Farm vs lifestyle

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I’m not perfect. Nobody is. I have flaws and weaknesses─many flaws and many weaknesses, lol. This post is about 2 of them; I am a dreamer, and I have a deep love for beautiful things.

Sometimes these weaknesses are a huge asset. Other times they’re a giant hindrance.

Since I was young I dreamed of the picturesque farmhouse. It took on different appearances, but typically it was a New England style farmhouse with an open front porch and an attached barn. There was always pastures of lush rolling grasses, a forest of towering trees, and a stream to splash in. It was the sort of farm the fabled grandmother or grandfather would have, where young children go to spend their summers in the country with family.

And in this dream there were animals─the gamut of livestock from chickens to a horse, and in the forest the mighty moose made his occasional appearance. There were chores…weeding the garden and haying the fields, but there was raspberry lemonade and homemade apple pie too. There were hazy summer evenings spent sitting on the porch watching the fireflies flicker, and glorious rainy days with a pot of hearty chicken soup. And in always in the distance there were mountains on the horizon.

Somehow as I grew up I carried that beautiful dream with me. I’ve fantasied about it, researched and studied it, practiced, worked towards it, and it was that dream which gave rise to Runamuk. An impossibly grand dream─not just a farm; an apiary and pollinator conservation center. (Flaw─right there─I can’t just have a farm…nooooo, I’ve dreamt up this grand “conservation center”.)

Insert Jim’s farm. At a time in my life when I was at my lowest─having just left my husband of 17 years, walked away from one piece of property in search of happiness and love, I was not sure I would have another chance at farming. I wasn’t sure I even deserved it. Lol, I’m still not sure I deserve it, but the Universe brought me to Jim’s farm and in many ways it was my childhood dream come to life. And my grand dreams for Runamuk and this pollinator conservation center aligned perfectly with the property.

jim's barnAnd Jim’s farm is beautiful folks. The classic old rambling farmhouse─it has an attached garage instead of a barn, but there is a big red barn across the road. Acres and acres of pastures sweep down into a valley, and the mountains on the horizon offer a scenic sunset almost every night.

Jim’s farm seduced me. From the instant I learned of the vacant farmhouse─since the first time I drove past the property, spying in person the big stolid barn and the sweeping fields─this farm infatuated me.

lupines at sunsetWhen Willow and I walked down through the pastures, reveling in the greening of the grasses in May, I loved on the land, and in June when the lupines bloomed around the pond, all blue, and pink and purple, as frogs chorused in the night and fireflies blinked a staccato pattern across the meadow, Jim’s farm kissed me senseless.

The cacophonous trilling of crickets and the low drone of insects in August caressed me, excited me, embraced me. I was smitten, and I would do whatever it took to be able to remain in that embrace forever.

Or so I thought.

If you recall, I’ve been working with the Maine Farmland Trust to secure a future here on Jim’s farm and they connected me with an organization called Dirt Capital Partners, who helps farmers acquire farmland. Last week the representative I’ve been communicating with revealed to me that their organization works with farms grossing $100,000 annually.

At first I was gung-ho: hell yeah! it’s totally possible to make that kind of money raising bees! But the more I thought about that figure and what I would have to do to achieve it, the more I realized that I was just not willing to do it. My goal is 100 hives, some small-scale local pollination services, raw honey sold regionally, and beeswax products sold both regionally and online. These endeavors would support my desire to establish pollinator gardens and the non-profit conservation center for public education about pollinators and/or sustainable living. My current business plan has me grossing $36,000 conservatively in 5 years, which is still a small income, but is about average for this area, and covers all of my living and business expenses with some left over. I’m happy with that.

In order for me to make $100,000 a year I’d have to grow to several hundred hives and become a migratory beekeeper, be less hands-on with hives and use more treatments. It would mean giving up my time in the garden and all other activities, including managing my local farmers’ market─to devote myself dawn to dusk throughout the entire season─to bees. And while I love bees and enjoy beekeeping, I equally love my garden, have a commitment to producing my own food for self-sustainability and to serving my local community─that I’m just not willing to give up.

After speaking with farming colleagues at Johnny’s and at market, I came to realize that the number Dirt Capital targeted was not very realistic for a small farmer, especially one in Somerset County, which is a very poor region of Maine. One of my colleagues went so far as to say that if farmers were making that kind of money, more people would be doing it, or would grow old doing it. I couldn’t help but wonder how many farms in Somerset make that kind of money, what that kind of operation might look like….?

And I realized too, if I went that route─scaling up to gross $100,000 annually─I’d be working so much I wouldn’t have time to enjoy Jim’s farm anyway, or time to spend with my kids, which is precious enough as it is. So I could either have my dream farm, or I could have the farm lifestyle. But not both.

Not only that, but I’d be taking on a huge amount of debt to keep it all. I’d have to take a massive mortgage, and then borrow money to renovate the old farmhouse and improve the barn, and with all that debt where would I get the money to invest in Runamuk to build it up to make $100,000 a year?

It’s all too much, and though I’ve worked hard, made sacrifices, gone cold and gone without, sweated and toiled, bled and cried for Jim’s farm, it’s not enough and I’m not willing to sacrifice the lifestyle for the farm. These are exactly the challenges new farmers are facing: access to land, and start-up capital for investments. The good farmland and the established farms with existing infrastructure come with these big price tags that beginning farmers all too often just cannot afford.

So I’ve decided to let Jim’s place go. I’m going to finish out my season here, but after I’ve harvested my crops, I’m going to say goodbye to Jim’s farm and I’m going to walk away. It was an incredibly difficult decision; in many ways I feel as though I will be saying goodbye to a cherished lover. It leaves me filled with uncertainty for the future, but I know that this is the right move for me, for my kids, and for Runamuk. I will always be grateful to the Murphy family for allowing me to be here. I’ll treasure the time I spent on Jim’s farm, this place has allowed me to heal, to get back on my feet, to grow and learn, and I don’t regret any of it for a minute.

I hope those readers who began following along because of their connection to Jim will accept my invitation to continue to follow the Runamuk saga as we move forward. Afterall, I may be leaving Jim’s farm, but Runamuk comes with me. We have 17 hives, a new business partner, and exciting new opportunities on the horizon. This is not the end, merely a fork in the road.

Stay tuned folks!

4 thoughts on “Farm vs lifestyle

  1. Pingback: Self Reliance News Round Up – 2016-07-09 – Wolfe’s Blog

  2. Donna Cyr

    Oh Sam , another heart ache , all will be fine , been following you for awhile now . you will do well young one.

    Reply
  3. Brittany Iafrate

    I know Runamuk will succeed in whatever iteration is meant to be. You are a wonderful human being and that is a fact. This is a slight speed bump, but I really don’t think your beautiful farm dream is unrealistic, you have this chica! <3

    Reply

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