides me a place to sell a large quantity of produce at a single drop-off point,” Lana says.

She would recommend Market Wagon to other growers. She says the website is easy to use, works beautifully and the portal for vendors has been seamless.

Heritage Acres is part of the Chicago Lakeshore marketplace which delivers on Fridays as well as the Michiana marketplace which delivers on Thursdays.

And as you can see, while Dr. Lana Zimmer may be done as a professor, she's still teaching the next generation like her grandchildren.