new york

Oopsy Daisy.

Our farm is 56 acres and about 1/2 of it's pasture and 1/2 of it's forest. Through a series of funny experiences this month, we've realized that we've been so focused on recovering our pastures that we've sort of neglected the other half of the farm, the woods. 

Let me give you a little backstory. When we first moved to the farm, the fields were in pretty terrible condition. The land had not been farmed for 20 years so they were overgrown with weeds and brambles as big as a house.

We've literally spent years focusing our energy on revitalizing these pastures and here's why. While veggie farmers are obsessed with growing the best tomatoes or greens, the job of any good livestock farmer is to grow beautiful rich pasture for the animals to graze and forage.  We aim to grow the best dang pasture possible so that our animals get to eat the equivalent of caviar.

We are starting off our 4th season here at Stonecrop and the time and energy we've spent restoring these pastures has paid off.  The brambles are almost gone and the clover, grasses, and all the plants that our animals love to eat are sprouting up everywhere. It literally feels like magic. 

But the other half of our farm, meaning these old wooded forests?  Well, over the last four years, the wind storms have come and gone, and lots of trees have fallen. The grape vines have proliferated and taken their toll. The ash trees that we intended to harvest, are still standing tall.  And the trees we want to protect (like the oaks) are competing for sunlight with the lesser tree varieties. 

In a few weeks (perfect timing for the summertime...ha!), we will have a wood stove. This means we can start making the switch from heating our house mostly with gas, to heating mostly with wood. And this also means that it's about time to start being more intentional about managing our woods. 

This sounded simple enough, so we decided to take a few baby steps forward this week. All we wanted to do was bring some trees up to the house, split them, and stack them so they could start curing and be ready to burn next winter. At the end of the day, we realized that we actually stink at stacking wood. Or at least we did on our first try, since our stack was so hilariously off-balance that after we were done, a stiff wind came and knocked it all down.

It turns out there are lots of things this farm has yet to teach us. Managing our forests is one of them. And all I can say is that's it's a very good thing we both like learning how to do new things!

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

Best of 2018

It's a lot of work for us to write this newsletter on a weekly basis. But despite the time commitment, we love sharing stories and our thoughts from the week here. It's fun, it's cathartic and it's helping our business grow. 

But we had a realization a couple of months ago that another amazing thing about writing this newsletter every week (besides getting to let you in on what it's like to raise organic livestock), is that we're also creating a record of all of the happenings on our farm. These weekly emails are our little legacy and it's kind of amazing to think about what we'll get to remember when we look back at these words and photos 10, 20, 30+ years from now!  

Thinking about this prompted us to go back and look at newsletters from the past year, and there were some doozies.  There was the peculiar story about our pet goose that fell in love with Jenney, the one about the origin of our barn.  There was the time we really put it all out there to share the 3 things we're most embarrassed to admit. There was Jenney's favorite newsletter about how I followed my calling in Greg's Moment of Truth and my most meaningful newsletter of the year when we lost our boar (we said they're cathartic, right?).

I've never had a diary or kept a journal (unlike Jenney who has been journaling since she was 7) but I'm so thrilled that we're building a story book of the life of our farm! 

We would love to hear from you, if you have a few minutes to spare this week. What was the most memorable newsletter for you and why?  What would you like to hear more about and was there anything that you'd like to hear less about?

Here's to finishing up a great year, creating more time for reflection, and moving on to 2019!

Your Farmers, 
Greg & Jenney

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!

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