organic farmers

So....that didn't go as planned.

This past week, we spent some time up in the Adirondacks away from the farm! It was glorious and we have lots of stories to share about this later. But as we were prepping for the trip, we couldn't help but think back on the first vacation we ever took together, back when we were just 22 years old and fresh out of college.

Back then, we were a year into our relationship and our lives were starting to head in different directions. Greg had just been awarded a research fellowship called the Watson and was headed to Africa for a whole YEAR to study how farmers were adapting to environmental change.

Time together was in very short supply, so we planned a camping trip up to the Adirondacks together. We had just 2 days off from our summer jobs and a month to spare before Greg left for the year, and we were hell-bent on making them count.

So, I picked up Greg in the car my Dad let me borrow for the weekend and we strapped a big red canoe on top. We were about two hours into the drive north, holding hands and smiling ear to ear, when the front of the car started smoking and the steering locked up. I pulled over and got that sinking feeling.

The car was towed to a shop and being a Saturday afternoon and all, the mechanics weren't thrilled to see us. They begrudgingly checked things out and gave us the news. It was going to be an expensive repair and the worse part was that it was going to take a while to fix.

You can imagine our disappointment. Sitting at the mechanic's playing cards on a picnic bench next to a busy 4 lane road was not our idea of the perfect getaway. But soon, we'd be living on different continents without any reliable way of even talking to each other so we tried to make the most of it.

We stayed hopeful and joked and laughed. And as the sun started to go down, they broke the news to us. The car wasn't going to be able to fixed until morning which meant that we needed to find a place to stay. Since we couldn't afford a hotel, we asked if we could pop up our tent behind the shop. The mechanics didn't seem to mind our rather strange request.

But, with a little more thought, this didn't sound like a great plan so we started to look elsewhere. Eventually we found ourselves in a little public park with lots of NO CAMPING ALLOWED signs posted everywhere. It wasn't the Adirondacks, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was better than the spot behind the mechanic's and it would do.

So, hidden behind some pine trees and adjacent to a pile of old left-footed shoes some person probably stashed away for a rainy day, we set up our tent, took the picture you can see above and drifted off to sleep.

The next next morning, we had one mission which was to get up to a little lake in the Adirondacks and go camping together. And after we got our car back, we did just that.

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

Fires on the farm

Farmers have very interesting relationships with fires. As you probably already know by now, we're almost all quite fond of burning stuff (cough, we burned a giant brush pile last week).

But tonight I'm not referring to literal flames. Fire is the word Greg and I use to describe the experience of being in chaos. The kind of chaos where the stakes are high and you run the risk of losing something important or costly.

In our minds, there are really two ways of farming. One way is to scatter your energy across a lot of different things and succumb to the idea that fires on the farm is inevitable. They happen, more often than you'd like and you just do your best to react, do some damage control and then cut your losses and move on.

The other way of farming is where you stay organized and focused on just a few things. You do those things really carefully and you spend time (more time than you'd like) anticipating where the fires might happen and you take preventive measures to stop things from blowing up in the first place. This is where we like to live...

But this week, despite all of our best efforts, the farm hit us hard and we were putting out fires left and right. Here's the tally so far: We didn't realize one of our electric fences was damaged and we had what we think was a family of foxes attack our laying hens. This was our first real attack in almost 4 years and it just stinks. Next up was one of our pigs escaped from her paddock and was roaming around the back field solo. She required all sorts of attention and gentle reminders for why she's happier sticking with the herd. Oh and then we had not one, but two major leaks (conjure up a geyser in your mind) in the main water line which required lots of fussing at the MOST inopportune times.

So here's the thing that I know we need to remind ourselves of after a rough week like this. We're striving for that place of perfect balance, where work and life just flows and there aren't ferocious fires that need smothering. But, maybe this magical place does NOT exist on earth.

We will stay true to our goals for this farm and are always striving for absolute excellence. But I think the real growth comes from facing the fires as they come our way and finding the strength to get back up when we're down. We were able to lean on each other and do this this together this week, and I think that's something to celebrate.

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

That time Greg got to be a pig midwife.

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When we were sorting out the plans for our farm, we decided very early on that we wanted to run whats called a "farrow to finish" operation.  This means that the pigs we bring to market or sell as half pigs shares, are almost all born or "farrowed" right here on the farm. And they stay here with us until the day they're "finished" and headed to the butcher.

This means that over the last 4 years, we've helped a lot of pigs deliver here on the farm. Luckily, with nature being as awesome as it is, these things usually go off without a hitch. 

But on a rare occasion, we run into trouble and it can be tricky to figure out what to do because there aren't a lot of resources out there for farmers like us who raise certified organic pigs on pasture and not inside barns.  

Last year, we encountered our first sow "emergency." Our sow Red had been in labor for a few hours. The first piglet was born at 8:00 at night and another around 8:15 and another around 9:00. Everything seemed on track so we stepped away to let her do her thing since we've learned that the sows seem to appreciate some privacy (can you blame them?) 

When we came back several hours later, she was still working hard grunting and repositioning herself, but there were were still only 3 piglets on the ground. She had had big litters in the past and we knew there were more inside. And we had done our research well before this moment, so we knew what was happening... we had ourselves an old fashioned "log-jam."

As Greg swiftly slathered up his arm with soap, I reviewed the anatomy of a pig uterus with him and started directing him on where to go and what to do. I recognized that my years of helping humans have babies as a midwife were definitely kicking in since I was a cool as a cucumber.  

It took a few tries and a lot of effort but eventually, Greg was able to pull out the two piglets that were stuck in the birth canal side by side. The piglets were healthy, much to our surprise, and within a few minutes they found their way to the nipple and got their first taste of colostrum.  And I'll never forget the look of relief in Greg's eyes that night. 

We have more piglets on the way in the next week or two, just in time for our next farm tour on June 16th.  Here's hoping for more smooth deliveries for the sows (and my husband's) sake. 

 Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

PS- If you want more info on the summer farm tours, click here.

The thing that never felt quite right.

If there was ever a thing that never quite felt right to us about living here in Henrietta, it was being so far away from Greg's family. It sounds silly when I hear myself say "so far away" since Albany is just 3-4 hours from here. 

But when you're a farmer, 4 hours away might as well be 4 days away because getting away from a farm a livestock farm for a couple of days is really just that tricky. 

So, you can imagine our excitement and relief when Greg's parents called us up two YEARS ago to tell us that they'd like to move to Rochester to be near us, and then a few months later when they'd put in an offer on a house.

The idea of them moving here always felt so natural, an immediate YES for both of us. Yes, I'd secretly worry about the unannounced drop-ins or the possibility of accidentally seeing my father in law in his underwear again, but who cares? We could lend a hand when they needed the lawn mowed or the dog walked. And we would have family to call when we were in a pinch and needed a little help on the farm.

Well, it turns out it takes a lot of time to pack up 40+ years of stuff and make a move like this. But as of this week, it's official. Rick and Julie became residents of Rush and now they, along with their numerous rescue animals, live just 4 minutes away. 

You might see them around the farm. And you will definitely see them at the Brighton Market. And while they're probably blushing right now at the mention of their names (and their underwear)  in this week's newsletter, if you see them please say hello and welcome them to town. We are SO thrilled to have them as our new neighbors.

Your Farmers
Greg and Jenney

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