organic farm

The pigs really misbehaved this week...

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Greg and I spent some time during our farm tour a few weeks ago sharing about how we've tweaked our fencing systems and how grateful we are that they're working so well for us now. And in typical farm fashion, just two weeks later, we had an “incident” where the pig fence failed and all hell broke loose.

Before we tell you what happened, we should say first that during this time of year, we’re rotating our pig herd onto fresh pasture at least once a week. We use portable light-weight fiberglass posts. And then we thread just 2 strands of electrified wire around them.

On moving day, we open up a little segment of fencing and the pigs, who are always eager for fresh grass, walk themselves over to the new paddock. Once they're in, they know the fence is hot and believe it or not, it's usually more than enough to keep the pigs put.

Except, as we learned this past week, on a day where the pasture’s apparently sooo good that the pigs can’t stop eating it and turning it up and over on top of the fence - thereby burying it and making it invisible. And on the day that we also, coincidentally, forgot to include checking the pig fence on the morning rounds.

So this was exactly where we found ourselves last weekend: Greg and I were quietly harvesting one of the last rows of ginger from the high tunnel when 8 of our adventurous pigs came bouldering out of their paddock, through the hedgerow, and scampered up around the upper field. This is literally a farmer's nightmare.

Things we learned:
1. Always, and I mean always, check the fence. A few minutes a day can spare us hours and hours of frustrating work later.
2. The pigs trust us. With a little patience, most of the pigs were happy to follow us down the hill, through the trees and across the pasture to get back into their paddock. Thank god!
3. There will always be a couple of pigs that want to test us in situations like this. They'll hop back and forth into and out of the paddock, or just bolt in the opposite direction. Eventually though, if we're patient enough, they find their way back home, too.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

How your farmers celebrated their wedding anniversary

I'm not sure what most couples like to do for their wedding anniversaries. An adventure somewhere new, a hike to the top of a mountain, a trip to the movies, a fancy dinner out?

These were things Greg and I considered doing on Monday for our 6 year wedding anniversary. But if it says anything about us as people or as a couple, we did farm work instead and we loved every second of it.

We had budgeted time to take the day off on Monday. And we could have easily done any of the things I mentioned earlier. But to be honest, we woke up and got going with things on the farm and realized that this year, we were happiest celebrating the day doing ordinary things, together.

So, we celebrated our anniversary by doing farm chores, rotating animals to fresh pasture, and taking care of a new litter piglets, all while never leaving each others side. We did take some time for our favorite recently re-discovered hobby, tennis, and made sure to continue with the annual tradition we talked about in this newsletter last year, but overall it was just a usual day on the farm.

The day was the best reminder that you don't have go some place or do something grand to find joy and happiness. If you're paying attention, you can find it right where you are. And this week, we did just that.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

The ultimate balancing act

It's not often that farmers leave town during the busy season. But when one of your best friends gets married, you find a way to cram three days of work into one day and leave the farm in the dust. Last weekend, with the help of a very capable farm sitter, we did just that.

We had just about 24 hours to spare. And it turns out this was literally just enough time to get to the summer camp outside of Albany, stay overnight in bunk beds, be present for a beautiful star-lit wedding ceremony and a little bit of the reception and then get back into the car.

I would never recommend a travel plan like this. Driving home at 2am was stressful. In the rush, I probably lost something like an earring or a sock (it's a bad habit) and Greg would've been happier to have had more time to catch up with his elementary-school buds.

But I'm proud that we moved heaven and earth this week to show up for our friends while keeping our commitments to our customers. Despite all the craziness of leaving, including harvesting ginger in the dark at 5am, I know we'd would do it all over again because friendships, especially those that started when you were just 4 years old, are worth it.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

The scary change we're making on the farm.

Before he took the plunge and decided he was going to become an organic farmer, Greg would often talk about farming in "someday" sort of terms.

Midway through his PhD program, he eventually realized that life's just too short to NOT be doing the thing you love and he decided to make the switch and become a farmer.

We're now in the middle of our fourth season here at Stonecrop and I can tell you that without a doubt, this work fills us up more than anything else. You walk around the farm and you can see the dedication pouring out into every crevice of this farm - from the reconstructed barn, through the pastures and all the way back to the pigs. We love this farm and we love this work.

But here's the thing we're dreading to tell you. Ever since we started this farm, we've continued listening to our hearts. It's almost never led us astray. And over the last year, our hearts have been telling us that it's time to make a change on the farm.

We've wrestled with the decision for a while, since this is something that has become such a big part of our business. And more than that, it's something that we're known for in the community. But we know it's true... we don't want to raise broilers (chickens for meat) next year.

We have lots of good reasons for making this decision, one of them being that our fields are not ideal for rotationally grazing these types of birds (our land is very hilly!) and the daily labor of moving the birds, as well as processing these chickens, is too strenuous for our bodies for the long-term. But even if we could overcome all of this, it still wouldn't be right for us.

This means that while we're going to finish out this season strong and keep bringing fresh chickens to market through the middle of October, next year, we can't be your organic chicken farmers anymore.

The upside to all this is that because we're saying no to broiler chickens, we can say yes to other things that we love. This means that we're raising more pigs and expanding our laying flock next year! And we're going to keep on rolling with our ginger and Thanksgiving Turkeys, too.

We know that you might be feeling a little sad about all of this (we are too!). But, we're excited about continuing to make this farm into something special and making decisions that are sustainable for us for the long-term. And that means following our hearts, even when its bringing us into unchartered territory.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

Jenney's Embarrassing Run-In With the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Have you ever heard of the Dunning–Kruger Effect? If the answer is heck no... then we're all in the same boat. We'd never heard of it before this week when we listened to a beautiful episode of This American Life and nearly died of laughter.

So here it is. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a fancy name for the situation we've probably all found ourselves in at some point in our lives. It's where we or someone we know is completely lacking in knowledge about a certain subject, but is unfortunately, 100% oblivious to that lack of knowledge.

Now, I hope I've never been as clueless as the bank robber wearing who wore lemon juice that Ira Glass talks about in this podcast I just mentioned. But I've had my fair share of embarrassing Dunning-Kruger-esque moments in my lifetime.

The example that immediately popped into my mind was when I was 21 years old and studying in Thailand. My host-mother gifted me a sarong to wear to go work the night market with my host-father. She insisted that she help me tie it. And I refused. Cinching a piece of fabric to my waist didn't seem that complicated. I knew exactly what I was doing. When the sarong dropped to my ankles in the middle of the market...I was definitely proved wrong.

All of this talk about ignorance this week led Greg and me to start thinking. What might we missing in our business? Are there some aspects of this newsletter, or our market stand, or our farm store that so obviously need tweaking, that we just can't see?

The answer is probably, YES... which is why we need to ask you for a big favor. Can you take a few minutes and complete this little anonymous survey for us? It'll be the reality check we need this week...

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

It’s only August, but we figured it out

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It seems that each and every year we farm, there's this overarching theme that becomes apparent to us at some point during the year.

The first year was the year of backbreaking effort. We knew, on a practical level, that the best farmers farm smarter, not harder. But we were so drained from the physical labor of starting a farm, that we didn't have much mental space to even think about how to be smart with our time and energy. This meant tons of grueling hard work that actually did result in a back injury for Greg and it was not fun.

The second year was all about the YES. Maybe it was the FOMO (fear of missing out) or just plan optimism. But, we said YES to just about everything and everyone. This meant that we overextended ourselves and took on all sorts things that we didn't have the time or energy for. To my knowledge, I don't think that we ever missed a commitment to a customer, but we had to sacrifice somewhere (self care being the first to go) and this, we soon learned, was not ok.

Last year was our third year farming together, and it was definitely the year of fine-tuning. We finished re-building our 200 year old barn (which you can read about here) and invested a lot of energy into improving our systems so that we could farm smarter and be more efficient with our time and energy. This meant cutting some enterprises all together or rethinking how we did the others. All of this was scary, but freeing.

Now, it might be too early to call it. But we think that this year, the theme is perspective. When the farm throws us a curveball now, we have previous experience to help guide us and farm systems to lean on. We have goals for the future and clear plans for how we're going to get there. And all this means that we're able to surrender more fully into this work and enjoy the experience of being your farmers more than ever before.

I could never go so far as to say this work is easy. It is, in my estimation, one of the hardest jobs on the planet. But It's getting easier year after year and we're grateful for all the lessons we've learned along the way. After all, they've led us to where we are right now...growing exceptional food and helping families in Rochester eat well... and that literally lights our hearts on fire.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

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

Do you remember our Fairy Godmother?

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Do you remember the newsletter from last December where we shared about our Fairy Godmother? You know, that amazing customer of ours who came into our lives and changed it forever? You can click here if you need a recap on this incredible human being...

Well, here's the scoop. The high tunnel (farm lingo for unheated green house) that our Fairy Godmother funded and that Greg built to solve the frozen water issue for our hens last winter worked like a charm!

We started using it in December, and for the remainder of the winter, we didn't have ONE SINGLE DAY without running water for our hens. And not only that, we didn't have a SINGLE frozen egg, which was awesome because frozen eggs used to be a problem for us.

Well, one of the things that you have to do when you're a farmer is learn to repurpose. I think it's safe to say that almost none of the structures on our farm have just one single purpose. And the new hen house (which we lovingly call the Fairy Godmother House) is no exception.

To date, it has served our laying hens all winter long. It has served as a cozy spot for 3 of our sows to give birth in during a winter cold snap. And this week, it's been repurposed again into a brooder, the warm and protected place where our baby turkeys hang out for a few weeks, until they're old enough to go out on pasture!

One of the coolest parts about farming is watching our farm transform season to season. This week, we're marveling at the sight of all those baby turkeys in our Fairy Godmother House.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

3 Things We Learned From Getting Away

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We just spent a week up in the Adirondacks. Every day was a clean slate, with absolutely nothing on the to-do list. It was sublime.

Compare this to the responsibilities of running the farm and it's quite comical, really. Because then, we had to come home. And come home, we did...to a new litter of piglets that surprised us all and came a couple days early. To chickens that needed processing and the big herd of pigs, which needed to be rotated onto new pasture. And to 10+ acres of pasture that needed mowing...

One thing I always gain from stepping away from something I care deeply about is perspective. And there are a few things I think we can see more clearly today, than we could 2 weeks ago. Here are the top 3:

1. The farm is finally at a place where we can step away for a few days and everything will be ok. That is a relief. And it's also a sign that our hard work is paying off.

2. We need to keep exploring ways to lighten the load, so that we can keep doing this work for the next 30 years.

3. We love getting away...but being at our farm with our animals is our happy place. There is truly no place else on earth we'd rather be.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

You won't believe what we're doing this week!

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Debt is a scary thing for anyone. But for farmers, it can be crushing. Whether we're talking about a farmer growing conventional soybeans down the road or farmers like us who raise organic pasture raised livestock, farmers have steep upfront costs.

And because the final product is so dependent on things largely outside of our control, like the weather or predators, farming is also a big gamble. Despite all the incredible planning and effort we put into what we do, with farming, we're never 100% sure what the yield and the profits will be.

Debt is really scary to us and we want to avoid it like the plague. And while we recognize the utility of the loans we've received in our lifetime, we're working super hard to get to a place of being debt free as quickly as possible. Which this month means..... cue the DRUM ROLL....we're paying off our tractor loan 4 YEARS early!!

I'm betting you're wondering why we're prioritizing this over other important things, like maybe hiring an employee or paying ourselves a living wage (in case you're wondering, we still haven't hit our goal of earning a a teacher's salary from the farm yet). But we know that less debt hanging over our heads now, will give us the ability to be financially stable in the years to come and that is critical to the success and the longevity of our farm. And that's where our priorities lie.

So if you've zoned out or if I've bored you to death, please come back to me because here's the thing we absolutely NEEDED to tell you this week. Paying off our tractor loan would not be possible without you. YOU, being the freaking awesome human being that you are. You are the reason why we're able to take this giant step forward in our business. You show up for us, you lift our spirits, you encourage us when we're down, you choose to support this farm and you drive our business forward and we cannot thank you enough for that.

We love you and we want you to know that when we drop off this big check in the mail this week, we'll be thanking YOU for making it all possible.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg