When asked for directions to his farm, Don Zolman, Pierceton, gave an address on the west edge of Warsaw. He said it wouldn’t look like a conventional farmstead, and he was right. An 18-acre property enclosed by a chain-link fence, it was once a warehouse and hub for a transportation company. In fact, it still houses a transportation company. But now it’s Tranzstar Inc., owned by Don and Darci Zolman, and managed by their daughter Aubrey Rife, serving as president, and her husband, Nick, operations manager.
The part of the huge warehouse that isn’t rented out to other businesses to produce income is the Zolmans' machine shed and shop area combined. And the farm office is upfront, sharing the same space as the trucking company.
Out back are several solar panels that generate electricity. The venture is important enough that Don and Darci don’t mind having their picture taken in front of it. Don grins when the electric meter runs backward.
Beat of own drummer
In case you haven’t guessed by now, Don and Darci aren’t your "American Gothic" version of a farm couple. Each marches to the beat of their own drummer, and at times they are different drummers. In her role as program administrator with the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District, Darci sometimes hangs out with people with environmental leanings that don’t always match up with what many farmers feel comfortable talking about. She helps bridge the gap between these groups and the ag community.
That doesn’t bother Don. They can agree to disagree when necessary, he says. Meanwhile, they do what it takes to make the farm operation run smoothly. If Darci wants to drive an eco-friendly car, which she does, it’s OK with Don. If Don wants to drive a big four-wheel-drive pickup, which he does, it’s OK with Darci.
Don has always been the one in the room who asks, "Why or why not?" and people respect him for it. He’s not afraid to try new things — a trait he inherited from his father. Sometimes they don’t work, but then sometimes they do.
One of the first articles Don appeared in for Indiana Prairie Farmer was some 30 years ago, when he was trying double-cropping buckwheat. Later he was featured using an ATV to pull a sprayer. He was one of the innovators who pursued that technique to spray burndown on time.
At one time Don and his family owned and managed grain elevators along with farming. They switched emphasis to production when ethanol and soy biodiesel industries moved in. Now biodiesel and other products are hauled commercially through Tranzstar.
“We’ve raised ducks for Maple Leaf since 1981, longer than any other producer, and it’s worked well for us,” Don notes.
He also converted a small acreage to organic crops in the late 1990s and developed an online marketing service for organic soybeans. Profits were marginal, so he refocused on non-organic production. Today he sees new demand coming, and isn’t afraid to try it again. That’s how Don thinks.
Method to the madness
The truth is, behind the questions and curiosity is a sharp businessman who only takes calculated risks, and who succeeds far more often than not. “We purchased this complex because the company was failing, and it was available at a very good price,” he says. “We needed more shop and storage facilities. Darci and I talked to my daughter about running the trucking business before we made the decision. When she decided to do it, we bought it. It’s working well so far.”
Don isn’t through trying new ideas yet. He’s fascinated by Harry Stine’s high-population corn concept. In fact, he’s so intrigued that he acquired a John Deere twin-row, 20-inch-row planter at a subsidized price last year. “The jury isn’t in yet, but it has merit so far,” Don reports.