organic farmers

We thought we were toast.

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I remember our first day at the Brighton Market like it was yesterday.  It was almost 3 years ago to the day and we had just purchased our farm a few months prior.  We were thrilled to have been accepted as vendors at the market and we had high hopes that it would be the perfect home-base for our business. 

We hoped to make a great first impression and start out strong, right out of the gate. We planned to bring a little bit of everything that first week. But we had some mishaps along the way including with a family of foxes who settled in on our farm and picked off most of the chickens we had in the fields the week before the market started. 

We planned to bring eggs, too, but the hens were too young and hadn't matured enough to start laying yet. And even though we had pigs on the farm, they were still weeks away from being ready to go to the butcher. So, no pork either.  

So we needed to make do. Which meant that we brought the handful of broiler chickens that had managed to evade the foxes and 12 heritage breed cockerels (which we quickly learned is a type of chicken that no one wants to buy).  And. That. Was. It.

We thought we were toast. But, I bet you can guess what happened next? If you're thinking that we sold out of cockerels, then guess again. No one even knew what those things were!

What happened was that we fell in love with our market. Folks could could tell we were new (I have no idea what tipped them off....) and they made a point to come over to introduce themselves and offer support and encouragement. The shoppers were and kind and caring and were genuinely interested in what we were doing and why we were doing it.  Even the other vendors, like our neighbors and "Market Moms" from Newbury Park Pastries and Pasta Classics, took us under their wings and showed us the ropes. It all just felt right. 

From that very first day onwards, the Brighton Market has been our home. It's where we've come into our own as farmers and it's where our business has flourished. And It's where we get to connect with YOU and serve you with the best of the best, week after week.

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

What happens when farmers go to a bar.

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We go to a local bar and play trivia with friends every now and then. I like the craft beer and crispy fried cauliflower. And Greg is remarkably good at recalling random facts (especially if they're STEM related) and occasionally helps bring our team to victory.  

A few months ago, we were in the midst of a game and a guy walked in and sat down near our group. Within a few seconds, he looked over at Greg and said "Hey! You're the pork guy!"  

I smiled and looked to Greg, wondering how he would respond to being recognized in this way. To my complete and utter delight, he totally embraced it. "Yep, that's me!" He said. "I'm the pork guy," and then reached out his hand to give his bar-mate a hand shake.

Pork is sort of our thing. But in reality, it's only one of our things because over the summertime, we also sell a lot of chicken. 

Now, here's the funny thing that I have to confess about my experience with eating chicken: I'm no expert.  In fact, I was a vegetarian for a very long time before we started our farm and I only eat meat that we raise. So, if I exclude the many chickens I've eaten from our farm, I could say that I haven't eaten chicken since I was a teenager. Not even a bite.

So with that being said, you might not believe me when I say this.... but, our chicken tastes so dang good and I know why. The same incredibly high bar we set for our pork, we also set for our chicken. This means that our chickens are really, truly, absolutely pasture-raised. They're also certified organic so I never have to worry about them being harmful to my body. And because they're butchered on the farm by Greg and me (and are never brought to a processing plant), they're always clean and well-packaged and ready to bring into our kitchen. 

If you can believe it, we're just a week away from our first chicken harvest of 2019. So, we thought it was the perfect moment to share the news. Greg is still your Pork Guy and he plans be for years and years to come! He says that you have his full permission to call him that, even if you bump into him in a bar.  And, if you're interested he can also be your Chicken Guy....

Your Farmers,

Jenney and Greg

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

That one time we bought a house that we actually didn't like

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I always thought the process of buying a house with Greg, the love of my life, would be so exciting. We'd think about all the qualities we wanted in a house and then we'd go house-hunting with our list of must-haves. We'd look at a few houses, find "the one" and put in an offer.

We'd live happily ever after for a while and then do what everyone else seems to do - save up some money and then move on to a new place some years later when we'd be ready to relocate or be itching for an upgrade. 

Well, you can't do this when you're farmers.  Or at least, you can't do it very easily. 

When we purchased this land and this house, we had the success of our farm top of mind. We knew this spot was right for Stonecrop, so we trusted that we could make our personal lives and our marriage and our home-life work here, too. 

And so while we've been tending to these fields and forests and growing the business for the last several years, we've also been working on this old house. Trying to turn a house that we would NEVER have otherwise purchased into the kind of home that we don't ever want to leave.

There's a peace we feel knowing that this is our forever home and that all the investments we're making (like this crazy living room renovation we just started this week!) are worth it.  And there's also this frustration that creeps in every now and then, especially when the roof is leaking or the basement is flooding, where you just wish you had the option to escape. 

But this land, this house, and our lives go hand-in-hand now, and there's so much beauty in that.  

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

The WORST hobby for a farmer

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The first farm that Greg ever worked on did a little of everything. They grew veggies, raised chickens, turkeys, pigs, and beef and they had a dairy cow too. After that, he spent years working on farms that grew only veggies. 

When we were figuring out which direction to go with our own farm, we decided to focus on organic livestock and luckily, that is a decision that we have never once regretted. But for Greg especially, all that veggie-growing knowledge was hard to let go of. 

I remember our first year being full-time here at Stonecrop. We were was sooooo busy planning and building and mowing and moving animals. But somehow, in the midst of this most intense and back-breaking year, we convinced ourselves that we should ALSO plant ourselves a garden. 

I pictured a a little herb garden with a few tomatoes and onions. But as time went by, I realized that Greg had a very different mental picture. His idea of a garden was like a miniature veggie farm and this meant that we were growing almost everything. He plowed up and planted 100-foot long beds with more vegetables than we could ever eat in a year. It was insane. 

The daily tasks of weeding, planting and harvesting were too much, especially with the ridiculous responsibilities we already had starting our farm, and we just couldn't keep up. Which meant that just like that, the veggie garden turned into a giant weedy unproductive mess that made us feel so bad to look at. 

The next year, we made the best decision.  We let go of the silly notion that we could "do it all" and we joined an organic veggie CSA. Joining a CSA has allowed us to have the highest quality food without having to shop around. During this season of life, where we don't have a lot of spare time, the simplicity of having pre-paid for all of our food for the season is THE BEST. 

If you're interested a joining a veggie farm this year, we want to invite you to check out Mud Creek Farm and Deep Root Farm.  They are wonderful farmers and they offer great CSA programs with different pickup options in Rochester.  And if you're interested in becoming a member of our chicken or egg CSA, please click here.  We only have a few spots left and we would hate for you want to miss out. 

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

The Piglet Explosion

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We spend a lot of time thinking about pig pregnancies....

We time the meeting of our sows and boar very carefully so the due dates don't fall on a holiday or during one of our rare vacations.  We track heat schedules (which means the sow's ovulation cycles) for every sow and we have to be ready-to-go for piglet deliveries during every season and during any type of weather. 

My husband is the best farm partner I could have ever asked for and luckily, he keeps us super organized with all of this. He makes these crazy master excel sheets that plan out all of our pig pregnancies a full year in advance so we know exactly when we need to introduce a sow to our boar, and it usually runs pretty smoothly. 

But, let's be honest. We're not perfect over here. And it turns out, we made a liiiiiitle error on a day in early November when we were a little over-tired and overworked getting ready for Thanksgiving turkey time.

We introduced 3 sows to the boar and they all happened to go into heat on the same day.  This means that instead of our usual routine where we have one sow delivering at a time, we have 3 and they are all due on the EXACT SAME DAY! 

We've been calling the highly anticipated event the "piglet explosion" and it's all happening this Sunday! It will be a record for Team Stonecrop so be sure to check out our Instagram and Facebook pages if you want to see pics of our organic pigs Stormy, Cricket and Garfield and their little ones on the way.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

Our Own Fixer Upper

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As you might remember from some previous newsletters, the little yellow house we live in is 175 years old. Like other older homes you've probably seen, this one has had a lot of add-ons over the years and it's left us with some interesting features. Some features that, if we're being totally honest, we're actually not too fond of.

During the warmer months, we stay pretty focused on all the things outside on the farm and try to ignore the projects at the house that aren't too pressing. But during the wintertime, when we have a little more free time on our hands, the indoor projects start calling to us. 

During our first winter here, we took on the kitchen. When we moved in, the kitchen had a big green faux brick wall in the center of the room that stopped 1 foot short of the ceiling, a tiny oven that didn't even fit a roasting pan, and a doorway that was so short that Greg had to duck every time he walked through it so as to avoid bonking his head. Knowing how much we love cooking food, you can imagine the frustration this little space caused us. Gutting and rebuilding the kitchen was a top priority for us during that first winter here. And once it was done, it quickly became our favorite room in the house. 

The bathroom was our winter project 2 years ago. The chair rail, bright blue chipping paint and the sketchy plastic shower surround were just not quite our style. It was winter and we were a little stir crazy, I think. So without much foresight or or any real plan, we started ripping and stripping. Floor to ceiling, it all came down in an afternoon. We learned how to dry wall, how to tile, and how to install a toilet and a bathtub. It took us longer than we expected (imagine going 2+ weeks without a toilet!), but we love the way it turned out in the end. 

Well, as you probably guessed by now, we are gearing up for this year's winter house project and its going to be a doozy. This time, we're tackling the living room and the attic. This is a bigger project than we've ever done before so we've got a team doing a lot of the work for us. But since they're going to be working on the core of the house for 6 weeks and we have NO idea what is behind all of this crazy wall paneling, it's going to be quite the adventure. 

So we're a week or two away from another winter demo-day and we're feeling both excited and terrified. We'd love some advice, if you have any, on how to stay happy and sane during this process....

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

Learning to love the thing I've always been scared of

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I have a confession to make. I've always been a little (maybe more than a little) scared of fat.  Since marrying someone who became a livestock farmer and becoming a farmer myself, I've been curious about where this fear really comes from. 

Growing up, I was extremely body conscious and acutely aware of anything that was perceived as “bad” for you. Back then, the messaging was as clear as day.  Low fat milk, fat free yogurt, margarine, lean low-fat meats or no meats at all were the "good" foods, and then there were the "bad," fatty foods. 

I'm guessing that I was never explicitly told all about these distinctions, or at least I don't remember such a conversation occurring back then.  It was just sorta implied, it was a "truth" I learned from all the messaging and marketing at home, at school, and at grocery stores or restaurants.

But as I'm sure you've noticed, the tide has shifted here. Healthy simple fats from high quality sources are now IN and low-fat and highly processed foods are OUT.   Nowadays, we can hear chefs on the Netflix foodie docu-series say that fat is where the flavor is and actually celebrating fat. And the nutritional gurus and keto enthusiasts saying that fat is where the most important nutrients are.

The full fat yogurt was the first step in my journey to feeling more comfortable with fat. Then came the introduction to our pasture raised ducks (a notoriously fattier meat), and then pork chops with the caramelized fat cap around the edges. All these things challenged that old "truth" of mine and actually made my taste buds do a happy dance. But pork lard, rendered from our own pigs, was at one time, a HUGE stretch for me. 

That is, until Greg started slipping it into basically everything he cooked. From fried eggs in the morning, to weeknight stir-fry dinners, to pie crusts. He started cooking with pork fat almost every day and along the way I learned that cooking with really good fat just tastes so much better.  The giant plastic jugs of organic olive oil shipped in from California started looking a lot less appealing, too. 

So, maybe it’s the flavor, or the nutritional properties, or the obvious environmental reasons, but we've officially made the shift in our household and there’s not turning back now. We still use other oils, too, but when it comes to frying, sautéing, or a fair amount of our baking, pork lard is now our go-to ingredient. 

Cooking with pork fat is not for everyone, that much I know for sure. If this whole concept scares you to death, as it once did for me, don't stress. Take a deep breath, and know that wherever you are in your food journey we support you, too. 

But If you want to go back to your roots and use the ingredient your grandma probably used in all her cooking back in the day, come see us at the Brighton Market this weekend because we're bringing our first batch of perfectly rendered, snow white lard from our pasture raised pigs this week!  

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

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People often ask us about predators on the farm. Especially when they realize we don't keep our animals in barns and they see our piglets roaming the pastures and the laying hens searching for bugs beneath the snow. The truth is, I'm not exactly sure how we do it, but we have a few stories to share that might help answer this question. 

In our first year here on the farm, we had a large family of foxes living across the road. They were cute at first, until the mother fox started traveling across the road daily to teach her kits how to hunt with our laying hens. During our absolutely back-breaking first summer as livestock farmers, we were losing chickens right and left to these guys and it made us feel terrible.

We considered a variety of solutions. Traps, guns, guardian dogs, you name it...none of them felt right. We talked to farmers, we consulted our farm books. And eventually, we realized that the best option wasn't to rid ourselves of this family of foxes but to strengthen the preventative mechanisms we already had in place. 

Enter a stronger electric fence charger that increased the current 6-fold, and voila! Problem solved. My original farming mentor always said that a hot electric fence stops anything on four legs, and he was right. We've never had another fox-related incident on the farm since.

Unfortunately, the hot fences do not stop the two-legged predators that roam the skies. Hawks torment lots of farmers and homesteaders we know and have been known to kill entire flocks. But as you probably guessed by now, we've developed systems to minimize the impact of these predators, too. We keep large animals like the sows nearby the small animals like the chickens and this seems to keep most of the ariel predators away. Along with shelters and hot fences, and we are happy to report that we have only rare run-ins with hawks. 

Knowing this, you can imagine why I was so flabbergasted to see a large hawk tangled up in one of the electric fences this past summer (check out the picture below to see the photo proof!). I approached the bird to get a closer look. Even though I knew full well that he might someday be my greatest nemesis, I resolved to set him free just the same.

I spent a whole hour trying to untwist the fibers that were wrapped around it's leg and wing. Eventually, it became clear that in order to free the bird, I needed to cut the fence. A couple of quick cuts with the knife and the bird was untangled. And, within a few minutes, the hawk was gone soaring through the sky again. 

We've learned that coexisting with predators is part of what it means to be good stewards of our land. Someday, we might need to set a trap or move toward guardian dogs, but for the past three years, we've established a nice working relationship with our local wildlife and we do hope it lasts...

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

Big results from our tiny home office...

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We had a business planning meeting right before New Years Eve and it sorta rocked our world. We started with a deep dive into all of the numbers...

We learned that in 2018, we sold over 70 pigs and scaled up our pig breeding program. We sold 1000 chickens/turkeys and we sold 1,864 dozen eggs. We increased enrollment for our chicken and egg CSA programs, had 51 total people sign-up and received 4.9/5 star customer reviews. We developed new ways of harvesting ginger and turmeric which saved us lots of time and we sold our Thanksgiving turkeys in record speed. We built a barn addition, another high tunnel, and a new egg laying house. We hosted 7 farm tours, showed up right here in our newsletter to connect with you almost every week and managed to never miss a single Brighton Market all year.  Phew. 

Next, came the many hours of soul searching and enterprise budgeting. Boy was that fun!  As we were considering what we wanted to do more of in 2019 (as well as what we wanted to less of), we realized that the aspect of the farm that consistently brings us the most joy and fulfillment was our CSA programs. We just LOVE seeing our members every week and getting to know their families and providing them with the best of the best, week after week. For all of these reasons, we've decided to open the shares up to more people next year (sorry to all the folks who we've had to turn away in the past) and make the experience even more impactful with more bonuses which we will be sure to tell you about later this winter. 

To say YES to more CSA members, we had to say NO to something else. So, we decided to say NO to adding another farmer's market, NO to producing more eggs, and another NO to raising summer turkeys (don't worry, we're still doing T-giving turkeys). These are tough choices for us, since we know they are things that many of our customers enjoyed in the past or have asked us for . But they aren't right for us, at this time in our lives, and there is peace for us in setting these boundaries.  

Speaking of peace...remember when we shared that after 3 years of being in business, we hadn't paid ourselves yet? Well, we spent a lot of time number-crunching during this 8+ hour planning session and are happy to report that this year we will finally start paying Greg for all the incredible work that he does. It won't be tons of money (we're aiming for a teacher's salary) but it will be enough keep our passion going strong and the doors wide open so that we can continue to grow food for your family until we're old and gray.  

2019 is going to be another busy year on the farm, that is for sure. But now that we're done mapping everything out, one thing is crystal clear.  Our mission has always been  "to produce exceptional organic food, to improve the health of our community and to educate our community about sustainable farming" and in ways both big and small, we are doing all of these things. We can't wait to see what 2019 will bring! 

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg