rochester farm

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

Is it sketchy that most meat farms don't do this?

In our first couple of years, I remember we'd be sharing farm photos with our community and people seemed all excited. And then it would happen...

Someone would say that they wanted to buy a turkey, but they weren't sure how to feel about it after seeing that picture of the cute baby chicks. Or they loved our pork chops, but they felt funny eating them after meeting the piglets.

Comments like this have always made perfect sense to me, given the disconnect we typically have with our food sources and the secrecy that usually surrounds meat production in the US.

But it would sometimes make us wonder if we were going about all this in the wrong way. Perhaps it'd be wise to back off a little. Maybe keep sharing stories, but not so many photos? Or maybe the opposite?

I haven't always been able to explain WHY, but we've kept at it. We've continued to share the cute baby animal photos and dug in even deeper with farm tours and showing what it's really like being organic livestock farmers, sharing the ups right alongside the downs.

At the end of the day, I think we've always hoped that people would see that there's value in knowing what animals look like, how they were rotated through the pastures, and even how they were processed at the end. Because, if we could widen the community of people who wanted to forge this connection to their food, the world might be a better place.

Thanks to you, our community is growing like gangbusters. We're so thankful to YOU for partnering with us and trusting us to grow your food. It is such a gift to being able to share this work with you, to know you and to feed you and your families. Together, I think we are doing some good in this crazy world.

Your Farmers,
Jenney and Greg

PS- If you want to dig a little deeper and see the farm up close and in person, you should come to our Farm Tour coming up on September 21st! All the details are listed here.

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

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

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

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

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

3 Biggest Mistakes in Our First Year of Business

When we started our business back in 2014, we had tons of heart and Greg had plenty of farming experience...but between the two of us we had absolutely NO business experience.  As a result, we made some serious rookie mistakes in our first year of business. 

Here are our Top 3:

1.  We tried to please everyone. 
You want to come over on a Friday night to pick up eggs? Sure. Want to come by early Sunday morning to see piglets? Absolutely. Tour the farm? Of course! Day or night, weekday or weekend. We kept the doors open to everyone and tried to meet everyone's expectations. While we loved saying YES and seeing our friends and new customers happy (we REALLY did!), it meant that we had to say NO to something else. And because we were stretched so thin in the start-up phase of our business, the things we said no to were usually the reeealllly important stuff like self care and nurturing our marriage.  If we looked a little crazed back then, this is why! 

2. We wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. 
You know that nagging voice that tells you that you need to emulate someone that you think is successful, in order to make it? We had this going on BIG TIME during those first few years. For example, we knew other farms with big restaurant deals, so we thought we needed to have this, too. We noticed that a lot of farms farms sell their stuff at multiple farmers markets, so we thought we needed to get on this train. We were searching for an identity by mimicking someone else's. It took us a couple of years to realize that the energy we spent trying to be like other businesses we admired, actually worked against us. In truth, it stifled our creativity and our self expression.  Oops!  When we started to really dig deep explore what WE actually wanted for our business and our lives, EVERYTHING shifted.  

3. We almost never took days off. 
You know when you love something so much that it feels like you have an endless amount of energy to pursue it? This was us (and still is). We woke up early, stayed up late, worked through meals, and pushed our bodies and minds to the limit during those first couple of years. This intense drive meant that we almost never took real days off during the main farming season. Our bodies gave us some subtle clues that we were overdoing it, but we didn't listen. That is...until Greg lost sensation in his left foot and was referred to a neurosurgeon for possible back surgery for a pinched nerve (fortunately this was unnecessary and it healed on its own).  From that point forward, we made a point to schedule days off every week so that we can rest and do things away from the farm. 

We have compassion for our rookie mistakes because we know that they got us where we are today. But, we are striving for more. Our farm's purpose is to produce exceptional food to improve the health of our community, to practice humane animal husbandry,  and to educate our community about organic farming, but we also need to keep our bodies, our minds and our relationships healthy. We are sooooo happy that we've made so much progress in these areas this year and are always looking at ways to improve even more next year.  

Thanks for sticking with us through the growing pains! 

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