farm ny

As graceful as an elephant on ice skates

There are some weeks where Greg and I are like a pair of synchronized swimmers. We have our routines and we know our respective responsibilities on the farm. Working together feels smooth, graceful and productive.

But this past week, we were far from synchronized and anything but graceful.

We were taking on some of the more unglamorous farm tasks that we had put off for while and somewhere along the way...between unpacking the office, doing farm equipment maintenance, and what felt like endless amounts of computer work...frustration bubbled up and we mis-communicated.

The logical part of our brain knows what to do when we're in that place. We've had enough practice to know when our wires get crossed, all we have to do is slow things down and talk it through. A walk around the neighborhood and a yoga class helps us, too.

But this week? It took us 2 whole days to get there (which, for the record, is like 2 days longer than usual!). But, here's the thing we came away from this week thinking about.

The fact that we've got such big goals for this farm (which you can read more about here) means that we're going to have our fair share of flops. If we're not flopping from time to time, it probably means our goals aren't really bold enough.

So here's to all the synchronized swims and the great big belly flops that will come our way on this journey to raising the most exceptional food for our community. And here's to YOU for being so awesome and choosing to support our farm.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

Wait, did I just get rabies?

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We were in our barn last weekend tidying things up and all of a sudden a dark aerial thing starting swooping down around my head. I ducked and let out a little shriek or maybe it was a swear word or two? So me, being me.... I naturally came to the immediate conclusion that we had rabid bats living in the barn. This is NOT going to be fun, I thought. 

Greg, on the other hand, was all smiles. Yes, he was amused by my theatric response to what I thought was a rabid animal, but turned out to be a pair of overly protective barn swallows. But on the inside, he told me, he was smiling because these little barn swallows signified so much more.

From the moment we said YES to becoming the caretakers for this barn, we've done our absolute best to do right by it. Some farmers 200 years ago took down these trees by hand and constructed this barn piece by piece with nothing more than some hammers and chisels. And somehow, through it all, the barn managed to stay mostly intact. 

When it was given to us, we could never have known what bringing it to our farm would entail. But when I think back on all the stress, and sweat, and hard work, and heavy lifting, and pleas for help to friends and family, and all the time and resources we invested in it, I'm amazed that we didn't give up. But one of the things that kept us going was this vision we shared with the previous owner, which was to let the barn be a barn again.   

Seeing our barn in its full glory this summer with those barn swallows protecting the little nest they made above our tool bench showed us that the barn is fulfilling its purpose, not just for us but to our avian friends too. I think Greg is right... there's something beautiful about this. Don't you, too?

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

Something awesome just fell into our lap

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You probably don't know this about us...but we want to sell our land. Well, that's not entirely true. We want to sell part of our land. Sort of. Let us tell you more about this before you start thinking that we've lost our minds. 

We first learned about this opportunity when Greg was doing his first farming apprenticeship in Albany back in the summer 2008. The Farmers were older and they had worked their 160 acre farm for years, raising organic veggies, pigs, beef, and chicken. They were nearing retirement and had to make some tough choices.

They could sell the land to the highest bidder - probably a developer who would likely pay beaucoup bucks and turn the pastures and vegetable fields into a housing development. Or, they could pursue what's called a conservation easement, where they would sell off the development rights to a land trust, fend off the developers indefinitely, and have the peace of mind of knowing their fields, forests and rivers would stay farmland forever. 

Like our farming mentors back in Albany, we can't just think about how to grow the best pastures and raise the most delicious meat, eggs and speciality produce. I mean, that stuff is fun and we obsess about it all day long, but we're also thinking about the big picture. How can we as farmers, make the biggest impact and do the most good for our community? 

In our minds, being good farmers means that we're being good stewards of our land. And for us, that means doing everything we can to make sure that this 56 acre slice of farmland in Henrietta is ready for all the generations of organic farmers that come up behind us. 

This week, we took a major step toward preserving this land.  With the help of the Genesee Land Trust, we received a grant that will allow us to take the first step forward in selling off the development rights of our farm (a lengthy expensive land appraisal process), and we are absolutely thrilled.
 
This will all take time, probably even more than we could imagine, and there are no guarantees. But if there's one thing that farming has taught us, it's that patience is a virtue.

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

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 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

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

Finally, the exhale.

There is this shift that happens every year, sometime in early December and we are juusstt abbouuttt there!

For most of the year, my weekly calendar is chock full of tasks that involve moving animals and maintaining our pastures.  We move the laying hens, the pigs, the turkeys and the chickens so frequently that it would probably make your head spin (this is called rotational grazing and it's one of the reasons our food tastes so delicious). Along with the animals, comes the water lines, the feed totes and all the movable fencing. 

But in the winter, the grazing season is over. The grasses and legumes we've been nurturing in the fields all summer long are dormant.  Grazing these fragile grasses now would damage our pasture and set us behind for next summer. 

So instead, we bring everyone up into winter paddocks closer to the barn and to our house where they will stay until the fields are ready to graze again in the springtime. The laying hens are up behind the barn and will soon be moved into the house our Fairy Godmother helped us build and the pigs are moved into their winter area, which is a series of winter paddocks beneath a long tree line.

Besides a few little loose ends, our farm is officially buttoned up for winter and we can finally exhale. It's not like we don't have work to do (we still have our flock of laying hens and at least 40 pigs on the farm right now with new piglets on the way every couple of months).... but the transition to winter time is complete. We're ready for the 4-foot snow falls and the strong gusts of wind, whenever they make their appearance. 

This also means I get to stay inside more, spend a lot more time cooking new recipes, read plenty of books, and plan for next year... you know how much my I love spreadsheets! 

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