Making progress

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Somehow it’s not hard to believe that it’s already almost mid-September. Perhaps other farmers feel the same sense of urgency that I do–from the moment that bare soil is exposed in the spring til the morning you wake to find the first killing frost upon the ground–there’s a sense of urgency–a sense that time is short and precious.

After 12 years working toward a farmish lifestyle, I think that’s probably the number one thing that I’ve learned. Time is short and we need to make the most of it. It’s a concept that has permeated my entire life.

I knew this was going to be a rough year–all things considered. But Jim Murphy’s farm was my saving grace. I don’t think I need to go on about how much I adore the place, but even miracles take a lot of work and for a few weeks there I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to pull it all off.

A farm–like any other business–takes a while to begin generating any significant amount of income. Runamuk does bring in some funds through sales of eggs and soaps and salves at the Madison Farmers’ Market, as well as through my work writing and editing, and from the workshops and bee-schools I teach, but it is not enough yet to cover the farmers’ living expenses. And with the busy season in the call center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds behind us, my hours were waning, so I took another seasonal job at the North Star Orchard in Madison.

in the big cooler at north star orchard

This is one of three large coolers in the barn at North Star Orchards.

For those who are not local, North Star is a small family owned and operated orchard that produces about 20,000 bushels of apples annually. One-third of those are sold directly to customers either from their farm-store or through pick-your-own activities. The other two-thirds of the apples are sold through Hannaford stores in central and western Maine. The farm sits on a hillside overlooking the Kennebec River and from some vantage points in the orchard there are fabulous views of our western mountains. You can click here to check out their website if you’re curious to learn more.

I could go on about the Dimmock family and what it’s like to work at the orchard–and I will, lol–but not today. That’s not what this post is about. Suffice it to say that it’s interesting work with good people, I’m learning more about yet another type of agriculture and I’m happy with it. Until Runamuk is making enough to sustain itself and me too, I need to work off the farm.

bronze heritage breed turkey

This is Thanksgiving the turkey–he is not named for dinner, but because he has been spared that fate!

We are making progress though. The bills are getting caught up, which is always a good feeling, my bee-school with the SAD 54 adult-education program is a go, and I’ve managed to sell a few spots in various on-farm workshops. Two spots were traded for a number of birds–18 chickens, 4 heritage-breed bronze turkeys, and an african grey goose named Michael. We added these birds to our existing flock in hopes of increasing egg production–there is high demand for locally produced eggs at our farmers’ market and myself and the other farmer there who sells eggs have not been able to satisfy the demand.

With the addition of so many new birds I was compelled to readdress the housing situation for the flock. The hoop-coop was full to capacity after we took in 4 laying hens from a co-worker at Johnny’s, and a prowling skunk had already devoured the 6 little chicks that had come with my broody hen, so the flock was a little wary of the structure–it was time to move them into the barn.

the barn at runamukMoving the birds to the barn meant another construction project, since the old barn is set up for dairy cows, with the wooden stalls and the old metal piping running along the ceiling. The old metal waterers and the old chains the farmer used to tie his cows to while they chewed hay and were milked are still in place. It’s a solid structure with rugged timber beams and a massive sliding barn door; like most old and neglected barns she needs some repairs, some updating, and some paint–but this old barn has lots of life left in her, and loads of history and character.

I bought a few two-by-fours, scavenged doors and hardware from around the farm, and my partner and I proceeded to divide the south-facing milking room into 3 sections simply by erecting walls of chicken wire. The back two “rooms” were suddenly chicken coops with the addition of roosts–saplings we cut from the forest and screwed across the tops of the cow-stalls. We brought the nesting boxes from the hoop-coop and moved our chickens into the barn under the cover of night. The new laying hens, turkeys and the goose arrived about a week later and we moved them into the second coop. I hope that the third space we created will house sheep next winter, but for now it is just storage space.updates to this old barnIt’s going on three weeks now though, since we added the new birds to the mix and while I had expected a drop in production in all of the birds after being moved and integrated–I had hoped production would be in full swing by now and I’m just not seeing the increase in egg-collection that I need. To make matters worse, I’m beginning to suspect that we may have an egg-eater in the flock…something that’s going to have to be dealt with in short order!

birds in the barn

For the winter the flock will have this fenced exercise yard, but the plan is to invest in the electric poultry netting so that they can be on pasture through the summer months.

barn updatesThe birds are happy with the accommodations though–they like the roosts we put in, but they prefer to sleep on the metal dairy piping. They’re getting plenty of treats and goodies from the garden in the way of bugs and veggies–and while the garden has been something of a challenge this year, I’ve still managed to produce some quality vegetables and am working to preserve the harvest. The potatoes have been dug and are curing in the garage before they go into the root cellar for storage; the tomatoes are in the freezer awaiting the day that I will turn them into sauce, and this weekend I will process the green beans.

It may be painstakingly slow, but Runamuk is gaining ground once again and I am pleased with that. The stress of the financial crunch has been addressed, and our attention has turned toward winter preparations–it wont be long before we wake up to that first frost on the ground! Stay tuned folks!

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