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When journaling is a farm job

Written by Jenney Stringer, photo by Hannah Betts

My favorite thing about the first journal I ever owned wasn’t that it was pink, or had a big unicorn on the cover. The thing that impressed me most was the lock and key that came firmly attached to the binding. The idea of writing my thoughts down and keeping them hidden intrigued me, even at age 9.

As I grew up, I hated reading my work aloud in school at the front of the class and that aversion didn’t go away in college, either. So, you can imagine what a big surprise it is to me that I write stories about my life every week—and then ship them across the Internet for more than 1,200 people to read.

My husband, Greg, and I are farmers in Rochester and we raise certified organic pigs and poultry, mostly. We started Stonecrop Farm in 2016, after Greg (midway through his PhD program in chemistry) realized he wanted to farm. The work, the animals, the customers we serve—we love it all.

Without a blueprint in the early days of our business, we went ahead and started a newsletter. We’d write every month or two, and share a highlight reel. We’d tell the stories that made us look like we had it all together and kept the struggles and the vulnerable stuff to ourselves. Our customers never complained, but it wasn’t a big selling point.

Last winter, we took a small business course and our mentor challenged us to write every week and show up as our true selves. Given the pace of this work and my long-standing feelings about writing, it was a challenge neither Greg nor I was sure we could pull off . I hesitantly volunteered and that’s when the real storytelling began.

The real stories from our life—like how we’ve sometimes struggled to farm together as a couple, handled a long saga with a bully or felt the devastation of unexpectedly needing to put down our boar—aren’t just more interesting. They’re an opportunity to let people know who we are and what we stand for. The stories we share now build trust and true connection, and that’s something special. So much so that the newsletters have become the talk of the town (or at least our community)!

As it did back in my childhood, putting my words out into the world is still terrifying sometimes. But as I watch the email list grow, and consequently our business, I’m grateful to know that there are so many amazing people in our community who want to go beyond just knowing where their food comes from. They want to forge a deeper connection with the food, the farm and the farmers. Helping make this happen every week is one of the most important jobs I have on the farm and surprisingly, I’m learning to love it.

Jenney Stringer owns and operates Stonecrop Farm in Rush with her husband, Greg Hartt. They specialize in pasture-raised meat, eggs and specialty produce. Sign up for her newsletter at stonecropfarmny.com.

Hannah Betts of Lives Styled is a photographer and interior stylist. She lives in Rochester with her husband and their 4-year-old son. Follow her on Instagram @livesstyled.

This article originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Issue of the magazine.

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