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This week, we hosted 3 separate tours on the farm (phew, that's a new record for us!). So, it's fair to say that this week, we spent a lot of time sharing about the progress we're making here.  We moved a 200-year old barn from down to the road to our property, we've transformed brush and brambles into beautiful healthy pastures, we've improved our farm systems and grown our business faster than we ever could have expected. We are proud of these accomplishments, for sure. And yet, what is probably more impressive and less obvious to even our closest friends and family is all the ways the farm has changed us. 

Our bodies were probably the first thing to change. Callused hands and body strength came within a few weeks. Aches and pains from the near constant physical exertion came within a few a months. Every now and then, there are the blisters, cracking skin, bruises, or tick bites to attend to. Yoga has become a required activity,  instead of a leisure activity.

The other changes are more subtle. As two world travelers who used to spend their savings on overseas adventures, I thought we would eventually get stir-crazy staying put. The truth is, that we find more joy in being at home with our animals than we ever would have imagined.  

We are natural introverts and usually re-charge by spending time alone. But the farm has brought us out of our skins and given us this incredible opportunity to share, educate and inspire. The farm pushes us to show up and be present in our community, even when our deepest instincts tell us to go it alone.

The farm has affected our marriage in ways that we probably can't fully comprehend just yet. Running a business with the person you love most in this world isn't always easy. But it has brought us closer, helped us understand each other more wholly, and appreciate each other's strengths and weaknesses and limitations. It has taught us how to listen to one another and honor those hunches (or gut feelings) we get in the middle of the night that a fence is off or a pig might be farrowing (farm lingo for delivering piglets).

If what Eckert Tolle says is true, and the energy you put out in the world comes back to you, then I think we are in for a pretty spectacular life together here at Stonecrop Farm. Thanks for being on this journey with us. 

Your Farmers, 
Greg & Jenney

PS- We absolutely love hearing from you! What did you think of this newsletter and what would you like to hear more about in future newsletters?

Turns out, flash cards aren't that helpful

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You know that feeling of overwhelm you sometimes get when you're about to have a bunch of house-guests over? You know it will all be fine...but you can't NOT obsess a little about whether you've taken out the trash, cleaned the bathroom, or tidied up the kitchen?  Please tell me you can relate. 

We've always known that educating our community about organic farming was one of farm's purposes (remember this  newsletter from earlier this year?), but it used to feel pretty nerve-wracking taking people behind the scenes and sharing our life's work. 

In the beginning, we stressed about the tours so much that in addition to all the insane tidying, we made flash cards and actually practiced what we were going to say and how we were going to say it. We knew we had big vision for our farm and so much to share... but the progress felt painstakingly slow at the start and not having the farm where we wanted it to be was frustrating. 

We didn't let those jitters and frustrations stop us, though. We hosted farm tours at any chance we got. We let people in, we showed them around, and shared what we were doing and why it is important.  We talked honestly about the lessons we'd learned and how we were improving, overcoming obstacles and growing. In the process, we learned how to be ourselves and share about our passion for farming from the heart and on the fly (#nomoreflashcards).  

It is this drive to make a big impact that has helped us get over those jitters and expand our farm. We now have hundreds of animals, a great big barn and beautiful pastures to stroll. We have farm systems that certainly have room for improvement, but that work great for our lean two-person crew. We have customers that we love to serve and tours that bring us so much joy and satisfaction. 

Will we be seeing you at the tour this Saturday? We will start at 9am. Don't forget to wear long pants and closed toe shoes. We can't wait to show you what we're working on.

Your Farmers, 
Greg & Jenney

What I learn from a cheese-making teamster

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I've learned that one of the most important skills you need to develop as a livestock farmer, is being able to compassionately handle your animals. I didn't grow up farming, so I learned these skill from other farmers I've been lucky enough to meet along the way. 

One of the experiences which helped me understand the basics of working with animals was when I trained with a teamster named Donn Hewes. In case you don't recognize the farm lingo here, a teamster is someone who is farming (or logging) with horses, mules or oxen. 

You see, for a considerable amount of time, I thought our farm was going to be a vegetable farm and that the farm itself would be powered by horses.  There are very few farmers these days that have chosen to rely on horses instead of tractors.  Donn and his wife Maryrose (of Northland Sheep Dairy) are two of them, and lucky for me,  they were starting a Teamster School at their farm and were happy to have me on board as their first student back in 2015.

I lived with Donn and Maryrose for a little over a month, staying in a tiny apartment above the horse barn. Every day, Donn found activities for me to do with the horses and showed me how to communicate with the horses to get farm work done. It was winter-time, so this meant learning how to drive the horses through thick snow, how to haul logs back to the their big wood shed, and how to plow snow, all while keeping the horses stress free. I will never forget the time Jenney came to visit and I even learned how to use horses to pull her car out of a snowbank! They were seemingly simple tasks that I didn't come close to mastering, in part because the relationship and communication between farmer and animal is complex and takes lots of time and practice.

I learned so much from these experiences and I'm certain that they still inform my farming practices today. Through working with horses, I learned how to observe better the natural inclinations of the animals I'm working with and use that knowledge to built smarter farms systems that prevent our animals from experiencing stress. I think back to these same principles that Donn and Maryrose taught me when I work with our chickens, turkeys and pigs every day. 

And even though I'm very confident in our decision to farm with a tractor instead of horses, I still think about hearing the snorts and heavy hoof falls of draft horses on our farm some day...a boy can dream. 😀

Your Farmers, 
Greg & Jenney

Why Nerds (Like Me) Love Farming

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Farmer Greg, here. As you may already know, I came from a science background before I started farming. While I no longer dwell on the minutiae of analyzing the components of regional air quality, my experiences in grad school still influence how we think and farm here at Stonecrop.

When I started out farming years ago, I remember looking at the farmers I knew and thought to myself "Huh, well, Rich worked for GE, Andy was an engineer, Fred used to work at Kodak...why did all of these former science minds get into farming?"  

I quickly learned that it was only by chance that so many of the farmers I met early on also were former engineers/scientists. However, as I thought about it and started becoming a more experienced farmer myself, I came to the realization that farming is essentially a series of great big, year-long experiments and that in this way,  it makes perfect sense that all these science-minded people like me were drawn into this field (yes, pun intended).

I approach farming with that same scrupulous scientific approach that I relied on in my chemistry days. We have fancy equipment (like tractors, manure spreaders, cultivators, spring-tooth harrows) that, similar to my old lab equipment, seem to always need a little tinkering here or there. We spend a lot of time thinking about our pastures, figuring out which type of forage to plant for certain animals and when (This week, for example, I planted fall forage for pigs to graze over the winter. I'm hoping I seeded at the right time so there is plenty of growth but not too much, before the cold weather hits in the fall.)  We have intense spreadsheets for every enterprise (another takeaway from grad school) and even track data on our iphones while we're out in the field. My grad school advisor would be proud...   

Assuming we farm until we're about 65, we will only get another 30 trials at this great experiment.  We intend to make the most of them and will keep sharing about the lessons we learn along the way.  Thanks for being on this journey with us.

Your Farmers, 
Greg & Jenney

PS- Our next Farm Tour is in 2 weeks! On the tour, we will start with our barn and share about how we moved the 200 year old timber-frame to our farm, then we will share about our pig breeding program and show off a new litter of piglets. We will check out the laying hens, Thanksgiving turkeys, meat chickens and our ginger/turmeric high tunnels as well.  The tour will last 1-1.5 hrs and is 5$ per adult (CSA members are free!) Click here to RSVP and get more details. 

Falling in Love Making Salsa, Kimchi and Apple sauce? Yep.

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My Mom always cans a few things every year and taught me the basics when I was 12 or 13 years old. Unlike my siblings that had zero interest in this hobby, I loved the whole process. Getting to spend one-on-one time with my Mom early in the morning when everyone else in the house was still sleeping was so special.  We never took on anything too ambitious, usually simple jams or sauces, but the final product was always spectacular. 

Then, I met Greg and our passion for good food has led us to all sorts of ambitious food-preserving adventures.  I remember the first time Greg and I EVER cooked together. It was right after we graduated college back in 2008. Greg was apprenticing on a farm and had almost no free time, but for some reason, we decided that we wanted to can. He had never canned before and neither of us had much experience with cooking in general. But, we stayed up all night in my parents kitchen chopping, simmering, and canning fresh salsa.  I was pretty sure I loved him months before this experience, but nerding out over salsa made it all the more clear that we were just right for each other. 

A few years later, we decided to branch out from salsas and try kimchi (a spicy Korean fermented veggie dish). I thought we would be start with a few jars and then Greg came home from the veggie farm he was working on with 10 cabbages and boxes of radishes and carrots.  We made a HUGE quantity of spicy Kimchi in large ceramic crocks that we acquired from a friend.  Everything was going great, until my fingers started tingling and I realized that I didn't wear any gloves to cut up the hot peppers (rookie mistake). For an entire week, my hands were literally on fire. There were tears and large quantities of aloe vera.  All the while, our apartment smelled like old socks due to the massive amount of fermenting vegetables sitting in our living room. But boy, was that kimchi good. Mission accomplished. 

Then there was that time with the apple sauce. We were almost there. We pressed the apples through our food mill, the sauce was made, the jars were filled and in the boiling water bath. We were on the last step and as we pulled the jars out of the canner, the sauce exploded out and over the edges of the jars and some of jars themselves even started cracking. Apparently,  we didn't get enough of the air bubbles out? It was another lesson learned the hard way.  

Our food preservation skills have improved over time by trial and error, as you can tell.  Nowadays, we consider ourselves proficient at jams, salsas, kimchi and sauces, and it is still one of our favorite ways to spend quality time together.  

We want to make preserving ginger and turmeric really easy for you, so we made a storage guide!  We're happy to report that this process is far less complicated than anything described in this email. The guide is AWESOME and not to be missed.  We'll send it to you tomorrow morning, just in time for our first harvest this weekend!

Your Farmers, 
Greg and Jenney

P.S. If you'd like to get these stories along with our favorite seasonal recipes delivered directly to your inbox, please join our weekly newsletter.

How We Grow Ginger and Turmeric

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Last week we shared all about WHY we grow ginger and turmeric and this week we wanted to share HOW we grow ginger and turmeric. 

We start with super high quality seed that we purchase from an organic farm in Hawaii. The seeds are essentially small roots and they arrive in the dead of winter. They are very sensitive to the cold, so we plant them into big seed trays right away and place the trays in a warm, dark spot to encourage sprouting. Greg waters them once a week and fusses to make sure the soil conditions are just right. The little shoots eventually pop out of the soil and then it's a waiting game until April or May when they are strong/big enough to be transplanted outside.  

If we planted the sprouts directly into the ground they would likely die during those cold April/May nights. So, instead, we plant them into a 80-foot long high-tunnel that we built specifically for these crops. The high-tunnel (which is essentially a green-house without the heater) allows us to keep the air and soil warm and prevents the plants from being damaged by the wind. They require a lot of attention at this stage, too, with frequent weeding and irrigating and temperature regulating until they are ready to harvest 4 months later. 

Harvest time is usually in early September (or maybe late August...) and it is a busy time on the farm.  When we pull the large plants out of the ground, each ginger/turmeric root is covered in dirt and has tons of smaller fibrous side-shoots (imagine hard pipe-cleaners or tough pieces of spaghetti) all around it. We cut these off and carefully clean the roots so they are ready to bring to market. 

It takes us about half of a year to grow ginger and turmeric and many hours to harvest and clean (which is probably why most farmers don't bother with growing this stuff!). But, for us, growing these plants is a challenge and an opportunity that we relish. It's the only produce we grow and it has a special place in our hearts. 

Your Farmers, 
Greg and Jenney

PS- Next week, we will share how to store fresh ginger and turmeric so that you can use the good stuff year-round (No more buying the dead cured stuff grown overseas from the grocery store.  YAY!).  We are making videos and can't wait to share our best tips and tricks with you soon!

Why We Grow Ginger

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Unlike a lot of area farmers that grow lots of different vegetable crops, we focus our energy on our livestock and just two specialty crops: ginger and turmeric. If you're wondering why we chose to grow these two plants, you are not alone. It seems pretty random. That is, until you hear the backstory. 

Greg was mid-way through his PhD in chemistry when he decided he wanted to follow his calling and become a farmer (If you don't remember this story, click here to learn more. It's a good one!). His initial vision was a diversified organic vegetable and livestock farm. With this in mind, after graduating, he got started working on veggie farms right away. After a few years, when he felt like he had a solid foundation in veggie farming, he began learning more about raising livestock.

When we found our land here in Henrietta, Greg realized that livestock farming was not only what was best suited for our land, but it was really where his heart was. However, something about working in tilled soil, the colors and variation of vegetable production, kept pulling him back to wanting to grow produce. So, he made a new plan. Livestock we would be our focus, but we would choose one or two specialty produce crops to complement the healthy proteins we were growing. 

Now came the the tricky decision figuring out what plants to grow. Like the scientist that he is, Greg researched! We considered rhubarb, basil, sunflowers, ginseng, horseradish, lavender, until he eventually found some journal articles about growing ginger/turmeric in the northeast and something just clicked. Around this same time, a local farmer shared about his success with growing ginger alongside his beef/chicken/veggies, and this gave us the final push to dive in. 

While we absolutely love raising our animals, we are equally passionate about tending to these two incredible plants. They take FOREVER to grow and are very time-intensive to harvest (more on this process coming next week), but the final product is as extraordinary as anything we've ever grown and it keeps us coming back for more year after year. 

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

PS-In case you're wondering.... harvest starts in a few weeks. We will keep you posted when it's ready!

Greg's Moment of Truth

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Greg and I met as seniors at Hamilton College and have basically been inseparable ever since. A year after graduation, we moved to California together so he could start his PhD program in chemistry.  From the outside looking in, he seemed pretty excited about a future career as a chemist.  

When he was a little over 1/2 way through his program though, he called me up to say that he had a realization. It wasn't a spur of the moment conversation. He wanted to be a farmer and made a point to say that he had given this a lot of thought....which in case you haven't already noticed, is Greg's M.O (He is literally the most thoughtful decision maker I've ever known).

I don't think I will ever forget that moment. He had a safe and established career path as a chemist waiting for him, but he wanted to follow his calling and become an organic farmer instead. He wanted me to know that farming was going to be hard but that done right, we could make an honest living AND make a tangible difference in people's lives and on the environment.   

We haven't turned back since. He went on to finish his PhD in record breaking time (4 yrs) knowing that as soon as he finished he would get right down to it learn all he could about organic farming. He went on after graduate school to farm for an additional three years at other organic farms in the Rochester area, all the while doing research and planning for what would eventually become Stonecrop Farm.

Life is so full of twists and turns.  It's amazing to look back at those critical moments when you could have turned left, and instead turned right... not knowing exactly where you would wind up. 

We are just a few weeks away from starting our third summer season farming together and it feels like such a GIGANTIC milestone.  Thank you all for the continued support and encouragement!

Your farmers, 
Greg and Jenney

Joy and Purpose with Pigs? Heck Yeah!

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From the very beginning, when we first decided to raise pork here at Stonecrop Farm, Greg knew we were going to have our own breeding program. Few area farmers do this but it was very important to us and here's why:

1. Breeding here means that we can guarantee the animals we raise are treated humanely from the day they're born, to the day they go to the butcher and are always clean, organic, and healthy. 

2. Breeding here means that we don't need to buy piglets from farms that might not share the same standards that we have when it comes to animal husbandry, rotational grazing, and organic principals. 

3.  Lastly, we wanted to know (with absolute certainty) that the flavor and texture of our pork is exceptional every single time, which you might not get with pigs from different farms with varied genetics and histories. 

Knowing all of this, livestock farmers like us try to select their sows carefully. We consider things like the sow's temperament, their farrowing abilities, mothering instincts, their hardiness to weather extremes, the flavor profile, and the cute-ness factor ( I mean, those spotted piglets are just the best, right?).

We've lucked out so far and wound up with 5 great sows and a feisty boar that are perfect for our systems. Though they are certainly an investment in terms of our energy and resources, we've found that raising pigs this way brings us joy and purpose and I've learned that that feeling is always a good sign that we're on the right path.    

We love hearing from you! What do you think about our breeding program? What does this aspect of our farm mean to you? 

Your Farmers, 
Jenney & Greg
 

"A peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork. What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand is that the two statements in that sentence are connected by an and, and not by a but." 
John Berger, About Looking 1980

Have You Been Wondering About Our Farm's Name?

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It was back in the spring of 2015.  Greg was heading into his third season as an organic veggie farmer. Because farmers usually have too much time on their hands (HA HA!), he decided that in addition to growing veggies, he wanted to raise some livestock on the side. 

At this point, we were relatively new to Rochester. We had moved here just 2 years prior and didn't know many people and this meant that we had absolutely no customer base. I assumed we would start with 20 or 30 turkeys but Greg decided that we would raise 150 turkeys and then added on some chickens and ducks. All the sudden, we had a business and that meant we needed a website and by golly we needed....a NAME! 

I remember I came home from my day-job a few weeks after we purchased our first turkey poults and Greg had something on his mind. As I've said before, he is a thoughtful guy and when he has something to say, you can usually tell. He told me that he had been thinking about our new business and had decided to name it Stonecrop Farm.  

Stonecrop isn't just the name of a pretty succulent. In my family, it signifies so much more. It was the name of my Dad's childhood home, located just 3 miles from where I grew up. It was where my grandfather taught my Dad to care for horses and chickens and passed on his passion for gardening. It was where I learned to swim and where most of our family gatherings took place. Stonecrop could, at most, have been considered a homestead, but it's our closest family connection to farming.

Naming a business is a pretty big deal. It's got to be easy to say, memorable, and meaningful. When it came time to name our farm, I left the decision entirely to Greg and I think he hit the nail on the head. Don't you? 

Your Farmers, 
Greg & Jenney