Making the most of it as a land-less farmer

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One of the great things about beekeeping is that I can do it from anywhere. Everyone wants beehives on their property, especially if someone else is going to do the work and all the land-owner has to do is sit back and enjoy the bees. I’ve had so many offers for apiary locations that I’ve lost count. Even if I were living in an apartment I could still keep bees, make soap and sell honey. Being a land-less farmer has no bearing on my bee-operation and that fact has allowed Runamuk to persevere these last 7 years.

spring hives 2017Saturday was Madison’s first market day of the 2017 season; Runamuk and I were there with an assortment of handmade beeswax soaps and wildcrafted herbal salves. Jars of dark, dark honey were proudly displayed. This was the first time in 2 years I’ve had honey for sale─and the result of hive losses over the course of the winter.

No, it’s not the apiary that suffers as a result of being a land-less farmer….

At the urging of some of my farming friends, I’ve decided to keep Sundays for myself─a day off to rest and recharge is very important in preventing burn-out. I drove westward to Farmington to spend the afternoon with my sister, taking the scenic route through Starks and Industry on my way over and coming back through New Sharon along the Sandy River. It was gray skies and persistent rain, but it was beautiful to see the landscape as the trees are just beginning to unfurl their leaves. It’s my absolute favorite time of year─as a blushing red and green spreads across the forested hills and mountains where before were only bare brown branches reaching up from the craggy landscape. Broad pastures of farmlands stretch out along the Sandy River were so vibrantly green under the dismal sky that is was impossible to view the day as anything less than simply beautiful.

Despite the glory of spring heartening my soul, as I drove along those winding roads admiring the gnarly old trees along the roadside, the fields and the mountains─breathing in the blossoming new growing season─I had to acknowledge that persistent ache within me. The ache which is always present─always longing for a farm of my own, a home, a place to dig in and finally begin the lifelong process of putting down roots. A pain that is─at times─little more than a dull ache, while other days that pain is so acute that every fibre of my being is in agony. On those days my gut is twisted up inside me and if it weren’t for my heart being squeezed up inside my throat I would surely vomit with the pain of longing for my forever farm.

Again and again I reach for that tantalizing dream: a forest of mature-growth and a broad sweeping meadow tucked away from the world high on a hilltop or mountainside, with rock walls outlining the pastures and bisecting the forests a testament to the land’s long farming legacy. The dwelling itself is less important than the parameters for the landscape, but I usually imagine the classic New England farmhouse, dating back at least to the 1800s OR the more rustic log cabin with a stone hearth and a loft. Outbuildings are important to my operation─space to house my hive equipment, space to work on said equipment, and housing for my flock of chickens and the few other critters I would like to co-habitate with. I can do without electricity, but I do require water and a kitchen that will pass the state’s safety inspection for Home Processing. Those are the bare necessities for me and for Runamuk. Additional perks would include plenty of space in the house, a guest cottage or apartment, an established orchard, a stream or farm-pond and a breath-taking view of Maine’s western mountains.

That’s how I intend my story to play out.

Yet again and again I am thwarted. Tripped up on the obstacles in a female farmers’ path─or my timing is off and I’m reaching too soon or too late. In any regard, I am stuck in this limbo of being a land-less farmer. Leasing the only space I can afford on a beginning farmers’ income.

I’ve tried, but it’s next to impossible to find a rental or a lease on land that also offers housing for myself and my children. I’ve had offers, but so far nothing has been right for me, my family, or for Runamuk. I even approached the FSA─again. Now with another year under my belt and Runamuk’s income grown from $2500 in 2015 to $6044 in 2016, proving my business is growing. But it’s not enough yet to consider investment in a property feasible at this time.

It’s not the end of the world. I’m making the most of my situation as life has taught me to do. A new season is underway rife with possibilities and I will seize the opportunities that come my way and make the most of it. On those days when the pain is too great to bear, when those feelings will not be contained or restrained, I practice active gratitude and take life hour by hour, minute by minute if necessary, hanging on to what I have accomplished as a farmer as though for dear life. For even as a land-less farmer I know that my farm is growing and I have had a positive impact on my community through my work. That thought brings me comfort and the strength to keep on down this rocky path.

And if I need more reassurance, I can just sit and watch these girls coming and going and soon I am filled with renewed fervor and dedication! I may be a land-less farmer, but I’m making the most of it.

Stay tuned! Another season is upon us; check back often to see what this farmer is up to!

Share your thoughts, comments or questions!