organic farmers

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

Why Market was a little awkward last week...

You know Greg. He is scientific and analytical in his thinking, always.

He honed these skills while his was in graduate school for chemistry and then somehow (don't ask me how!) found a way to transfer them over to organic farming. The end result is that he's not only a really organized and thoughtful farmer, but he's also remarkably good at inventory management.

I realize when we're talking about our animals, the words "inventory management" might sound strange or far-removed. We're certainly not anything like a big grocery store. But, a small farm like ours has a lot of careful planning to do to make sure the coolers are well stocked and never over-flowing or empty (gasp!).

Planning for when pigs go to the butcher, for example, is trickier than you'd think when you realize it's all done a whole year in advance and before any of the animals are even pregnant. If we miss the mark and mis-judge customer demand even a little, we're not able to adjust on the fly because we run what's called a "farrow to finish" pig breeding program (you can click here to read more about that).

So, I attribute it to Greg's careful decision making. Or maybe it's a minor miracle. But over the last few years of being in business, we've somehow managed to thread the needle. We've never been so overflowing with pork that we've needed to offer a big sale (this would really hurt our bottom line). And we've also never really run out of pork. That is, until last week...

Contrary to what my brain keeps telling me, Greg reminds me that this is a good thing. "Our farm is growing", he says. "Running out is going to happen from time to time", he explains. "Our customers will all understand" he says. I know in my heart, that he's right.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

The cat's out of the bag...

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Sometimes when everyone else is zigging, you've just got to zag. We've done this a few times in our business, but probably never as dramatically as we did last week when we shared about how we won't be raising any more organic broiler chickens next year.

No matter how sure you are of the decision to zag, there's always a level of doubt that settles into your mind and rattles the nerves. We've definitely had a lot of these rattled moments over these past few weeks as we prepared to let the cat out of the bag.

But your responses last week absolutely blew our mind. You shared in our mutual disappointment (a couple of you even cried!), but then you cheered us on. You told us that you understood and then you encouraged us to keep following our hearts.

We had a lot of fear about sharing this major change with you. But your grace and kindness not only touched our hearts. It gave us peace of mind. Knowing that that we can pivot and that you'll still have our backs is the greatest gift you could ever give us.

We want you to know that we've got your back, too! We've had you top of mind as we put the finishing touches on the Ginger E-book that we'll be releasing in a couple of weeks. The Book includes 5 of our all-time favorite ginger recipes and it's coming to you first next Wednesday. We hope it helps you find some extra inspiration in the kitchen this month.

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

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