Being part of a family that's used to working cooperatively, it was only natural that Joel got excited when he heard about the Organic Valley cooperative from one of the grazing networks. "Though we farmed organically, we started out selling our milk to the conventional market because we didn't know what else to do with it. The prices were terrible. If it hadn't been for Organic Valley, we probably wouldn't have gotten off the ground." By 2004, the Winnes were selling milk to the cooperative, which suits the seven siblings just fine. "Though we can't all go at the same time, we love the annual meetings in La Farge because we actually get to meet and hang out with George (George Siemon, Organic Valley CEO) and the board members like you were sitting around the dinner table. They're all farmers and family, just like us."
The Winnes' wish there were more young farmers coming onto the land. "So many times we see kids driven off the farm because of the conventional model," Joel says. "Trying to get those young people interested in farming again if they've had a bad experience is almost impossible. Others who have had no previous experience see conventional farming and they're not interested," Joel says. "If they were exposed to grass based dairying and organic farming, I think they'd feel differently."
Joel and the siblings like to go on "pasture walks"—events sponsored by farmers who pasture their animals, to show people what they've done and how they've accomplished it. "It's a great time to ask questions, share ideas and work out problems. Often, there are just as many non-farmers there as there are farmers. People like to find out how it's done."
If there's any down time on the farm, you might find the Winnes hanging out on a hilltop they've dubbed Gnarly Hill, where an ancient oak tree bristles the crest and frames a panoramic view of their "neighborhood." Mostly, after chores and supper, music pours from the farmhouse compliments of the boys on banjo, dobro and guitar. "I can't think of any place I'd rather be," Joel says, "except maybe a pasture walk."