organic farm new york

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!

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!

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