Here we are at another year’s end. This always seems to be an introspective time for me. A time for reflection and review, for letting go of what no longer serves us and for embracing new things into our lives. Before we move on to 2018 and all that a new year brings with it, I’d like to take a moment to review 2017 at Runamuk: what worked and what did not─in hopes that this information helps some other beginning farmer steer his or her own course along the rutted and bumpy dirt road to earning an income from farming.
This year I’ve broken the annual review up into 2 parts to make it easier for readers to digest. This first post is about some of the more personal aspects of farming, while the second post is focused solely on the business side of my operation. It’s scary to share my personal struggles with the world. Yet I feel it’s important to share these things with readers because the issues and events this farmer faces as a person─as a farmer and a mom─have significant impact on the choices I make in the management of Runamuk.
On a Personal Level
I’m going to be frighteningly honest and admit that this year was really tough for me on a personal level. When I made the decision in 2016 to let go of the farm in Starks I was faced with the prospect of moving my entire operation and my family─not for the first time. Not even for the second or third time, I’m embarrassed to admit. I was pretty morose and even a little angry with the Universe about having to give up that property. Now I see that it was the right thing to do; the right thing for the Murphy family and the right thing for that particular farm. The type of operation I want to have was not best suited to that piece of land. That piece of land needs grazing livestock, a farmer who can afford miles of fencing and a new tractor for haying. That’s not me.
These last 18 months have been difficult though. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my crusade and the toll it has taken on my children, my family, and the people around me.
I’m a single mother working part-time at Johnny’s while at the same time committed to working full-time on my farm. I just could not afford the cost of a rental by myself. What’s more, finding a landlord who will allow homesteading or farming on their property is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Paul suggested I take up residence at his place in Norridgewock. Initially I balked at the idea, concerned about the tight living conditions my family would be under in the remodeled old trailer. However there really were few options and the low overhead at Paul’s place has allowed me to gain ground financially. That financial traction was instrumental in my success in gaining the loan approval with the FSA to purchase the Swinging Bridge Farm. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Paul Smith, who has followed Runamuk’s progress since it was young, and has now helped make farm-ownership possible for me.
Yet it’s been really hard for me to live at 26 Goodine’s Way. The trailer is unfinished and cold all winter even with a woodstove to take the chill off. Runamuk is crammed in around us so that I can continue to make soap and salves to keep my farm moving forward, leaving no space for family or friends to congregate. Norridgewock is also outside the district where my children attend school so I spent a lot of time shuttling kids back and forth when I should have been in the field farming.
I struggled during the winter and early spring, sorting through my guilt and anxiety regarding the choices I’d made that had brought me to that precipice. As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I made it a point this year to practice positive thinking and gratitude, being thankful for what I do have and making the most of the here and now. I took extra special care of myself this year.
I got a banjo! I’ve always loved banjo music and have long aspired to play. I couldn’t justify spending money on a musical instrument while I was so focused on building Runamuk’s finances. Instead I posted to facebook offering a trade of honey, soap, salves, eggs─basically anything of value that I had on hand─for a used banjo. I was totally blown away when within 5 minutes of posting someone had offered to hook me up.
Paul Gallione (another Paul, lol!) is a commercial sales representative at Johnny’s Selected Seeds and he brought me his old banjo which had reportedly been living under his bed for the last 20 years. It came complete with a hard case, picks, spare strings and even some sheet music! What a guy!
Having never played any instrument before it’s been a slow process to learn to use my newly acquired banjo. I’ve been inducted into lessons with my friend Ken Hahn, and I can now play a couple of songs without feeling like I’m torturing anyone within earshot. I’m really enjoying it too. I find playing music distracting, soothing and relaxing to play, and I would recommend taking up an instrument to anyone as a form of stress-relief and self-expression. Afterall, music is food for the soul.
Time for Communing With Nature
I feel really good too about doing a lot of hiking this year. I’ve been hiking Maine’s forests and mountains since I was a teenager and have always had an affinity for the high peaks. It’s where I go to reconnect with myself─and to reconnect with my Earth Mother. This year I climbed Bald Mountain in Rangeley, Pleasant Pond Mountain in Caratunk, and Little Bigelow Mountain in Lexington, as well as hiking the Fox Pen Trail with my boys at the Borestone Mountain Audubon Sancturay in Elliotsville.
A Few Good Friends
Through my work at Johnny’s and within the community, I’ve finally found my tribe─people like me (ok, maybe not quite like me lol), who want to eat real food from sources they know and trust, who want to preserve the Earth for future generations, and who value friendship, family, community and camaraderie. Many of my friends also play music, and I find myself surrounded by good friends, good food, and good music on a regular basis. I spent a lot of time with some very good friends this year.
Biggest Lessons Learned (as a Person)
I was almost ready to throw in the towel this spring. I gave serious consideration to whether or not I should continue to farm at all─being a simple homesteader would be so much easier and much less stressful. Paul is kind and thoughtful, eager to be a part of everything Runamuk; he would have liked nothing better than for me to settle with him and farm his sandy, bramble and oak forest; it would have been easy to say “Yes, let’s make a go of it”.
However, following my divorce I’ve come to realize I’m just not comfortable building my relationships on the need for land to farm on. It doesn’t feel good to me. That revelation─in combination with the affects of tight living conditions’ on my family, and the persistent vision I have for Runamuk─ultimately drove me to renew my campaign for a forever-farm, and led to the impending purchase of the Swinging Bridge Farm.
Here are 3 big things I learned in 2017:
- It’s all in the attitude.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Keep moving forward.
Life is What You Make of it
2017 was a monumentous year for me. Not just because I’m finally buying a farm, but because of the attitude I kept even in the face of failure. Sometimes life just happens, but sometimes life is what you make of it. I believe that by focusing on love and living wholeheartedly in the present I was able to rise above, I was able to continue farming even as a landless farmer, with my friends and the support of my community to spur me on. With every cell of my body I am humbled and grateful. Thanks be to the Universe and whatever gods may be.
Check back soon to read Part 2 of my Year-End Review, where I will discuss the business end of Runamuk and the ups and downs my operation faced in 2018! Thanks for following along with my story! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts from Runamuk directly in your in-box, and stay tuned for our continuing saga in 2018! In which Runamuk moves to the Swinging Bridge Farm!