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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

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

Here's to our dear old Dads

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Do you remember this little mother's day tribute we wrote last year?  Well, this Sunday is Father's Day and we thought this would be the perfect week to introduce you to our Poppas. They are two of the most amazing people on this earth and without their love and support, we'd never be where we are today.  

Farmer Greg writing....
Throughout my lifetime, two of the most important things that I learned from my Dad were integrity and compassion. I don't have an example of a huge moral dilemma where my Dad modeled the pillars of integrity. Growing up, it was in the smaller things, doing what was right for the people he knew, standing up for the students he worked with at RPI, and showing up for my brother and me. He's the kind of person who tells a waitress that she didn't include something on the bill at a restaurant because he doesn't want her to get in trouble or invites international college students to our house for Thanksgiving dinner because he didn't want them to be alone. It really comes down to the everyday moments where he's shown me what compassion and integrity really mean and I'll always consider myself lucky if some of that rubbed off on me. 

Farmer Jenney writing now...
The one word I would use to describe my Dad is adventurous. He is the guy who finds his way out of a pickle, even when the odds are stacked against him. He never takes no for an answer, finding ways to do things that no one in their right mind would ever dream of doing like moving an entire house to a new location or traveling to Ghana without the required visa. I think about the courage I've mustered up at different points in my life and I know it's come directly from my Dad. He's fearless, except for this one aversion he has to being a patient, which is funny, considering how much he adores his work as a primary care doctor. Some of my greatest memories with him as a kid were getting to do rounds with him at the hospital or getting to do home-visits with him, something he still does full time at age 72! Our family means everything to him and he has worked tirelessly to support me and my 5 siblings. He loves this farm and believes in what we're doing and I just adore him for that.

To all the Dads out there, ours included, Happy, Happy Father's Day! You're hitting it out of the park and we love and appreciate you!

Your Farmers, 
Jenney and Greg

Why were we ever so embarrassed to write about this?

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Sometime last year, we shared that we aren't planning on having kids. People have told us that they were super surprised to learn this and we totally get it.  It just isn't what two happily married, crazy in love, 33-year-olds usually say. 

But between you and me, this decision has been one of the most important decisions Greg and I have ever made. And in the spirit of sharing from the heart and really being honest with ourselves and our community, we felt like we wanted to step up and share a little more here.  

So here is our truth. We were at one time super embarrassed to admit that we don't want to have kids. So embarrassed in fact, that after we sent this newsletter, we needed to hibernate without electronic devices for 24 hrs straight.

One of the main reasons why I think we were embarrassed was because we thought people would assume that us not wanting to have kids meant that we don't value parenting and/or that we don't like kids. 

But here's the thing, NOTHING could be further from the truth.  Kids are absolutely amazing (duh) and parenting? Parenting is the single most important job on the planet! You are literally raising the next generation of human beings and that is incredible. YOU are freaking incredible! 

But we've spent a lot of time looking at this from a lot of different angles and somehow, we always come back to the same conclusion. Having children is so right for so many families out there AND it just doesn't seem right for us. 

Luckily, we aren't free floating out in the universe feeling lost and confused about any of this. In fact, I don't think we've ever felt more grounded or more confident that we're on the right path for our lives, and that's because we have this fire in our hearts to build and grow something else. 

That "something else" is being organic livestock farmers who don't just farm sustainability and ethically, but who produce truly exceptional food and help families eat well. This last part feels huge, daunting, scary, exciting, hopeful, and empowering and that's how we know we're right where we should be. This is our way of contributing to our community and to the world and it feels freaking awesome right now. 

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

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