The D Word

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When you're a livestock farmer, you get pretty comfortable with life and death.

The life part is almost always a ton of fun. It doesn't get more exciting than watching a litter of piglets be born or seeing a new batch of day-old chicks arrive in the mail. They are fragile and the work can be tiring, but watching animals grow and helping them thrive is one of the greatest joys we experience here on the farm. 

Death is the thing nobody ever wants talk about, but is an inevitability on a livestock farm. We are always aware that our animals will die and that their bodies and all the energy within them will go on and nourish our community. Losing an animal before it's time is difficult, though, and this is where we've been this week. 

Our boar "Boris" who you might have met at one of our farm tours or seen on our social media had some serious health issues develop, and under the recommendation of our Vet, we had to put him down this week. Burying our boar was difficult and not without conflict, tears and grief. But the experience validated what we've always known deep down inside....that as farmers, we have a special bond with our animals and that it's okay to love them and miss them when they're gone. While some might see this as a weakness, we think it is one of our greatest strengths.  

The deep respect and love we have for our animals serves as a guiding principle on the farm. It helps us do right by the animals every day, even in tough situations like these. We are compassionate, humane livestock farmers. It is who we are, it is what we stand for, and it is part of the legacy we are building here at Stonecrop Farm.

What would the world look like if all farmers cared about their animals this way?
 
Your farmers, 
Greg and Jenney

What they don't tell you when you decide to farm

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When I chose to become a farmer, I don't think anyone told me that the job is really not just about raising animals or growing vegetables. The reality of owning a small business, particularly a farm, is that you have to learn how to do EVERYTHING yourself. 

Let me tell you. Before I became a farmer, I was NEVER comfortable working on engines. In fact, I feared them so much that for a while, I planned to avoid tractors entirely and rely on draft horses instead (remember this newsletter?). Nowadays, after reading a lot of manuals and watching tons of you-tube videos, I've learned that I'm more than capable of doing routine tractor maintenance on the farm!

And while I do have a mild obsession for Excel spreadsheets thanks to my graduate school experiences as a chemist, I also never expected that I would become an accountant. But here I am, with a small business that needs accounting so I've learned how to manage the cash flow and build reallllyy intensive budgets. 

The farm has helped me learn a ton about carpentry too! You might remember this newsletter about us relocating and rebuilding our historic barn last year. With this project, we had a lot of helping hands, including our carpenter friend Eli, who has since moved to Maine. Without him to help, I was nervous about taking on the barn addition this year because I knew I was going to have to do it pretty much solo. I sometimes joked that I was a "barn-building baby bird" who was leaving the nest for the first time, without his mama bird to help him. 

But over the past 2 months, I've set posts, placed beams, fastened down rafters and nailed on siding.  Looking at our barn addition, which is about a week away from completion, I am still amazed at how much I've learned - progressing from my first rickety little pig house during year #1 to building this major barn addition year #3! 

This has all has made me think about what is possible in in this world when we give ourselves the space to learn, to try things out and mess up once in a while.  What have you always wanted to do but been too scared to try? Or just thought it was beyond your abilities? Maybe it's time to give it a shot!

Your farmers, 
Greg and Jenney

How We Got Lucky

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A thoughtful woman you might know (cough, Oprah) says that luck is the meeting of preparation and opportunity.  I think that it is this sort of luck, that lead us to our farm here in Henrietta.  

After getting his pHd in chemistry, Greg spent years farming on other people's organic farms learning everything he could.  During this time, he would often come home from work and start sentences with "when we have our own farm....".  He had done his homework for sure, but hadn't quite found the right opportunity yet. 

He got serious about looking for land back in 2015 and spent many-an-evening searching online farm databases without much luck.  We eventually resorted to driving aimlessly around the Rochester suburbs looking for farms with for-sale signs or unused parcels of land. We often came home overwhelmed and disappointed.  

Then he came across an online listing for 1396 Rush Henrietta Townline Rd.  It was about 60 acres which was what we were aiming for and it was a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Rochester. It had been on the market for 10+ years and the price point was about right. On a whim, Greg went out and looked at it solo first. He was impressed. 

He took me out to see it a few days later. I didn't think much. It didn't look AT ALL like the farm I had envisioned. There wasn't a house, and there weren't any barns, electricity or water. The fields were all overgrown with brambles. I tried to hide my skepticism while we walked around the fields on this particularly, chilly dreary November day. He brought a shovel to check the soil types and measuring tape, just because. He talked about putting the veggie fields here and the turkeys there. It all seemed a little crazy to me, but he seemed so sure of himself. (As you probably already know by know, Greg isn't the type of person to put the cart-before-the horse. He is practical and thoughtful, and his confidence on this day still astounds me!)

When we got back into our car, I half-heartedly joked that we better start looking for houses nearby since I was no longer interested in living in a camper van as we discussed on a cross country road trip a few years before. Looking back, I think that some part of me hoped that a little shot of realism might snap him out of his excitement (not my proudest moment).  But as fate would have it, we started to drive away from the farm land and saw that the little yellow house directly next door was also for sale. 

We immediately pulled off onto the side of the road and looked at the listing online from our iPhones. The photos gave us a general sense of things inside...there was an absurd amount of brown wall paneling, shag carpets and a god-awful kitchen and bathroom...but maybe the bones of the house had some potential, somewhere? The truth was that it was a house that could be lived in and it was next to the land that my husband was obsessed with. So it was a go!

Our offers for the house and the land were accepted a few weeks later. We moved in mid-January and as further evidence of Greg's excitement, he brought home a bunch of pigs and a flock of chickens about 5 few days later. 

We have owned this house and land for almost 3 years now. And, we can't NOT feel the gratitude for everything and everyone that helped us get here. I feel gratitude to Greg for his vision, his dedication, and all the preparation he did to find this spot.  I have gratitude for myself, in being able to find beauty in the things we have and letting go of those we don't. We have gratitude for our bodies that enable us to do the farm work we love so much. We feel gratitude to our families and friends. And most of all, we have gratitude for our customers, who blow us away week after week showing up to market to support us.

Will we be seeing you this Sunday? It'll be a chilly one this week, so dress warmly.

Your farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

The Real Reason We Write This Blog Every Week

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I went for a walk with a friend this week, and after she mentioned how much she was enjoying reading our newsletters she paused and asked me what a lot of people ask us....Isn't it scary?  I sighed and thought OH MY GOD, YES! 

Her question made me realize that even though we might make this look easy, in reality, it's not.  It takes a lot of vulnerability to write these suckers. 

For example, it took us several months to finally summon the courage to send this newsletter called  "3 Things We Are Most Embarrassed to Admit. "  After we pressed send, we were so nervous to read all the responses that poured in that Greg and I went around and turned off every electronic device in the house (Thanks to all who reached out-your kindness and words of encouragement meant the world to us once our adrenaline finally came down!).

There was another time a that I got cold feet a few minutes before we sent this newsletter out. I called a good friend for reassurance and made her listen while I literally read the newsletter out loud to make sure that admitting that my family skinny dips didn't make me look too crazy (Thanks for listening Mariah!).

So, to answer the question you've probably been wondering: Yes, speaking our truth here can be scary for sure!  But, we do it anyways and here's why:

We show up because we have a hunch that the connections we're building through this newsletter are in service to YOU and OUR community. We want our stories - whether they're the ones that are entertaining, silly, embarrassing or messy - to help connect you to food, to farmers, and to farming.

To our detriment, these connections have become rare these days and have gone missing in most of our lives...and we feel called to do the work to build them back up again, even if it means we have the occasional Friday night freak-out. 

Since we are overcoming our fears, we have to think that you can overcome your fears, too. What is that conversation in your life you're scared of having? Or that next step that you're afraid of taking? We're a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit ourselves for. You might find, like we have, that taking that leap of faith and being vulnerable is SO worth it.

Your farmers, 
Greg and Jenney

A perfect pair: a livestock farmer and a vegetarian

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Last week, we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary!

Every year on our anniversary, we spend a little time looking through our wedding photos and re-reading our vows. It's a little thing that has become an important tradition, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the year and remember what is most important to us in life. 

Looking back on our wedding this week, we realized that while our vows were different in a lot of ways - Greg talked about the pillars of our love and I cracked jokes about how I was rethinking my vegetarianism - one thing that was the same across both was the promise to support each other in achieving our biggest dreams.  

This farm is by far, our biggest and craziest dream yet. Becoming farmers and life-partners has taught us so much about love and life and we can't wait to see what another 5 years will bring! 

Your Farmers, 
Greg and Jenney

PS- Any marriage/relationship advice you'd like to share? Hit reply to this email and share them with us. We love hearing from you!  

PPS- I know you're wondering if it's true... and I really was a vegetarian for over 15 yrs before I married Greg!

We have a "situation" here on the farm...

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You know that one spot in your house that drives you nuts every time you think about it? It's the place you put all the random stuff you don't know what to do with. It houses all the things that you probably should have donated or just put in the trash years ago but somehow, you've deluded yourself into thinking that it might come in handy someday.

As you probably already know by now, we are pretty tidy people. We keep our house and our farm pretty organized but...it's time to admit that we have a "situation" on our hands.

We have a section of our farm, that is about a quarter acre in size, (cringe!), that is packed with farm stuff that has been accumulating for the past 3+ years. We have an old chicken coop, a manure spreader, two antique grain-drills that are in disrepair, and lots of construction materials from the barn projects and hoop houses...I could go on. 

What we've realized more fully this year is that there is a cost to keeping this stuff, even if it's just the time and mental energy that we spend thinking about it!  So, we are turning over a new leaf.

We are working to purge the farm this fall of the stuff that we no longer need and are working on finding the right spot for the items that are rarely used but we need to hold onto for one reason or another. 

It's a big job that always finds its way to the bottom of the to-do list  But, we are looking forward to having the mental relief of knowing that this little section of the farm is as clear and purposeful and vibrant as the rest of our farm. 

Anyone else up for a fall cleaning challenge in their own home this year?  

Your Farmers, 
Greg and Jenney

PS-Thanks for another great ginger and turmeric season! We are sold out for the seasons. Please share your favorite ginger/turmeric recipes with us and if you post to social media, don't forget to tag us so we can see your creative cooking masterpieces!  We love seeing you enjoy the food we grow!

How the farm has changed our marriage

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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.