Meeting at the Somerset County Farm Service Agency

Yesterday morning I had a meeting with Janice Ramirez at the Somerset County USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) regarding my loan application, their requirements, and the process involved in government financing of the Swinging Bridge Farm. I’ve visited them 2 or 3 times before, but the representatives there are always patient and kind; they seem to truly want to help farmers─they have resources available that they’d like to see good people using─but as with any program governed by the people for the people, there are many rules and regulations they must abide by.

It’s been a week since I last posted with the news of the Sale Agreement for the property in New Portland. Since then I have spent every spare minute working to prepare my application for the FSA. The documentation required with the FSA loan application is extensive, and I am glad to have 7 years of farming behind me going into this.

Here is a list of the documents I need to have to hand in with the application:

  • Purchase & Sales Agreement wit legal description of the property to be purchased
  • 3 year financial history for my farm business
  • Tax returns for the last 3 years, preferably with a Schedule F
  • Creditor list
  • Listing of properties owned and leased
  • Verification of debts and assets
  • Farm business plan
  • Verification of non-farm income
  • 3-5 year cash flow projections
  • Balance sheet
  • FSA loan application

Note: Go to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency online to read more about  and the different resources, loans, and opportunities this office has available for farmers.

Borrower Training

In addition to this documentation. the FSA also requires applicants to have participated in a Borrower Training course that teaches business management. These courses can sometimes cost the applicant several hundred dollars or more, and can hold up proceedings if you have to wait for a scheduled course.

Fortunately for me, the UME Cooperative Extension has assembled an online course that I have been able to start immediately and work through at my own pace (which is a hurried one, since time is of the essence for Runamuk). The course cost me just $50, and I am working through it with my Somerset County Extension representative, Kathy Hopkins, who was also my instructor for the Master Gardener course I took back in 2011, and whom I’m already familiar with, having previously hosted the Somerset Beekeepers out of the extension office for so many years. Score!

I am so grateful to the fine folks at the Cooperative Extension for putting this course together for people like me to utilize. They’ve saved me hundreds of dollars, and freed me from the constraints of having to travel to a distant location to sit through hours and hours of training, week after week. Instead I can watch the videos at 3 in the morning or between calls at Johnny’s, and work my way through the homework assignments quickly and efficiently.

The FSA Loan Process

Janice reviewed with me what I have so far, pointed out a few things she had questions about, and we put together a list of materials I still need to come up with in order for my application to be complete. The FSA will not accept the application until all documentation is included.

Once I submit the application, along with all of the necessary documents, the FSA agent will review it to determine Eligibility. Janice said she sees no reason why I shouldn’t be eligible, especially since there are funds set aside specifically for disadvantaged farmers, like women. This is essentially the equivalent of a pre-qualification for financing.

After that, the application gets scrutinized by a financial team at the state level to determine “Feasibility” of the proposed project. This is where my loan will be approved─or not─and it all comes down to the numbers. Does Runamuk’s current income warrant investment in real estate? Does the business’s financial history substantiate continued growth? And most importantly, does the financial plan make sense?

In which frugality pays off

I was pleased when Janice, upon reviewing my financials, noted how low my living expenses were listed at. She questioned me about it at first, almost disbelieving that the numbers could possibly be accurate, but I told her about how I’ve been keeping careful records of my expenses for the last 2 years. I have the receipts and logs to prove that we are living frugally in order to keep overhead low, and to free up money for investment in Runamuk; it was a carefully calculated strategy, and one that required much discipline and sacrifice. She seemed very impressed and remarked─not once, but twice─on how “modest” my budget is.

My goal is to have my application submitted to the FSA bright and early Monday morning, though my Borrower Training won’t be completed until Wednesday, when I have scheduled the final meeting with Kathy to review my business plan with her as required. After that it’s out of my hands and all I can do is hope and pray that my best efforts are enough to secure the Swinging Bridge Farm for Runamuk.

Thanks for following along! Check back soon for more of our story as we seek to gain a forever-farm home, and to cultivate a pollinator conservation farm in Maine!

Change of heart! I have a Sale Agreement!

at the orchard

I’d all but given up on the Swinging Bridge Farm, accepting it as being out of my reach and beyond my control. However, sometimes in life, good things come to us when we least expect it.

I was in the process of letting it go─wrapping my head and my heart around the idea that it wasn’t meant to be. I spent yesterday picking myself up once more. I worked in the garden, in the soil and the sun, easing my wounded heart. I made sauce for cabbage rolls to feed my family, and ran some errands in-town. After school let out, my sister Marie came over from Farmington and we went together with my younger son to the apple orchard.

at the orchard
Marie (my sister), myself, and my younger son.

That’s where I was while my realtor, Leah, was frantically trying to reach me with the good news. When I returned home there were messages from Leah in my email and on facebook messenger: “CALL ME!!!” and “Sam! I have good news!!!”

I called Leah and she said the most wonderful words: “Sam─you got it! You got the farm! We’re under contract!”

Reportedly, the Seller went to bed Tuesday night and did not sleep well. She was overwhelmed by the number of offers for the old place, which had belonged to her late husband. She had everyone coming at her and she just needed some time to sort it all out. When she woke the next morning she knew she wanted to help me get my farm and signed the paperwork.

I was overjoyed. I am overjoyed.

This is a HUGE win for Runamuk. And for me. But it’s just the first hurdle.

In my mind I envision the path to farm-ownership as an old fashioned steeplechase─the kind where horses and riders race from one town’s steeple to the next. Along the way runners have to jump streams and low stone walls, duck low-hanging branches and fallen trees on the path. Right before the finish-line there is one last colossal obstacle to overcome.

Getting a Sale Agreement for a property to farm on has been a bigger obstacle than any I’ve encountered thus far, but the barrier looming before me now is the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

When I went in March to see Janice Ramirez at the Somerset County USDA office to get more information about the options available to me as a beginning and female farmer, I learned that the FSA does not consider farm incomes of just a few thousand dollars to warrant property investment. My farm income for 2016 had been just over $6K, which could have been considered as such, so at the time I opted to wait until I was in a stronger financial position to make such an attempt for financing.

I’m expecting to bring in about $14K through Runamuk this year. My cash projections for the last few years show that I have more than doubled my farm income every year for the last 3 years, and indicated that trend continuing over the next 5 years.

I’ve done my homework. Extensively. I make 3-5 year plans and revisit them every January as part of my farm-planning process. I’ve worked toward carefully crafted goals year after year to put myself in a good position to make this happen, and now the time has come to put it to the test.

I am a tumult of emotion.

Largely I am confident this is going to happen─that my time has finally come. Yet there is a part of me that is terrified that I will make this big bold attempt to leap over this last monumental hurdle─only to come up short. I’m afraid I will fail and everything will come crashing down on my head, leaving me bloodied and broken in the ditch. I am afraid of losing the respect and faith my community has placed in me, and that I will never have another opportunity to make another play for a farm of my own.

Still, I have come too far to turn back now. There’s too much at stake to even think about giving up. It’s not just about me anymore. There are people who have helped me along my journey, people who look up to me, and even a few who depend on me─whom I owe this to. There are beginning farmers and women farmers out there who need to see someone succeed so that they can have hope of someday obtaining their own farms.

There are my own aspirations of doing more to help pollinators, to teach the world how we can all be just a little more bee-friendly. And there’s me─I’ve worked to make something of myself, of Runamuk, and I owe it to myself to see this thing through.

So rejoyce with me in this victory. I have a legally binding Sale Agreement for the Swinging Bridge Farm!!!

Now brace yourself, because I have just 45 days to obtain a Letter of Qualification from the FSA for financing. Eeeeeeek!

Check back soon for more stories about my journey to farm-ownership and my mission to cultivate a pollinator conservation farm! Save bees, save the world!

Hesitation over the Swinging Bridge Farm

sbf the house

After 12 days of agonizing back and forth negotiations with the Seller of the Swinging Bridge Farm, I learned last night that they are hesitant to make a commitment with me at this time.

swing bridge farm house
The Swinging Bridge Farm!

When I received the news last night I was at Johnny’s after hours with a few devout supporters who joined me in painting bee-themed magnets that will go out to folks who contribute to the Runamuk FarmRaiser. I’m so glad I was surrounded by friends!

The word was that the Seller is “hesitant to make a commitment today”. Apparently they have multiple offers for the house and the Seller has concerns regarding my financing. My realtor, Leah Watkins, has explained the FSA process several times at length─the fact that the FSA does not do a “pre-qualification”─but they are still requesting to see a Pre-Qualification from me, or information on any grants I’ve applied for.

And the Seller wants to wait and see what the house does on the market; presumably to see if they can get a better offer.

Obviously I can’t get a pre-qualification, and though I’ve looked into grants in the past, I learned quickly that the majority of grants are targeted toward non-profit organizations. Where I am trying to earn my living as a farmer, Runamuk does not qualify for grants.

Leah spoke with the Seller’s realtor, who says the deal is not dead, but the Seller is an aging woman who is being advised by family members not to act too quickly. Perhaps they will reconsider and decide my offer is the best one afterall.

I’m less concerned about myself as a farmer in search of land, than I am concerned for the fate of that piece of local history and the precious ecosystem that exists on that parcel. It would be terrible to see someone come in and devastate such a rich habitat. To me, selling farmland is comparable to re-homing a beloved pet: you want to make sure they get the best home possible.

On paper, Leah says, my offer is expired, so I am free to make an attempt for another property. Unfortunately there’s still nothing else in the area that meets my needs, so I will wait and bide my time. My original plan had been to go to the FSA in March of 2018 to apply, which still leaves 5 months to see what else might come onto the market, and to try again to convince a landowner to enter into a Sale Agreement that I can take with me when I go.

I can’t deny my disappointment.

I see great opportunity for Runamuk at the Swinging Bridge Farm, and I came up a lot on the price in an attempt to secure it. To finally find a Seller who has the financial capacity to even consider the long FSA financing process, only to have them turn down my offer─an offer I had poured everything I have and everything I am into─is disheartening.

Here I am with this plan for a magnificent pollinator conservation farm that will preserve some lucky piece of Maine’s beautiful landscape, some piece of local agricultural history, with the potential to bring tourists from all over the northeast to this economically deprived region of the state─and I can’t even get the Sale Agreement so that I can even begin the process for financing.

From an environmentalist’s standpoint, you’d think landowners who care about their property would be lining up outside my door to persuade me to become steward of their land. From a business perspective, you’d imagine town officials from surrounding areas would be vying for my attention, trying to attract this growing enterprise to their town in hopes of bringing more traffic and income to their community. And yet all I hear are crickets lol.

Yes, it’s disheartening. Yes, it’s frustrating. This is the road beginning farmers like me have to walk in order to succeed. I am not alone; and I will not give up. Thank you for following along!

How is the Cost of Farmland Affecting Beginning Farmers?

farmland

Having spent several years now pouring over real estate listings in search of my own forever farm, I have become painfully aware of the cost of farmland. Farmland prices are rising, and good land for farming is becoming increasingly scarce. This has serious implications for the future of the nation’s farm economy and farm system, but also for America’s agricultural landscape. As the older generation of farmers begins to wane, what will happen to their farmland? How will new farmers access land to grow the food that feeds our country? And how can we preserve farmland for future generations?

Barriers to farming

how is the cost of farmland affecting beginning farmersAccording to a 2009 report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service, beginning farmers face 2 primary obstacles:

  • High start-up costs
  • Lack of available land for purchase/rent

The study also found that beginning farmers tend to earn less income from their farms. They have more off-farm income and are less likely to rent farmland than established farmers. This is because rental agreements are inherently less secure than land-ownership, discouraging investment on the part of the farmer.

A 2011 report on beginning farmers “Building a Future with Farmers” by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition came up with similar results: 78% of respondants rated lack of capital as the biggest obstacle. 68% cited finding affordable land to purchase or landowners willing to make long-term agreements. 40% reported access to credit, including small operating loans.

Respondants found these barriers to be more challenging than business planning or marketing skills, finding good education and training.

The researchers from the National Young Farmers’ Coalition interviewed representatives from 30 different organizations around the country who work with farmers and found that the one issue raised by virtually everyone was access to land. The representatives interviewed pointed to many resources to help with financing and credit, farm production, and business and marketing skills, but few actual resources exist to help new farmers gain access to land.

Note: For more on the challenges beginning farmers face, check out this article from Choices magazine.

Rising farmland prices

rowcover at johnnys selected seeds albion
Crop field at Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ research farm in Albion, Maine.

Studies show that most farmers acquire land by purchasing from a non-relative. Therefore, trends in the farmland market are critical to entry opportunities and the cost of farmland. This explains why beginning farmers are more likely to not own land.

Between 2000 and 2008 farmland values have doubled in the United States. Those values are still rising today, driven by foreign investors and development pressures.

According the the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the average farmland real estate value in  2010 was $2,140 per acre, and in 2017 the price per acre for farmland is $2,728. But the agricultural value of land is dependent upon the quality of it’s soil─not it’s development possibilities─and how much income it can produce for farmers.

Due to historical program eligibility conditions, land used for cash grains such as soybean, corn, and rice, are more likely to have an agricultural base than other types of farmland uses (vegetables, fruit, nuts, livestock, etc.). Owning farmland with a base encourages established farmers to continue farming.

The ERS reports that since 2009, US farmland values have been supported by relatively strong farm earnings fueled by record high commodity prices. When coupled with historically low interest rates, the market is able to support higher land values. This is a boon for those exiting the industry, but just the opposite for those trying to buy in.

Lost farmland

old farmland and barn with wild flowers
1.3 million acres of land once dedicated to the cultivation of food, has either been lost to the Maine woods or to development.

In the 1800’s Maine had 6.5 million acres of open farmland. Everybody farmed then. Maine was such a vast state with homesteads so spread out across the country side that residents had no choice but to grow their own food. Since then a total of 1.3 million (or 22.4%) acres of land once dedicated to the cultivation of food has either been lost to the Maine woods or to development.

The phenomenon has accelerated in recent years. Economists detail how much more valuable that farmland would be if it were rezoned for development. Large tracts of land are being bought up and broken into smaller lots for housing. This has a serious impact on the farming industry,  leaving beginning farmers fewer options when it comes to finding farmland. It also makes securing that land much more difficult.

Additionally, the farmland retirement program, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), encourages established farmers with interest in retiring to place their land in the CRP, rather than exiting farming and selling or renting their land to other producers.

Fewer new farmers

Farmers between the ages of 65 and 74 represent the fastest growing sector of the farming population. According to the USDA’s 2012 Agricultural Census the average age of principal farm operators is 58.3 years old. There are twice as many farmers who are 75 and older, as there are farmers who are 34 and younger.

There can be no doubt that we need the new generation of farmers who are eager to participate in the local food movement. Yet between 1982 and 2007, the percentage of principal operators with fewer than 10 years’ experience dropped from 38% to 26%. The percentage of young farmers fell also, from 16% to 5%, with data from the 2012 Census confirming the continuation of that downward trend. Principal operators with fewer than 10 years’ experience now accounts for 22% of the total, while young farmers represent less than 6%.

The decline of beginning farmers and ranchers has been so sharp that in 2010 US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack urged Congress to consider adding a policy goal of 100,000 new farmers.

Addressing farmland access

In 2007, to explore and address the concerns of farmland access, succession, tenure, and stewardship (FarmLASTS), a national multi-year project was initiated by a collaboration between Land for Good and the University of Vermont. According to the report compiled by FarmLASTS, only 3% of farmland buyers are new farmers. Socially disadvantaged farmers face additional challenges, including cultural and language barriers.

farmers markets increase oppportunities for beginning farmers sign
Farmers’ markets increase opportunities for beginning farmers.

How will the decrease in beginning farmers affect the country? Based on policies, programs, and statements various policy makers have revealed they believe it matters to the country’s long-term food security. Some policy makers have even expressed the hope that beginning farmers will play a role in revitalizing rural communities, halting the long-term population losses the United States is suffering in those rural areas.

However, until we come up with some kind of incentive to encourage the older generation of farmers to work with beginning farmers─to ensure the stewardship of existing farmlands─the current trend is likely to continue.

Certainly it can be a harrowing experience for non-farmer landowners to sell to farmers because of the difference in the cost of farmland verses it’s value for potential development. Not all landowners are in a position to sell their property for anything less than top dollar, yet those who can afford to want to do just that.

Consumers are waking up to the health risks associated with processed foods. They’re realizing the environmental impacts of an industrialized farming system. People are turning to local foods, and farmers’ markets are on the rise across the US. In 1994 there were 1,755 farmers’ markets throughout the States; in 2014 that number had risen to 8,268─an increase of 471% over a 20-year time span.

The growth of local foods offers opportunity for beginning farmers, with farmers’ markets serving as an incubator for new farmers. Local farmers’ markets allow beginning farmers to grow their business and become a part of their community.

Agriculture needs community

The fact remains that fewer beginning farmers are coming into the industry, and not all of them will endure the long hard struggle to farm ownership. Innovative programs such as the Maine Farmland Trust’s “Forever Farms” project, which uses agricultural easements to preserve fertile land for farming, can help to stem the tide of farmland lost. Unfortunately it’s going to take more than a few organizations to rebuild and maintain a farming industry in rural America. Agriculture needs the support of the community. Not only is this industry dependent upon consumer support and the participation of local townsfolk, it thrives on it and in return feeds our country in more ways than one.

The number of beginning farmers entering agriculture is directly related to the cost of farmland and the obstacles new farmers face. At this time there are many questions left unanswered. Until policy is made to bridge the gap─to encourage more people to sell their lands as farmland, and to increase access to financing─it will continue to be a struggle for beginning farmers looking to get into the business.

Negotiations

mushrooms on an apple tree

If you’ve been anxiously awaiting news regarding my bid for the Swinging Bridge Farm, then I am glad for the company. It has been a long week of negotiations and I had hoped to be able to post with cause for celebration, but as of this moment I cannot say if my offer will be accepted by the landowner.

swinging bridge farm old farmhouse
The Swinging Bridge Farm!

The Offer(s)

The initial offer went out on Monday night for the old cape, the 103 acres it sits on, and the adjoining 49 acres that sit across the road. Leah Watkins, my realtor, suggested I write  a Love Letter for the property to accompany my offer, and as you can imagine I poured myself into that piece of writing in hopes of swaying the landowner to work with me.

Admittedly I went in low, thinking of it as the start of a negotiation process. Paul and I discussed it extensively. We considered the fact that this is not prime farmland─or even prime land for development─given that it is so super rocky. The terrain there is also difficult, being largely uphill on the house side, and on the opposite side of the road the land drops down into a gorge where the little stream that runs through the land spreads out to create a marshy wetland. The house itself is in need of modern updates like windows and doors, a chimney liner, and the roof may or may not be leaking. We offered $132.5K on the first go-round.

It was 36+/- hours of suspense to learn the landowner’s response to our offer. She came back with $183.5K, offering to contribute $4,500 towards closing costs and a promise not to harvest any timber between now and closing. A recent appraisal estimated the value of the property at $179K.

Initially my goal had been to keep my mortgage between $100K and $150K. I’d prefer to keep my debt as low as possible so that I can afford to farm full-time. I’m also very conscious of the fact that if the landowner accepts my offer, I still have to convince the FSA that my business proposal is worth taking a risk on. The more money I ask for, the less likely I am to qualify for financing.

Conferring with Leah, we decided to drop the parcel across the road and made an offer of $142.4K for just the house and the 100-acres it sits on.

Another 36 or so hours passed before we received the landowner’s response. They decided they did not want to split the properties up at this time, and offered the entire 150-acres and the house at $173.5K, with $4500 towards closing costs, but asked for more details regarding when we would know whether or not we qualify for the FSA financing.

The USDA’s FSA process is definitely a little confusing. It’s a little backwards. They don’t have a pre-qualification for financing; the farmer has to already have a sale agreement in place before they apply. There is a whole list of documents the farmer must submit, including a business plan, tax documents, cash flow projections, and so much more. It can take 10-45 days to receive a letter of qualification, and there is a backlog within the USDA so the expected wait for closing on a loan with them is currently projected at 5 months.

Leah sent back a detailed explanation of the process involved with USDA financing and why it takes so long. Ultimately I decided that if the landowner will work with my timeline, then I would meet her price for the entire package.

Now I await final confirmation. The suspense is excruciating.

What if this falls through?

mushrooms on an old apple treeI know full well that it’s not the end of the road if this landowner decides that the FSA timeline is too long a wait to close on the sale of the property. If this falls through I will simply continue searching and try again at the next available opportunity. Afterall, the original plan had been to apply with the FSA next March in 2018. I wonder, though, how long it would take me to find another landowner in a position to even consider my timeline; most cannot afford to.

Even with the price being a little higher than I’d intended, $173.5K is still a good number for 150 acres, with livable housing for my kids─in the school district─and near to the community I’ve cultivated through the Madison Farmers’ Market. There are currently 3 other properties available within my target area, which would serve Runamuk well─with actual farm-land and more comfortable housing. However, those properties are priced between $279K and $394K with between 50 and 90 acres, and ultimately they are out of my reach.

It’s the fact that this property is not prime farmland and the run-down, somewhat neglected condition of the house that makes the Swinging Bridge Farm a possibility for me. And especially the landowner’s initial willingness to work with my timeline.

Is it really suitable for pollinators?

Interestingly enough, the Maine Farmland Trust does not consider it farmland at all. We’d been in contact with Nina Young there in hopes of acquiring an easement for the property, but there is very little open land or farmland soils to qualify it for protection. Staff at MFT met to evaluate the potential for an easement project at the Swinging Bridge Farm, determined this property ineligible, and then questioned the property’s suitability for Runamuk at all. In her email, Nina asked:

Is a property with so little open land a good place for pollinators? Can they survive/make honey on forested land alone? Has Sam actually determined how much open land would be ideal for her bees? Maybe this just isn’t the right property to make her plan work?

Compromise

It’s true that I had hoped to find a property with 10 or 20 acres of established pasture where I could cultivate prime bee forage and then maintain it with bee-friendly mowing practices. I had also hoped to have a view of the mountains I love so much. I went into this knowing that there would be compromises along the way. I’ve accepted my position as a beginning farmer, and the ramifications that come with the financial situation that puts me in.

Thank goodness I was called to beekeeping. I have no shortage of offers for apiary sites from locals throughout the community, and indeed, the currant location of the Runamuk apiary at the Hyl-Tun Farm in Starks is a prime spot amid miles of carefully maintained hay pastures.

Bees will travel up to 3 miles from their hives in search of food, so when I am looking at a potential farm property for Runamuk I’m looking at the landscape within a 3 mile radius of the apiary site using Google Earth. New Portland has a deep-seated agricultural community, and there are many old orchards tucked away in the hills, as well as broad pastures that are still hayed every summer. What’s more, there are actually a lot of trees that provide prime forage for pollinators. I’m confident this site will prove to be a good place for my bees, and for the native pollinators that I hope to encourage as well.

If everything goes through and we find ourselves stewards at the Swinging Bridge Farm, Paul and I would work together over the next few years to open up about 10 acres for gardens and pastures. The bulk of the forest would be maintained as mature growth to preserve the wildlife that lives there.

My best shot

Given that I have been searching for a property in my area and price range for years, and that this landowner is willing to work with me and my FSA-timeline I intend to give it my best shot. I see a big opportunity for Runamuk there.

Please consider donating to the Runamuk FarmRaiser gofundme campaign to help raise funds for the Runamuk Pollinator Conservation Farm! Even $5 goes a long way in bringing us closer to our goal! Check back soon for more updates on our progress!

Making an offer

Swinging Bridge Farm was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. We have decided to make an offer on the old place, in hopes of building the Runamuk Conservation Farm there.

On Friday as Paul and I made our way to 619 Middle Road to meet Leah, I couldn’t help feeling that I was being drawn there─like my spirit had been hooked right through my sternum and I was being reeled in like a trout on the end of a fishing line. Something inside me was answering the call of some invisible force and when I stepped out of the car and beheld the old farmhouse I felt a joyous connection of energies as Swinging Bridge Farm welcomed me.

Like something out of a storybook, the Swinging Bridge Farm is the epitome of the classic New England farmhouse. Simple clapboard siding, mercifully unadorned by vinyl siding (eew), with an attached barn and gnarly old apple trees.

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My farm-friendly realtor

Not many realtors would take the time or make the effort to walk a property like this with their client, but mine came dressed in rubber boots, as eager as we were to explore the 100 acres the old house sits on. I’m beginning to think that hiring Leah Watkins was a good move─not only is she enthusiastic about my project, but she has taken it upon herself to meet with the finance specialist at the FSA to learn more about the lending process there, as well as meeting with Nina Young at the Maine Farmland Trust to get an information download on how farming affects a real estate transaction and how─if at all─MFT might be able to help us.

When I said I wanted to make an offer Leah didn’t bat an eye. She told me to write a love letter to the seller regarding the property. Well that much I can certainly manage!

Now Leah is spending her holiday weekend drafting this sale agreement to send to the seller immediately following the holiday. She’s certainly earning her commission!!!

How it works

Financing with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency isn’t the same process as that of a mainstream bank. You don’t go to the FSA for a pre-qualification and then go look for a property in that price range. A farmer has to have a sale agreement in place before the government will even consider financing your project. And believe you me, it’s tough to get a seller to agree to anything without verification that you’ll actually be able to pay for it in the end.

If I can get this sale agreement nailed down, I can then polish my business plan, line up my numbers on my financials, and apply for a loan with the FSA. I’ll be applying on my own as a female farmer.

I thought long and hard about whether or not to do joint-ownership with Paul, my partner now since June of 2016. Ultimately as a mom─and as a woman─having worked on this for so very long, I wanted this one thing for just me, and me alone.

There’s also the fact that there are funds for women as disadvantaged farmers that I wanted to tap into, a certain sense of feminist pride I suppose─that I wanted to do this for women everywhere and hopefully inspire other women to continue their own fight for the right to farm and have their own lands. What’s more, the FSA has a requirement that farmers applying for their programs have a minimum of 3 years experience; with just 1 year of farming under his belt, Paul does not meet their guidelines.

Here are my options:

Plan A (preferred)
Fund 100% through the FSA using their Direct Down Payment loan to pay 20% of the total cost (whatever that figure ends up being). Then finance the remainder with the FSA’s Guaranteed Farm Ownership program.

Plan B
Finance the entire thing with the FSA under their Direct Farm Ownership program.

​It really depends on what Janice at the FSA office says when we talk to her, which ​route she feels stands the best chance for success. It also depends on how much we are able to raise on our own with the FarmRaiser campaign.

Meeting the world halfway

It’s not mine yet, and it may never be; there are still so many hurdles to overcome. But this is the story of a beginning farmer. These are the trials beginning farmers like me are facing every day. I am not a singularity.

The fact that I have struggled along the way to farm ownership does not mean I am a poor business person, lacking skills or planning. On the contrary─I’ve managed to grow my business despite being landless. Beekeeping has done that for me. And so has my commitment to community, along with my own resourcefulness, hard work and determination. These are the traits of a new generation of farmers like me, who are forging their farms in spite of the obstacles.

I have accepted my station as such, and I feel my choice in farmland reflects my willingness to meet the world halfway. This is not prime farmland. The soil is wonderfully rocky, and the farm is all uphill. This is not even prime development land, with deep gorges and high ridges, and so so much rock. The house is in need of modern updates like windows and doors, and there had been a leak at one point that did some damage to the ceiling in the summer wing. By no standards is the place elegant or even comfortable.

Living there will still be rough. Farming there will not be easy. But thankfully I am not a veggie farmer (aside from producing my own food), so I do not require prime farmland. And I am well accustomed to living in rough conditions, so I do not shy away from the challenges this property poses. I’m going to give it my all and see if we can make it happen.

Stay tuned for more updates coming soon! And please consider sharing the link to our FarmRaiser campaign!!!

FarmRaiser launch!

Today the Runamuk FarmRaiser gofundme campaign launches to raise funds for the down-payment on the property that will become the home of Runamuk and the pollinator conservation farm that I have long envisioned. Eeeeeeeeek!

The Man Woman in the Arena

I’m taking a deep breath and putting myself once more in the ring to fight for this dream. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying to be in such a position, at the mercy of so many factors beyond my control, and yet I must give it all I’ve got. Against all odds I was called to beekeeping and pollinator conservation, and against all odds I have grown my farming business even as a landless farmer. I have chosen to commit myself to the same economically depressed region of Maine where I was born and raised, and have bootstrapped my way to this arena. I just need a little help to get there.

Here is the link to the GoFundMe page for the Runamuk FarmRaiser campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/runamukfarmraiser

It’s been a long, hard scrabble, but I’ve built my business slowly and carefully to the point where Runamuk is now generating enough income to warrant investment in real estate. We need a property where we can dig in, plant perennials and begin to cultivate this pollinator haven, putting into action all of the techniques I have learned for bee-friendly farming and leading the way for other farmers to take up a bee-friendly approach to farming too. I

This conservation and demonstration farm will allow Runamuk to host a wide spectrum of workshops, tours with the public, school field trips and family picnics. With winding paths through the gardens it will be a place of revelry for the beauty and wonder of nature. Our approach to farming will inspire others to start their own journey toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

After searching for years, I can’t help but wonder if it is fate at work, or mere serendipity that the Swinging Bridge Farm became available just as the Runamuk FarmRaiser was about to go live.

Later this morning Paul and I will be going to see the old farmhouse in New Portland. I can hardly believe that the sellers have already agreed to my drawn-out timeline for finalizing the sale of the property. Because I am a farmer and am unable to receive financing with a regular bank, I’m working with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. As you can imagine, any government program comes with a lot of hoops to jump through, hurdles to overcome, and it’s a slow process. I know most people don’t have the luxury of waiting so long for a sale to go through.

I’m a bundle of nerves and fairly quivering with excitement as I wait for the time to come to meet what could possibly be my forever-farm. Could it be? Is it she? The one I am destined to love for the rest of my life? The land that I will give myself to, to sweat and bleed over, to love and cry for─til death do us part?

How you can help

  1. FOLLOW: Follow this blog by email. Follow us on facebook, instagram, twitter, linked, or pinterest to follow our journey and learn more about how you can BEE more friendly.
  2. SHARE: Share the blog with friends and family. Share the Runamuk FarmRaiser gofundme link with your networks to help spread the word about my mission to create a pollinator conservation farm. It’s a small thing, but it really makes a big difference and it would mean the world to me. And it’s a FREE way to support Runamuk.
  3. PARTY! If you’re in the state of Maine, and especially if you’re local─come to my FarmRaiser Party on Sunday October 1st! Good food, good beer, good music, and good company. What more could you want? All proceeds go to the Runamuk FarmRaiser campaign.
  4. DONATE: If you can afford to and are inspired to help bees, consider donating to our gofundme campaign. I’ve come up with some great bee-friendly perks to show my appreciation, including bee-themed refrigerator magnets that friends at Johnny’s Selected Seeds are helping me to paint, bumper stickers, honey, reserved spots in future workshops, and more! [paypal-donation]

Runamuk is already a force within the community here in central Maine. But I know I can do more; I’m ready to take this next step and grow my business into this powerhouse of a conservation center. Please join me on this journey; become my brothers and sisters in arms, and take up the fight. Together we can save bees and save the world.

Check out the Runamuk FarmRaiser gofundme page and please consider sharing our story with friends and family!