Meet the seven siblings of Promise Farms. Nine years ago, at ages 16, 15, 14, 12, 10, 8 and 6, Joel, Rachel, Rebecca, James, Jonathan, Mercy and Ben Winnes made a decision. "We didn't know a thing about farming," Joel, the eldest, says, "We just knew that we wanted to be on the land, working the land."
If you're wondering how that seed was sown, ask the parents, Jan and David Winnes. Living in Minneapolis, they were dedicated to feeding their family healthy, natural foods, but having a hard time finding it. When Jan read a newspaper article about a farmer who had transitioned from conventional to organic after discovering the chemicals he was using were causing birth defects in his calves, she spotted an educational opportunity for the kids.
"So my Mom called the farmer and we were invited to visit," says Joel, now 26. "It was the best place we kids could think of to go. The next day, we wanted to know when we could go back."
The seed grew. In 1998, the family took a leap of faith and moved from Minneapolis to an abandoned farm in the ridge-and-valley landscape of southeast Minnesota's Driftless region. The land was in bad shape. They bought two cows and began healing the pastures a little section at a time, by nourishing the soils and planting healthy grasses and clovers for the cows to graze, just as they had seen it done on the model farm they visited. "When we started out, two cows wouldn't last two hours on those pastures. Now we rotational graze 40 cows on small sections, and they get a whole day's worth of grass."