Manic March

march beehives

The novelty of winter snow has worn off as the difficulties posed by months of cold and snow have mounted, and I have dubbed this Manic March in light of recent events here on the farm. Winter is always hard─especially in a place like Maine. It’s cold, there’s lots of snow, wind, and ice. Things break, animals get sick, and heating your home is a constant worry. Somehow, knowing that spring will eventually come, gives me strength to go another day.

runamuk apiary
The apiary at Runamuk was completely buried by snow; all you can make out is the brick that sits on top of the hive!

Old Man Winter can GO

I won’t lie…things have been a little rough here at Runamuk lately. Old Man Winter is a guest that has overstayed his welcome, and now it is time for him to pack up his bag of tricks and GO.

My body has taken the brunt of snow removal duties this winter; my elbow and shoulder joints have begun to protest the shoveling fairly loudly, and I’ve strained that same muscle in my upper right arm that I’ve torn twice in past winters doing the same kind of work.

If it weren’t for my kindly neighbors, I would be in much worse shape however─and I would probably be parking on the road. Mike has come across the road with his snowblower a few times this winter (whenever I get in a little over my head) to clear my driveway for me. What takes me hours to shovel, he is able to move with his snowblower in 20 minutes. It’s sick.

I will have my a working snowblower before next winter, I can promise you that!

Sick Sheep

Winter is hard on livestock, too. Miracle, the sheep, has been suffering from a cold for a couple of months, which is not unusual for sheep (apparently they’re prone to respiratory illnesses), but her breathing became more and more labored and ragged, and though she was eating fine I could see that something was not right, so I reached out to the Blauvelts, my friends from 4H who gave me the sheep. Emily instructed me to take Miracle’s temperature; she said normal temperature for sheep is between 100.9 and 103.8.

……… you know how to check a sheep’s temperature?


I had never taken a sheep’s temperature before, so I went and bought a thermometer that I could designate specifically for the sheep, and I labeled it as such (lest there be any unfortunate confusion later on). Then I watched this video on YouTube to educate myself:

In order to be able to perform this task on my own, without help, I pounded a fence staple into the back wall of the sheep-shed, put a halter on Miracle, and tied her there. I was able to use my body to pin her against the wall, effectively holding her in place without hurting her, so that I could take her temperature. rectally. (have you thanked a farmer today?)

Miracle’s temperature was 104.7, which is not super high for a sheep, but she definitely wasn’t feeling well. I reached back out to the Blauvelts, and they came later that day to the farm to see Miracle and to help me figure out what was going on with her. Gordon pointed out how much weight Miracle had lost, and Emily told me how you can check their under eyelids for clues to the sheep’s health─they should be pink; a white inner eyelid is an indication that the animal is suffering from some kind of internal parasite. Miracle’s under eyelids were white, and as soon as Gordon pointed out her loss of weight, I saw for myself what I had been unable to put my finger on.

I felt awful; I still feel awful─that I missed such a key indicator of that animal’s health and well-being! Going into it though, I knew there would be new lessons in animal husbandry. Though I’d had sheep previously, it was a very brief experience; I knew I would need time to grow accustomed to caring for sheep before trying to breed them and raise any lambs. I stand by my decision to wait til November 2019 to attempt any kind of sheep-reproduction-shenanigans.

Gordon told me that either the weight loss is related to some kind of internal parasite, or it could be something more serious (like cancer) that we will not be able to cure; she is a 7 year old ewe, afterall. A round of penicillin (available at your local Tractor Supply) and an equine dewormer (SafeGuard) were prescribed, and I learned how to give medicine via injection, and then I practiced that skill for 9 consecutive mornings.

miracle the sheep
Send love for Miracle; she’s feeling under the weather lately!

Unfortunately, there has not been much improvement in my girl, Miracle; her breathing is still labored and sometimes ragged. At this point, there’s not much I can do for her. Gordon says if it’s intestinal worms the dewormer should have had an effect by now, but if it’s lung worm, that could take longer to work it’s way through. He’s advised me to give Miracle a second round of dewormer precisely 14 days after the first. He said, if she were suffering from pneumonia, the penicillin should have had an effect by now, and warned me about Ovine Progressive Pnuemonia, saying that they’d never seen it on their farm, but that it is incurable.

It was in the midst of my sheep-trials that I received an unexpected package in the mail from my old farm-mentor, Linda Whitmore-Smithers over at Medicine Hill Farm in Starks, where I served a season as apprentice. I was touched that Linda would give me such a valuable book from her collection, and emailed right away to thank her and to let her know how timely her gift of “The Veterinary Book for Sheep Farmers” really was.

Meanwhile, Miracle continues to eat with gusto, and she still wants her graham cracker when I come for my afternoon visit. My friend, Kamala, raises Finn sheep, advised me to give the sheep alfalfa cubes along with their hay, and some extra grain, to help Miracle put weight back on. Alfalfa cubes are 1.5 to 2 inch cubes of coarsely chopped and compressed alfalfa, rich in nutrients, and can be bought in a 50 pound bag at your local feed store.

The girls absolutely love them!

We have a warm spell coming up this week, Kamala says with the turn in the weather, Miracle may surprise us and pull through. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Apiaries Swallowed Up By Snow

march beehives
Beehives at Runamuk were swallowed up by snow at the end of February.

Upon my last inspection in early February, 31 of 32 hives were going strong. At the moment, it’s difficult to say how the bees are faring. Old Man Winter’s last storm came with wicked winds that whipped the snow across the land, packing it densely wherever drifts mounted, making snow-removal extremely laborious, and─in some cases─impossible. The apiary here on the farm was swallowed up by snow, and at Hyl-Tun Farm over in Starks, the Runamuk apiary was buried under a 5 foot snow drift. It was a week before I discovered it and was able to dig the hives out enough to expose hive entrances.

I won’t have a final tally on Runamuk’s winter hive losses until I can get into them again, and at the moment, a third of my of hives are inaccessible due to snow.

Capital Investments

Recently, I was on the phone with a customer at Johnny’s, discussing financing of farm-related investments─this customer was trying to figure out how to pay for an expensive seeder for his new farm. I suggested he use his tax refund to make the investment, and was a little surprised that the thought hadn’t crossed his mind before that. I suppose most people use that money to buy a new couch, big screen TV, or a new washer/dryer. Personally, I have always used my tax refund (or at least a significant portion of it) to make farm-purchases for the up-coming season; that annual injection of money has been the biggest key to bootstrapping Runamuk into farm-ownership.

In fact, I received my tax refund back a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve just finished making my 2019 Capital Investments. I paid some bills and bought some heating fuel, too, but the greater portion of my tax refund went to Runamuk. My refund paid for my tree order with Fedco. It bought me another $700 worth of fencing supplies from Premier 1: we got 2 more lengths of electric-net poultry fencing, and a third solar charger. I also bought Runamuk a tow hitch, and had it mounted to the Subaru with the intention of investing in a utility cart for hauling things like manure, and beehives.

Runamuk stocked up on packaging supplies, and bought our first-ever─and long-overdue business checks─my bank will be so happy! We invested in irrigation supplies, and I put $500 on a Home Depot gift certificate so that when I need lumber for projects later this spring, I’ll have the funds available. And I ordered new chicks from McMurray’s Hatchery: 50 dual-purpose heritage breed brown-egg layers, due to arrive any day now─and 50 freedom rangers that will arrive later in July (pastured meat-birds will be a new endeavor for Runamuk in 2019). If you follow Runamuk on Instagram, be prepared to be inundated with a myriad of cute baby-chicken pictures!

Dare to Believe

The last couple of days have been beautifully sunny and mild, with some serious melting action going on, and I almost dare to believe that Spring might truly be on her way. The weather forecast predicts temperatures in the upper 40’s by the end of this week, and next week we will observe the Vernal Equinox, which marks the first official day of Spring.

My heart rejoices and I am filled with glee, for I know that soon the snow will be gone, and the trees will begin to unfurl new leaves. A spring-green blush will spread across the hills and mountains that I call home, and soon the world will be green once more. Soon I will have my hands in the dirt, and this farmer will be crazy-busy with all of the chores and projects that come with the growing season. I’ll be overwhelmed and overworked, but it’s work I feel called to do, and for a cause that I believe in. I think it’s going to be a really great season too, so check back soon for more farm updates!

Thanks for following along with the story of this #femalefarmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a glimpse at the day-to-day activities on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

Why Female Farmers are a Big Deal

tender soles farm_kate delveccio_women farmers

Female farmers are a big deal these days─and I’m not just saying that because I am one. Women in agriculture are on the forefront of an important shift in today’s farming landscape. They’re reshaping the way we perceive farming, making an impact on the world around them─confronting adversity as female farmers every day─and in many cases, they’re doing it with kids in-tow. Personally, I think that’s downright amazing.

tender soles farm_kate delveccio_women farmers
Kate Delveccio introduces daughter, Samara, to one of their draft horses at Tender Soles Farm, in Richmond, Maine. Photo credit: Tender Soles Farm.

Women have always been there farming right alongside men, but because of our gender and status within society, we have predominately been excluded from the agricultural discourse. Women’s labors have been made invisible within the American society; we’ve been left out of books, art, and archives, our names kept off bank loans, land titles, business documents, and equipment purchases.

Thankfully the women’s rights movement has achieved great success over the past few decades, uplifting the voices of urban and suburban women and making great strides in breaking rigid roles and glass ceilings that once held them strictly to household and reproductive duties. Today, women’s contributions are increasingly being recognized, and more women are choosing to call themselves “farmer” in spite of the challenges and adversity that come with that title. Myself included.

1. Women on the Front-lines

green willow homestead_female farmers are a big deal
Kelsey Jorissen of Green Willow Homestead, in southeastern Wisconsin. Photo credit: Green Willow Homestead.

There is a paradigm shift taking place in the agriculture and food industries, and women are on the front-lines. The public is waking up to the dangers of processed foods and the agricultural system that produces them; increasingly people want to eat clean food made from real ingredients that were produced in a manner that does not harm the planet. Alternative agriculture continues to grow hand in hand with the local food movement, to the point that our perceptions of what constitutes farming are beginning to change as well. These shifts are creating new opportunities for women.

Temra Costa, author of “Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat” said:

Women make the food choices, they make the choices on what to feed their family, so their movement into farming is very natural.”

Since the dawning of civilization, women have been largely responsible for providing their families with food─not just because it’s a cultural expectation based upon our gender─but also because it’s one of the ways we care for our loved ones. Even in today’s modern era, women continue to do the majority of food-related work in their households: the shopping, processing, the cooking and the serving.

In many cases, food provision is essential to many women’s identities─it even gives them power within their household, and their community. Gardening to provide food for the family is a natural progression for women, and from there it is just a short jump to selling excess goods to your neighbors and community.

2. Overcoming Challenges

beaver vineyards women who farm
Tara, of Beaver Vineyards in Walnut Grove, California. Photo credit: Beaver Vineyards.

The biggest challenges facing any beginning farmer are access to credit, access to land, and education. Female farmers, however, must also be strong enough to overcome a hegemonic, patriarchal society, as well as the invisibilizing mythologic perception of agriculture, and the burden of a disproportionate division of household responsibilities.

It’s a lot to ask anyone to take on, but more and more women are pursuing careers in agriculture. Women have learned to think outside the box─seizing opportunities that might be overlooked or rejected by male farmers like: making use of smaller parcels of land, creating diverse operations that favor sustainable practices, and prioritizing food production over commodity crops.

Female farmers shatter the old stereotypes, and the public perception of farming is slowly changing. 40 years ago, rural women raising horses or selling agricultural products to friends and neighbors generally weren’t considered farmers. Now, according to the USDA’s 2012 Agricultural Census, approximately 60% of women farmers sold less than $5K in agricultural goods in the previous year. Yet these women are much more likely to call themselves farmers today, than they would have in 1978─as are their neighbors and government more likely to consider these women “farmers”.

3. With Kids in Tow!

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Kate Spring cuts hay with a scythe while carrying her son on her back, at Good Heart Farmstead in Worcester, Vermont. Photo credit: Good Heart Farmstead.

If you ask me─the most important reason female farmers are such a big deal, is because most of these women are doing it with kids in tow. This is the paradox of modern gender relations─for even as women’s participation in the labor force has increased, the time women spend on traditional household and family duties has not measurably decreased. A whopping 88% of women still maintain primary responsibility for food preparations, child care, and the management of family health and of the home.

When it comes to male vs female farmers, the United Nation’s Food & Agriculture Organization’s experts point to a “productivity gap”, with data documenting yields for women-powered farms at 20%-30% lower on average than farms operated by men. The FAO goes so far as to site the burden of household chores as the cause of this disparity:

These additional responsibilities limits women’s capacity to engage in income-earning activities.

It is a huge undertaking for a woman to be a farmer. To care for a family and manage a household, along with the responsibilities that comes with owning and operating a farm, requires a massive amount of coordination, work, and expended energy─every single day. Women must coordinate and budget limited time and energy, in order to be out there in the fields, farming and running businesses, marketing and selling farm products, and still return to the home at the end of the day to care for their families and households. In contrast, male farmers typically have wives who manage those domestic responsibilities on their behalf, allowing men to focus almost exclusively on the job of farming, thus earning more income to support their farms and their families.

Female Farmers ARE a Big Deal

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With her son on her hip, Beverly Spanninger of Turnip the Beets Farm in Gladstone, Virginia, surveys seedlings in their high-tunnel. Photo credit: Turnip the Beets Farm.

It makes sense that women would feel called to farming; studies have shown that women are naturally more compassionate, empathetic and nurturing than men. It is instinctive for women to care for the people around them: children, husbands, parents and other family-members, friends and community-members. It’s that instinct that drives the local food movement, as women all over the world are stepping up to provide healthy food for their families and friends, protect the environment and their homes, and build thriving communities.

Women who choose to call themselves “farmer” are facing adversities and overcoming major challenges every day in order to do the work that they do. They are Bad. Ass. That’s why female farmers are a big deal.

What do YOU think? Feel free to leave a comment below! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box; or follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly, Maine farm!

why female farmers are a big deal