organic pigs

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.

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

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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

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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

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

Uncharted Territory

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We never used to think of ourselves as the type of people who would feel comfortable being in front of a crowd. Despite what you might think, we're both naturally introverted which means that we've spent most of our lives trying to NOT be the center of attention. 

It's why we eloped instead of having a big wedding, why we've chosen non-flashy career paths, and why we still get super nervous and awkward when we're asked to do TV interviews like this one.

But we've learned that when you put your heart and soul into something, like we have with our farm, the passion just naturally wants to find a way out into the world. The Brighton Market is that release for us, this newsletter and our social media are releases, too. And you know what else serves as that outlet?  Our Farm Tours. 

We've hosted a lot of farm tours over the years. Each tour comes with a greater sense of purpose and connection between our farm and the community. And there are always a few surprises, too. Like that one time last summer when we hosted a big customer tour and our boar started mating with one of our sows in front of EVERYONE. It was both awkward and hilarious... 

Anyways, all of this leads to this:  We've never hosted a winter farm tour before, but we would really love to give it a try when we're not in the midst of a polar vortex. For those of you who are willing to get bundled up to see our organic farm during the wintertime, we're ready for ya next weekend.

The weather looks a little more mild next weekend, so we've set the date for February 9th at 10am.  We'll have several herds of pigs to meet, new baby piglets and laying hens to see and 2 very passionate farmers to get to know a little better. 

What do you think? Do you want to join us?  If you're up for it, reply to this email with a YES and if you'd like, share a passion with us so we can get to know you a little better.  We will be sure to send you all the details for the tour and keep you in the loop as our plans unfold. 

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

The D Word

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When you're a livestock farmer, you get pretty comfortable with life and death.

The life part is almost always a ton of fun. It doesn't get more exciting than watching a litter of piglets be born or seeing a new batch of day-old chicks arrive in the mail. They are fragile and the work can be tiring, but watching animals grow and helping them thrive is one of the greatest joys we experience here on the farm. 

Death is the thing nobody ever wants talk about, but is an inevitability on a livestock farm. We are always aware that our animals will die and that their bodies and all the energy within them will go on and nourish our community. Losing an animal before it's time is difficult, though, and this is where we've been this week. 

Our boar "Boris" who you might have met at one of our farm tours or seen on our social media had some serious health issues develop, and under the recommendation of our Vet, we had to put him down this week. Burying our boar was difficult and not without conflict, tears and grief. But the experience validated what we've always known deep down inside....that as farmers, we have a special bond with our animals and that it's okay to love them and miss them when they're gone. While some might see this as a weakness, we think it is one of our greatest strengths.  

The deep respect and love we have for our animals serves as a guiding principle on the farm. It helps us do right by the animals every day, even in tough situations like these. We are compassionate, humane livestock farmers. It is who we are, it is what we stand for, and it is part of the legacy we are building here at Stonecrop Farm.

What would the world look like if all farmers cared about their animals this way?
 
Your farmers, 
Greg and Jenney

What I learn from a cheese-making teamster

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I've learned that one of the most important skills you need to develop as a livestock farmer, is being able to compassionately handle your animals. I didn't grow up farming, so I learned these skill from other farmers I've been lucky enough to meet along the way. 

One of the experiences which helped me understand the basics of working with animals was when I trained with a teamster named Donn Hewes. In case you don't recognize the farm lingo here, a teamster is someone who is farming (or logging) with horses, mules or oxen. 

You see, for a considerable amount of time, I thought our farm was going to be a vegetable farm and that the farm itself would be powered by horses.  There are very few farmers these days that have chosen to rely on horses instead of tractors.  Donn and his wife Maryrose (of Northland Sheep Dairy) are two of them, and lucky for me,  they were starting a Teamster School at their farm and were happy to have me on board as their first student back in 2015.

I lived with Donn and Maryrose for a little over a month, staying in a tiny apartment above the horse barn. Every day, Donn found activities for me to do with the horses and showed me how to communicate with the horses to get farm work done. It was winter-time, so this meant learning how to drive the horses through thick snow, how to haul logs back to the their big wood shed, and how to plow snow, all while keeping the horses stress free. I will never forget the time Jenney came to visit and I even learned how to use horses to pull her car out of a snowbank! They were seemingly simple tasks that I didn't come close to mastering, in part because the relationship and communication between farmer and animal is complex and takes lots of time and practice.

I learned so much from these experiences and I'm certain that they still inform my farming practices today. Through working with horses, I learned how to observe better the natural inclinations of the animals I'm working with and use that knowledge to built smarter farms systems that prevent our animals from experiencing stress. I think back to these same principles that Donn and Maryrose taught me when I work with our chickens, turkeys and pigs every day. 

And even though I'm very confident in our decision to farm with a tractor instead of horses, I still think about hearing the snorts and heavy hoof falls of draft horses on our farm some day...a boy can dream. 😀

Your Farmers, 
Greg & Jenney

Joy and Purpose with Pigs? Heck Yeah!

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From the very beginning, when we first decided to raise pork here at Stonecrop Farm, Greg knew we were going to have our own breeding program. Few area farmers do this but it was very important to us and here's why:

1. Breeding here means that we can guarantee the animals we raise are treated humanely from the day they're born, to the day they go to the butcher and are always clean, organic, and healthy. 

2. Breeding here means that we don't need to buy piglets from farms that might not share the same standards that we have when it comes to animal husbandry, rotational grazing, and organic principals. 

3.  Lastly, we wanted to know (with absolute certainty) that the flavor and texture of our pork is exceptional every single time, which you might not get with pigs from different farms with varied genetics and histories. 

Knowing all of this, livestock farmers like us try to select their sows carefully. We consider things like the sow's temperament, their farrowing abilities, mothering instincts, their hardiness to weather extremes, the flavor profile, and the cute-ness factor ( I mean, those spotted piglets are just the best, right?).

We've lucked out so far and wound up with 5 great sows and a feisty boar that are perfect for our systems. Though they are certainly an investment in terms of our energy and resources, we've found that raising pigs this way brings us joy and purpose and I've learned that that feeling is always a good sign that we're on the right path.    

We love hearing from you! What do you think about our breeding program? What does this aspect of our farm mean to you? 

Your Farmers, 
Jenney & Greg
 

"A peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork. What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand is that the two statements in that sentence are connected by an and, and not by a but." 
John Berger, About Looking 1980