While Jan and David put up the money for the land, Jan emphasizes that the kids run the show. "They're the ones who decided what to do and figured out how to do it. They do the work, so they make the decisions." Joel confirms that they learned everything by discovery and with help from other farmers and grazing networks in Iowa and Wisconsin. Plus, Joel says, "Our neighbors in the Crooked Creek Valley have really taken us in and opened up to us in a way we didn't expect."
From two cows the kids milked by hand, the herd has grown to 40. "My sisters learned how to do artificial insemination, so they handle the breeding program," says Joel. "The cows are at least half to three quarters Jersey, because we favor their milk, and we've been crossing them with Dutch belted and Shorthorn. This year we bought a couple of Holsteins from another organic farmer to see how they do."
Typically, chaos rules the day when it comes to seven siblings living and working together, but Joel is quick to point out that they learned the fine art of conflict resolution at very early ages. "Our parents would not put up with fighting and bickering. They taught us how to sit down and work things out with each other." When there are decisions to be made on the farm, they are most often made over breakfast when the whole family is together. "We don't always agree on every little fine point," Joel says, "but we discuss it and go over all the details of an issue until everybody comes together on a decision. We don't do something unless we all agree on it, even if the final decision is kind of frustrating to some. We are all equally involved in this."