What is the driving force behind the Runamuk farm?

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nature conservation at runamuk

Every creature, plant, and force on Earth has a part to play in the global ecosystem.

“What a hideous plant!  Isn’t it terrific!?”

“Oh my gawd–check out this spider!  Look at all those long legs!”

These are not exclamations of repulsion, but terms of endearment uttered by myself and our family.  We truly love nature.  To us the Earth is a marvel; there is beauty in even the ugliest of plants, the homeliest of animals–even rocks are special because they are connected to the Earth.

For our family, Runamuk is not just a farm.  Keith and I do not want merely to be farmers–we want to be conservationists.  We believe that all of the interconnected systems (weather, pollination, food chains, etc.) that make up the functioning global ecosystem are crucial, and we believe it should all be protected and preserved for future generations.

Why bother with environmental conservation?

Since the start of the industrial revolution, Earths’ landscapes have been intensely affected by human development.  Native grasslands, forests and wetlands in many of the world’s more highly populated areas have all but been eliminated.  Urban development and natural resource exploration is increasing dramatically and continues to significantly impact Earth’s remaining natural landscapes.  These changes have resulted in stresses to numerous species of native plant and animal life, reducing biodiversity, as well as soil, water, and air.

We believe that a healthy ecosystem means a more productive and more profitable farm.  We know that managing a productive farm can be compatible with the needs of wildlife–that promoting soil health will promote lush plant growth, which will provide us with larger, more bountiful crops, while at the same time sequestering carbon and improving the atmosphere.  Conserving wild places on our property allows for the preservation of existing wildlife, and creating new habitat allows that wildlife to flourish and thrive.

We feel it is our moral duty to do be good stewards of this planet, and if we can only affect change on this parcel of property that we’ve been granted, than we will do just that.

Why pollinators?

But why insects?  And why bees?  They sting! 

Native pollinators are facing threats from many sources, including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, intensive farming and ranching practices, and urban development.

Pollinators are a keystone species–much of life on Earth can be linked to the simple act of pollination in one way or another.  Remember the food chains from elementary school?  The insects pollinate the flowers, the birds eat the insects, the fox eats the bird, and the coyote eats the fox.

conservation driving runamukDon’t like coyotes?  How about owls?  The bees pollinate the flowers, flowers turn into fruits (lets say berries, for this example), mice eat the berries, and the owl eats the mouse.

There are an infinite number of scenarios linking wildlife to pollination–one that even includes mankind.

What would we do without flowering plants?  Sure, we’d still have food–wind pollinated crops like oats, corn, and rice.  But the diversity of food–the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that give our bodies the vitamins and minerals that we need–would not be available to us, or to any other creature who depends upon them for survival.

Plants and pollinators have evolved together over the last 130 million years.  It’s an intimate relationship, and when you watch an insect alight upon a flower, delve deeply into it’s petals to sip the rewarding nectar that the plant is offering, and emerge dusted in pollen granules, you’re watching an ancient partnership being carried out.  Without the animal pollinators, flowering plants could not exist.  And without the food that flowering plants provide these animals, many of them could not survive either.  Whether we like them or not, insects are an integral part of life on Earth.

At Runamuk, we know that providing and protecting habitat for pollinators is a benefit to the entire ecosystem.

How will you accomplish pollinator conservation at Runamuk?

We have two-fold approach to establishing pollinator conservation here at the Runamuk Farm and Apiary.  The first part involves providing the basic pollinator habitat components that native pollinators need to thrive.  The second revolves around public education and outreach, teaching others why these insects are so important and how others can help pollinators in their own backyards.

Providing pollinator habitat

Our long term plan for using livestock to reclaim the old pastures is entirely geared toward providing pollinator habitat here at the Runamuk farm, with the added benefit of raising food for our family and generating an income all at the same time.  Once we’ve opened the land up once more, we will plant an assortment of different pastures and wildflower meadows.

Forage crops:  Grassy pastures were once common place in the rural agricultural setting, but have in recent years become less and less common as farming has been abandoned.  Pastures offer native bees a veritable foraging buffet of nectar and pollen sources.  What’s more, many forage crops depend on, or are improved by pollination for seed formation–alfalfa, clovers, and vetch for example, all benefit from pollination.

In addition to providing food for native bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, these forage crops will also provide us with our own livestock feed, reducing our need for off-farm inputs and thus increasing our self-sufficiency and improving the sustainability of the Runamuk farm.

Wildflower meadows:  Pollinators need a succession of blooms offering them food throughout the entire foraging season, from early spring, through the fall.  By planting a selection of native wildflowers, grasses, and flowering shrubs and trees, we can enhance the habitat we’re offering pollinators on the farm.

Taking this concept a step further, we can plant one meadow with plants geared toward native bees, while another can be geared specifically toward butterflies.  We plan to install a series of meadows, all interconnected by a network of trails.

conservation driving runamuk

“Bee Hotel” Just one example of a native bee nesting site. Photo courtesy: Flickr.com

Nesting sites:  With more than 270 native species of bees in Maine, we need to offer a variety of nesting sites to optimize the diversity of pollinators here on the farm.  We plan to utilize as many natural nest sites as possible–such as leaving select dead trees, which beetles will drill into, and later abandon, leaving empty holes that bees use to lay their eggs in.  But we also plan to establish a number of native bee “hotels” and nest boxes.

We’ll also set up nesting boxes for butterflies, bats, and a variety of birds, with the aim of creating a diverse and healthy ecosystem.

Water sources:  Every living creature on the planet needs water, and as part of our permaculture design, water conservation will be worked into our landscape designs.  Our property is already water-rich, even despite the fact that we have neither stream or lake, but by creating swales and ponds, we can collect the water and make better use of it.

Conservation and protection:  Through careful observation and assessment of our property, we can determine which areas on the farm already promote habitat for pollinators.  Those areas we can leave, conserving the population that exists there, and protecting them for future generations of native bees and butterflies.

We can also keep the existing pollinator populations in mind when we decide to manage any area–performing landscaping or site maintenance when it poses the least harm to the insects, such as late in the fall once the brood-rearing and foraging season is over.

Offering education and outreach

The second half of our plan to promote pollinator conservation is involves establishing Runamuk as an education center, and working with the public to teach folks more about bees and pollinators.

The Runamuk Education Center:  Our network of walking and hiking trails will make Runamuk a tourist destination.  Guided or self-guided tours through our various wildflower meadows and forests, skirting grassy pastures and serene ponds, and exploring the barns, offers the public the opportunity to connect with nature, learn more about pollinators, and see what sustainable farming at Runamuk is all about.

With a shady picnic area, and a cordwood constructed building to house our education center, school children can come to the farm on field trips, we can host a variety of workshops related to pollinator conservation or sustainable living, and offer numerous events to promote agritourism on the farm.

Promoting pollinator conservation through public outreach:  Runamuk is already becoming known as a local authority for pollinator conservation.  In the last 4 years I’ve established and become president of the Somerset Beekeepers, been invited to speak at a number of local venues about bees, beekeeping, and pollinator conservation, written for the state beekeeping journal, the county master gardener journal, and created an online presence as a pollinator advocate.  As we continue to grow our farm and work toward our goal of creating an education center, I can only hope that our influence continues to grow with it.

Not just a farm

Because we’ve chosen to incorporate conservation with agriculture, Runamuk is more than your ordinary farm.  Our passion for wildlife and our desire to live sustainably on our land is evident in every aspect of our farm plans, and by focusing our conservation efforts on native pollinators as a keystone species we’re able to do the greatest good.

After 4 years of micro-farming, Runamuk is set to move forward with it’s expansion, keeping wildlife and pollinator conservation at the heart of our mission because we know it is our duty to be good stewards upon this Earth.

 

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