Searching for Runamuk’s forever-farm

After last year’s “Great Farm Move” you’re probably as tired of hearing about my quest for a forever-farm and home for Runamuk as I am tired of searching. Yet when I left Jim’s farmhouse for Paul’s trailer I knew it could only be a temporary fix─that this would only be a stepping stone to what I really want. And what I really want is a place of my own where I can put down roots and grow Runamuk into the farm that I envision in my head. I want security and independence for my family and my livelihood, and I don’t want to be reliant on a man for those things.

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My youngest turned 10 in February.

In this modern age I shouldn’t have to be with a man in order to have a roof over my head, and honestly─I resent the idea altogether. I’m sure it’s the feminist in me; the part of me that says “girls can do anything boys can” and “I don’t need a man to do that for me, I’m capable of doing it myself.”

Yet I can’t afford to even rent an apartment on my own, let alone any kind of property that would be feasible for setting up a farm. I’ve been monitoring craigslist, facebook and the good old Uncle Henry’s for months looking for something that might work for me, but the pricing on even the most modest apartments are out of my reach. Not that an apartment is going to work for Runamuk─with a dog, 3 cats, chickens and rabbits in tow and the very real need to garden in order to feed myself and my kids. I don’t know how any single person can afford to live, let alone get ahead in this world! It really just blows my mind!

It’s about the choices we make…

This is the path I’ve chosen─to do the things I love rather than work 7 days a week. I chose my kids and the bees and the garden, and that comes with some very real life consequences. But I did not choose to live the way I’ve lived this winter. Those closest to me know how I’ve struggled this winter both physically and emotionally. I’m grateful to have a roof over my head, and a place to get out of the weather, but the trailer is old and unfinished and it’s a struggle to keep it warm. There have been so many mornings when I get up to a cold home and get dressed in a hurry so that I can put my coat. On the days when Paul and I are both at work I come home from Johnny’s to 40-degrees inside and a cold stove.

It’s not that I can’t do it. I’ve done it before…when my eldest was just a baby and I was just 24─my ex-husband and I got a trailer for free and put it on his parent’s acreage in Anson and we lived there through the better part of the winter with only a kerosene heater for warmth. We didn’t have plumbing and I was hauling 5 gallon buckets of water up out of an old stone well so that we could flush the toilet. No-it’s not that I can’t do it; it’s the fact that I thought I’d never have to do it again.

What about my boys…?

Originally Paul’s trailer had been a 1-bedroom home, so to provide my boys with a bedroom he sacrificed the living room. That has made it difficult to spend family time with my kids. Now that my eldest has turned 14 I’ve become painfully aware of the limited time I have left with my babies and making the most of that time has become increasingly important to me. This winter I have questioned myself and the choices I’ve made that have brought me here, but I’ve found no good answers. Life is hard.

This is what you get

This is what $300 a month gets you I guess. If you don’t want to work for “the Man” 7 days a week you should be prepared to live in squalor. You should be prepared to commit yourself to a man to ensure you have a place to lay your head at night.

Well I don’t buy that.

I like Paul. We get along alright, but I’m not prepared to commit my body and soul to him, and I’m not content to live this way indefinitely. I want my own place in order to secure my future on my own terms─for Runamuk, for my kids, and for me. So yes, I’m still searching for Runamuk’s forever-farm.

What am I looking for?

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For his 14th birthday my eldest wanted to go bowling!

It doesn’t have to be a farm per-se, just something with enough space that I can garden and plop my critters. I’ll turn it into a farm once I’m there lol. I’m imagining something away from the bustle of town─ideally something private and secluded. I picture a forest of mature trees (I have a thing for gnarly old trees), maybe an old rock wall, and an open field or meadow where I can quickly establish my garden. I need housing for my kids’ sake─a small house, mobile home, cabin or 4-season camp with at least 2 bedrooms. Most of all, this place needs to be within range of Madison and Anson─my home-towns (yes I have 2), the place where my kids go to school, where my family lives, and the community which I serve as a farmer and local activist.

There are a number of small towns in the area that are less populated and have lower tax rates and typically─cheaper land and housing. North Anson, Solon, New Portland, Starks and Industry are all close to the kid’s schools and close to Madison where my local farmers’ market strikes their tents every Sunday during the growing season. I’ve been monitoring the area, watching the listings for rentals and property listings. I’m even enrolled with the Maine Farm Link as a farmer seeking land in Somerset County, and I monitor those listings too─but in the 3 years I’ve been searching there has been precious little in my area that meets my needs as a mom and beginning farmer.

Over the last few years I’ve posted ads repeatedly on Craigslist and with Uncle Henry’s “Local Farmer/Beekeeper ISO Farmland” hoping someone out there might be able to help me connect with the right people to make this happen. It sounds silly maybe─but I actually have had quite a lot of response to those ads: offers to team up with or work for individuals who are starting new farms, or have farms they can no longer manage. Unfortunately those farms have all been far and away from Madison-Anson: they were farms in Houlton, Medford, up in the county─down on the coast or far north. I’ve had to turn them all down. Locally I’ve had offers to use land for growing crops-but lacking in housing, and everyone wants the bees─but what about me?

How will I pay for it?

At the moment I’m not in a position to qualify for a loan from any financial institution. I could however, come up with a down-payment for a lease-to-own opportunity, and I could manage a monthly payment to secure my farm and future.

I’m not looking for a hand-out, I’m just asking for a hand UP. I know it’s a lot to ask─that’s probably the idealistic side of me. I can’t help but believe there’s someone out there who isn’t looking to make a buck, who cares enough about about their land to want to ensure it’s preservation for future generations. Someone who cares enough about the people of this area to help me continue to be here to do the good work I do.

I’ve heard fabled stories of land-owners who saw the potential in an up-and-coming young-blood and made a concession to give that young farmer a leg up: a bargain price on a piece of earth that allowed that farmer to gain ground, take root, and grow his business. I’ve heard the stories, like legend amid the farming community, so I know it does happen occasionally.

And so my search continues. This seemingly never-ending search for a place of my own, where I can grow Runamuk and be at home with my kids without fear of having the rug ripped out from under me by forces beyond my control. If you’re tired of hearing about it, imagine my exhaustion as I continue to plod along down this road. This is farming at it’s best and worst, and land access is the biggest hurdle beginning farmers like me face.

I’m OK

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My eldest, my sister Marie, and I on my son’s 14th birthday.

For now I can tough it out where I’m at. Despite the set-backs and the struggles, Runamuk is growing; I just filed my tax-returns and while Johnny’s paid me some $12k─it was the $7k figure from farming on those documents that I was most proud of. This year is looking to be even better and I’m really excited about it. It’s been a rough winter, but living in squalor has allowed me to gain control of my finances again, and at the very least I have the basic necessities covered for my children.

I have my eye on the ball: the goal of growing Runamuk and my apiary; and I’m on my way toward making my income from farming. If indeed there is no one who can help me gain ground by offering to work with me on the financial aspect, then I will bide my time and continue to put my ducks all in a row so that I can borrow money from a bank to make my dream come true. I will have a place of my own. Runamuk will have a forever-home some day. Of that much I’m sure.

If you or someone you know might be interested in partnering with me to preserve land─not just for farming, but for future generations─please share my story with them.

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