Macomb lawyer in court by day, fields by evening

By Jameson Cook

The Macomb Daily

ARMADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Clad in overalls and a flannel shirt, Lou Zaidan looks and acts like a farmer. But he talks with a trial attorney's gift of articulation.

With a quick change from a three-piece suit, Zaidan transforms from frequent civil and criminal practitioner in Macomb County courtrooms to crop-growin', chicken-feedin', machine-fixin' farmer.

"I don't make a lot of money at it," the 76-year-old said recently at his 181-acre spread in Armada Township. "I like the outdoors. I don't watch much television. My hobby is really here. You're building buildings, taking care of chickens, fixing equipment, planting things. It's a lot of work, but if you like it, it's not work."

On evenings and weekends, he oversees three parcels, one on Irwin Road near North Avenue, and two in Romeo and Dryden. He grows soybeans, corn and other fruits and vegetables, and raises chickens. He has raised cattle and pigs, and plans to raise cattle again next year.

"I love 'em both," Zaidan said. "I love doing the law. (But) when I have to get away from the pressure of law, I run out here."

A lawyer since 1966, he lives in Troy and practices out of Clinton Township.

He became a farmer almost by accident, gaining his first exposure in the early 1970s. A client couldn't pay his bill and offered to sell Zaidan his 12-acre farm in western Wayne County for a low price, he said. Zaidan in the deal received a broken-down tractor that he fixed and needed to store in a barn closer to his home, he said. Living in Eastpointe, he and his brother bought the 33-acre farm in Dryden that was in foreclosure, eventually selling the Wayne County parcel.

He became enamored with barns and farming.

"I love the barns," he said, standing next to his 85-year-old wood-frame structure renovated by Amish workers. "I think they reflect history. I just feel when I'm in here I'm a part of history."

He subsequently bought the Armada Township farm and later bought 73 acres of farmland in Romeo.

Zaidan said he possesses some mechanical and building skills but learned farming techniques through "trial and error."

"I feel like I can fix anything," he said. "I think the Lord has given me the ability for me to say to myself, 'If you want to do it, you can get it done.' I never had any skill in farming. I'm really not that good of a farmer, but I love it. That's the main thing. If anybody loves something, you can accomplish it."

To help tend the side-business, Zaidan employs one person, Ahmad Mrad, a Syrian immigrant who grew up on a farm there. Mrad, like Zaidan, has a full-time job; he works as a photographer at Fox Portrait Studios in Roseville.

Mrad said he believes Zaidan is happiest when he's working on the farm.

Zaidan sees similarities between farming and the law.

"In law, you're always accomplishing something," he said. "You're either doing a good job for your client, you're saving somebody, getting somebody something they need, you're resolving (something). In farming, there's always something you're accomplishing. Your fields come in."

He enjoys bailing hay in his barn. "It's fun," he said. "You've done something. You've exercised your body."

He admitted the double-duty sometimes tires him. He converted an old building to a "bunkhouse" for respite but rarely stays overnight.

"There are certain times of year where you're putting in long hours because I leave court and am able to come directly here," he said.

He said his evening job produces friendly remarks from his courthouse contacts.

"Almost all the clerks, all the judges and the other lawyers now know I like farming," he said. "Now their salutation to me is, 'How's the farming?'"

Word has slowly spread about Zaidan's hobby, and he often hands out a dozen eggs to judges and fellow barristers.

"He brings me a dozen fresh eggs every once in awhile. They're very good," attorney Joe Kosmala said. "He tells funny farm stories, like one about fixing a tractor."

Assistant Macomb County Prosecutor William Cataldo said he was shocked to hear about Zaidan's second career pursuit. He said Zaidan would be one of the last people he would suspect to moonlight in the cornfields.

"What a combination -- a Lebanese guy who's a lawyer and a gentleman farmer," he said with a laugh. "I'd rather be a greeter at Walmart for seven bucks an hour."

He rents his land for others to farm but has planted and harvested himself. He owns all the equipment -- planter, combine, harvester -- that he stores in a couple of his several structures.

His massive fields of soybean and corn were harvested over the past couple of weeks.

He has about 60 cackling chickens that produce about 100 eggs every two days. He sells them to friends and vendors at the Eastern Market in Detroit and a Port Huron farm market. He keeps a couple of roosters on hand just because he likes to hear their daily "cock-a-doodle-doo."

That he became a farmer even surprises Zaidan, a self-described "city boy" who grew up on Detroit's lower east side. His father was a department of public works employee for the city of Detroit. He graduated from Wayne State University, where he also earned a law degree.

Zaidan's wife, Karen, supports him, he said.

"She does help out here," he said. "She's the official lawn mower."

His son, Jonathan, supports him, too, but hasn't followed in his father's footsteps. He is a Lake Orion medical doctor.

"He thinks it's great because it keeps me in shape," Zaidan said with a laugh.

Published: Thu, Dec 13, 2012