rochester

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

Where the heck is this train taking us?

IMG-Greg Jenney Field spring.jpg

In our newsletter last week, there were a few sentences in there that hit us hard. 

We were talking about how, as farmers, we can't just spend our time thinking about how to grow the best pastures and raise the most exceptional food. Because even though this stuff is fun and important, we're also asking ourselves a bigger question of how can we can make the biggest impact and do the most good for our community.

I'm not sure how that last part felt to you. You might have glossed over it.  You probably didn't give it a second thought. But when we read it out loud to each other (yes we do this countless times before we press the send button), we felt so nervous. 

We felt nervous because we really do dream about expanding the reach of this farm and sharing our knowledge beyond this platform.  Sometimes, we can literally feel the farm blowing us in this direction, encouraging us to press pause and consider what more we can be doing to make a difference for even more people. 

The truth is, we don't know how we're going to get to there. We are planners and perfectionists by nature, but we don't have the answer to this big question hashed out just yet. And while that's scary, for sure, we're grateful for all that we do have.... 

We've got a mission that lights us up every single day. We grow amazing food and help families in Rochester eat well.  And, we have YOU and this incredible community of people cheering us on and supporting us at the Brighton Market and Farm Store every week. 

So how might our little farm and the community we're building here in Henrietta change the world?  Well, we're just going to have to wait and find out the answer to that question together because we've got a lot of exciting ideas waiting in the wings, ready for the right moment to hatch.

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

PS-  Just in case you were worried, none of these wild dreams of ours involve us stopping farming! We intend to continue to raise organic livestock for the long-haul! 

We move mountains to make it to this class every week

You know what people tell us all the time? "Wow.....you guys work so hard!" 

There's a huge part of us that takes these words in as a compliment, of sorts. Turning a plot of overgrown fields full of brambles into an organic livestock farm without any employees has taken a lot. It has not been easy and I think that everyone around us including our families, friends, customers and neighbors know that we've been busting our buns these past few years. 

But putting the farm first and always saying YES to the needs of this farm, has meant that we've had to say NO to a lot of other things.  And to be honest, without us even realizing it was happening, we stopped doing some of the most important stuff for ourselves.

Before we started our farm, we loved going to yoga classes together.  We weren't skilled enough to do the really advanced poses where you contort your body into a pretzel, but we always enjoyed the experience of moving our bodies and building our strength.

But yoga essentially vanished from our lives when the farm came into the picture. And so too did a lot of other hobbies that filled up our cups. Meaning, our non-farmer cups of course. 

This past year, we both agreed to find more space in our lives for our our own fulfillment and we started working hard at NOT working so hard. We started saying NO to requests from others that we would've definitely said yes to in previous years and we started saying yes to the things that really matter to us...like going to a yoga class together every week. (If you can believe it, we are hitting our 4-month mark next week!)

We are farmers and yes, we do work really hard. But we're learning how to create a normal life for ourselves inside of this mighty work. A life where we have hobbies and take care of ourselves,  so that we can be happy farmers AND healthy people when we're old and gray. 

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

PS  It's spring which means I have to tell you that we will have a limited supply of hams this spring. They will be delicious and will only be available by pre-order. If you're interested in a fresh or smoked ham, please hit reply to this email and we will start to coordinate the ordering process with you.

The thing Greg did 200 times last Tuesday

IMG_0116.jpg

The first day of spring was this week and we are feeling it, BIG TIME.  We had our first batch of baby chicks arrive this week and we've been spending lots of time tidying (Marie Kondo style) so that we're ready to take on the busy season ahead. 

One of our biggest accomplishments this week was building another high tunnel (unheated greenhouse) for this year's ginger crop.  Constructing a high tunnel is no easy feat. It involves bending lots of metal poles (200 bends to be exact), driving big posts into the ground with a sledge hammer and then assembling the house. But, thanks to Greg's hard work, except the plastic that will go overtop, we now have a second high tunnel designated to ginger. 

If you're as in love with our ginger as we are, you're probably hoping that the fact that we have two ginger houses now means we're scaling up and planting even more ginger this year...but this is not the case.  

Sure, we'd love to grow in both houses and double our ginger production this year. But when Stonecrop was just a dream - a little idea that Greg and I had and talked about before bed when we were dreaming about our future - we knew that our farm would be certified organic and that no matter what we grow, we know we are still responsible for upholding those organic principles and being good stewards of our land.  

As any organic farmer will tell you, the quality of the food produced on the farm hinges on the health of the soil. For us, this means that we need to rotate the location of our ginger and turmeric plantings (from one house to the other) regularly so that we can keep the soils healthier, the nutrients high, and the pest pressure low. This is part of the rationale for all the rotational grazing we do with our livestock, too!

Organic farming takes a little more time than spraying with chemicals or keeping our animals in barns, and more infrastructure (thus the second high tunnel) but the results sure are glorious.  

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

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

IMG-0097.JPG

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 Piglet Explosion

IMG-Greg Jenney Sows Tour.jpg

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

IMG-greg bone broth.jpg

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

unnamed.jpg

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!

IMG_9400.jpg

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

Taming the Beast

IMG_9075.jpg

We jumped the gun this year and made our New Years resolution back in early December. We've been working at it for the past several weeks and you know what? It's already been a game changer for us.  This was our problem and I'm betting you can relate:  We look at our phones way too much!

We resolved to cut back on screen time and tame the beast. This is what we've learned so far...  

1. There is rarely if ever an email that is so urgent, that I need to respond to it within minutes.  I was in the habit of checking my emails 20+ times a day (first thing in the morning, between farm tasks, or unfortunately, sometimes during farm tasks), and social media at least that many times.  I mean, how many critically time-sensitive messages do I really get that would make this behavior sensible? None.  

2. We are now blocking time in our schedules for email and social media and we are WAY more productive!  Since I'm a pretty calendar driven kind-of-guy, I set my schedule in the beginning of the week (we LOVE google calendar) and block almost every hour of the work day with farm tasks. Instead of checking my email randomly multiple times a day, I am making a point to do this during my designated email time. This small change is taking some time to get used to but it has been awesome!

3. Keeping our phones out of our bedroom improved our quality of sleep. 
For most of our adult lives, we've charged our phones on our bedside tables and used them as alarm clocks. But having them right next to us all night meant that we got into the bad habit of looking at our phones right before bed and right when we woke up. Well, it turns out this behavior does not help our circadian rhythm! We bought an alarm clock (this one which also has sound and light therapy!) and we are now sticklers about keeping the phones out of our bedroom. It took a few days to make the adjustment, but we are getting much more restful sleep!

4. There are apps out there to help us. We've been using an app called Moment which tracks the minutes/hrs of screen time and helps us set goals and track our screen time. Changing the notification settings on the email and social media apps so that we're not alerted when messages come in has been a good improvement too.  

We have HUGE goals for our farm and our lives for 2019, so we know that these changes will be sooo worth it. 

Your Farmers, 
Greg and Jenney