ARCADIA, Wis. – It’s not easy for young farmers to start in the business. Joel and Katie Winnes of Arcadia will confirm that. But with the help of retiring farm couple Bob and Connie Scharlau, a farm dream came true.

Joel Winnes’ story starts as a teenager living in a metro area, working for a farmer. He learned how to drive tractor and milk cows. At the age of 16, his parents sold their home and moved to the country to start a small organic dairy. When he was offered a job as herdsman he left home, thinking it would give his younger siblings a chance to farm.

Part of Winnes’ pay included every-third heifer calf born, giving him the opportunity to start his own organic herd. His boss made it clear that Winnes would not be able to buy the farm because he wanted it left in his family.

So Winnes began spending his free time looking for a farm where he could eventually move his own growing herd to. He looked at more than 30 places within two years, one of them the Bob and Connie Scharlau place west of Arcadia. The Scharlau farm was virgin-organic land but had no milking facilities except for an old stone barn that had not seen a milk cow for several decades. Winnes decided it was not going to work.

“(But) everything else we looked at was either too small an acreage, or too big and expensive,” he said. “One guy wanted us to buy his herd.”

Because he already had his own cows, that was not going to work. One farmer wanted him to build a new house and rent the barn with no commitment on his part to sell.

In 2012 Winnes’ boss became ill, forcing him to move forward with his plans to give the farm to his daughter. He gave Winnes notice to move within six months.

By that time Winnes had married and along with his wife, Katie Winnes, began praying, “God you gave me the desire to farm; I need a place to milk.”

Their prayers were answered when he remembered the Scharlau farm; he called to see if it was still available. It was. A deal was made, with the Scharlaus giving a contract for deed on 120 acres. Because Joel Winnes already had equity in his cows, he was able to get a bank loan for the remaining 60 acres and a new barn.

One of Winnes’ brothers moved to Wisconsin. Along with Scharlau he oversaw the construction of the new facility while Joel Winnes kept busy milking his cows. Used equipment, including a swing-eight parlor, was purchased for the dairy. That helped to keep costs affordable.

At the insistence of Bob Scharlau, Winnes repaired a lean-to on the old stone barn for use as growing pens for the young stock. Scharlau and Winnes also made an agreement for some of the machinery Winnes wanted to use, creating a rent-to-own agreement. Scharlau has been generous in helping with any mechanical work that needs to be done, Winnes said.

Manure storage was a problem for the first year. Grants are available for existing dairies, so they waited a year for the barn to fit that requirement. With a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grant, Winnes saved half the cost of a new pit. To keep the system simple, with reduced cost and maintenance, gravity flow was used instead of pumps.

The dairy is working well for the Winnes family – a family that now includes three children. The Scharlaus say they’re happy with their choice to help a beginning farmer.

Winnes says he found the best situation because he was able to purchase the farm while keeping Scharlau close-by for advice.

“He has experience with organic crops and he knows everything I need to graze,” Winnes said. “He could have sold to anyone, but he wanted the farm to go to a young couple and he persevered.”

LeeAnne Bulman writes and farms in the Waumandee valley on Wisconsin’s west coast. She and her husband are the only couple in the valley with his and her combines.