This Is It

It’s finally warming up here, in the western mountain region of Maine. The rains have come. The rivers are open. There are bare patches of earth in the yards and fields. The birds are in the tree branches singing their songs of Spring. Here at Runamuk Acres, our farmstand is open, and the first 2022 lamb was born Saturday night. This it it! The growing season starts now.

this is it
First lamb of 2022! It’s a girl!!!

Truth be told, spring is my most favorite time of the year. The Wheel turns, and I appreciate the unique beauty brought by every season─but oh Spring! Nothing stirs my soul quite like seeing Spring creeping across this mountainous landscape. To see the forests come alive after a long and grueling winter, is to see life breathed back into a dead world. Watching the green blush of tender new-leaves spread across the hills and mountains stirs a song in the hearts of every living thing. The whole world seems to sing a song of Spring. It truly is a beautiful planet we’ve been blessed to live upon.

With my renewed sense of determination, I’ve launched myself into the 2022 growing season. Runamuk’s farmstand is open, offering whatever it is I can provide from this scrappy, little farm. I’m fortunate to have a licensed kitchen, which allows me to generate income through baking. I use that to my advantage during the winter months, when I cannot be outside growing vegetables.

Season extension is a high-priority this year. It’s been on my list since establishing Runamuk here in New Portland, but this is the year I am going to make it happen. We do not have a high tunnel, or a heated greenhouse that would allow our farm to produce vegetables year-round. Realistically, I don’t see that kind of structure as being attainable for us this year, either. I do think I can pull off a caterpillar tunnel, however. At the very least, I can manage a handful of low-tunnels and cold-frames. Those simple structures will allow me to extend this farm’s growing capacity into the shoulder-seasons: early spring and late fall.

Reducing the farm’s reliance on the town water utility is a high-priority this year, too. Certainly there’s the issue of the expense, but more importantly, our local water utility has announced that they are considering restricting water usage. Officials cite recent drought conditions, and “higher than normal water usage” within the community. With a host of livestock, and 1-acre in vegetable production, you can imagine what water restrictions might mean for this farm. I can’t allow the farm to backslide now, not when we’ve come so far.

Fortunately, I have some options readily at hand: a 275 gallon caged tote-tank, and a spring-fed farm pond with an established water line. For the tote-tank, Deron is going to build a tall scaffold to create a gravity-fed water system. To be able to utilize the pond, I need to replace the pump which means the farm needs to generate the funds to do so. Stay tuned for more on those projects later in the season.

So determined am I, to make this farm stand on it’s own 2 feet, that I have been up at 3:30 most mornings to start my baking. I’ve been putting in long days, often working til 7 in the evening before calling it quits for the day. I’ve even given up some of my precious time with Deron to give more of myself to this farm. I am breathing myself into this place, pouring my heart and soul into the food I make, into the animals, the plants, and the landscape. It is a simple kind of magic, but one that I hope will return my investment by supporting this farmer and her endeavors. I am this farm, and this farm is me.

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

Time Will Tell

Only time will tell whether or not my daring scheme will pan out for me. It feels different here now that my housemates have departed, leaving this farmer alone with her farm. Truer, somehow…more authentic. It’s definitely more than a little terrifying having no safety net. Yet, as spring approaches and the landscape awakens from it’s long slumber, the farm, too, comes alive─and it all feels so right.

Bring it on!!

The farm has been a hive of activity lately, as we gear up for spring and the growing season ahead of us. Personally, I am looking forward to the change of pace, and especially to being outside once more. Even knowing that we have the grimy slog of mud-season to get through before those first bright green days of spring, does nothing to dampen the stirring of enthusiasm within me.

Farmstand is Open!

time will tell
Fresh from the farm, this week.

Our farmstand is open now, Tuesday through Saturday every week. I’ve been in the kitchen every day making wholesome, delicious food for my community. While fresh-baked bread is a staple available from this farm year-round, the list of additional offerings changes every week, and is largely seasonal. Right now I am baking muffins, putting together savory handpies, granola bars, and more. That will all change, though, once the growing season gets underway. You’ll see more vegetables on the list, and fewer baked goods.

In the propogation room, those summer veggies are just emerging from the soil. Onions, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower so far. Every week I am planting another round of seeds, with the intention of supplying both Runamuk’s CSA─and it’s farmstand. I just hope folks will stop in to stock their pantries with all of this food I am producing…you can grow all the food in the the world, but if you can’t get it to the customer, what’s the point?

Meanwhile, in the Ewe-Shed, the ladies are starting to bag-up. Their udders, previously undefined and inconspicuous, are beginning to swell and are decidedly more conspicuous. I expect in the next couple of weeks I will see my first lambs of the season. It makes me giddy with joy just to think of it. New lambs to the farm are such a blessing. They really are the epitome of all that I have worked for─in the most adorable form: all legs, ears, and wool.

What Makes Me Special…?

Recently, I saw a post on facebook by a former colleague from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, about how she and her husband had sold their farm and moved away from Maine because they could not provide a solid living for their household. He now works off the farm, while she manages their homestead.

When you read articles about farming, they typically cite that in many farming households, there is one farmer, and a spouse who works a regular full-time job off the farm. When I consider these things, I have to wonder what it is that I think makes me so special that I’ll be able to succeed at this on my own? How am I any different from that former colleague?

The odds are stacked against me, for sure. Already my bank account is crying for a deposit, my next mortgage payment is not far off, and the utility companies want their cut, too. I’ve eliminated all unnecessary spending, and am leading a fairly minimalist lifestyle, together with my son, BraeTek. I am thankful that he is a very pragmatic young man, willing to work alongside his mother for the things we need to exist. Yet, I feel guilty sometimes that I cannot give him more.

Maybe one of the things that will make a difference in my story is the fact that my monthly mortgage payment is so low─only $328 a month. That’s largely due to the fact that I bought my farm through the Farm Service Agency as a beginning farmer, taking advantage of government funds for disadvantaged individuals. I brought that figure even lower when I contracted 40 of my 53 acres into conservation for the next 50 years, taking $100,000 of my overall mortgage. Maybe the fact that I’m willing to do without cell-service, new clothes, take-out, and even time-off, will make the difference for me. Who can really say?

To learn more about our conservation contract, and how it came to pass, check out this article: Confession #2: Conservation Contract.

Time Will Tell

time will tell farmstand
Fresh baked goods on the farmstand.

All I know, is that I have to try. I’m here now, doing the work I feel I was meant to be doing─providing real food for my family and community. You can bet I am going to give it everything I’ve got. To that end, we’ve revamped the here porch into what I hope is a respectable-looking farmstand. I’d like to think I was no slouch before, but I’ve stepped it up this season. Up at 3am some mornings to bake, working late into the evening most nights, til I am sore and spent. I am prepared to work overtime all summer, too─in hopes of making a success-story of my scrappy little farm.

I’ve had a few customers, too, this first week. So, who knows─maybe it will all work out. Time will tell…

Thank you so much for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

Training Wheels Are Coming Off!

The training wheels are coming off at Runamuk Acres! For the last 3 years, I’ve generated some part of the farm’s income from the rental of 2 of the bedrooms in my big old farmhouse. However, when my current housemate gave her 30-day notice recently, I knew those days were behind me. I just can’t do it anymore. It’s time for Runamuk to stand on it’s own. To that end, I am gearing up for a Big Year on the farm.

No more training wheels at Runamuk!

When I first bought the farm, 3 years ago, I was still working part-time at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It quickly became apparent that I was going to need to be here full-time if I were going to make any headway. Though the Farm Service Agency tried to discourage me from giving up that dependable income, I forged ahead resolutely. To offset the loss of my income from Johnny’s, I opted to rent 2 of the 6 bedrooms in my house.

Room Rentals

At first I tried renting through AirBnB, offering a bed-and-breakfast to skiers and hikers of Maine’s Western Mountains. That worked okay for a while, but I found it difficult to manage the farm and maintain my common spaces (kitchen, dinning room, and bathroom) to meet AirBnB’s standards. When covid hit, I decided to take on long-term housemates instead, to reduce the potential risk of spreading the virus to my customers.

Room-rentals worked okay for a while. The rooms here are laid out in such a way that I could keep the guests at one end, while maintaining some semblense of privacy at the other end of the house.

Guest room #2, during our AirBnB phase.

Sifting through prospective candidates to find housemates I could tolerate sharing space with was always a pain. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t actually read the details before reaching out. There were seemingly endless inquiries from people who thought that “New Portland” was some sub-set of the city of Portland, some 2 hours south. People who wanted to bring their entire family to live in a single room. There were people who would ask if they could have their menagerie of pets, even though my advertisement clearly said “No Pets”. This is a working farm and I’m not willing to risk the well-being of my livestock, or add additional stressors to my own pets for the sake of a few hundred dollars.

I always insisted on meeting potential new housemates before agreeing to allow them space in my home. That seemed to weed out a good many candidates from ever setting foot on my property. The odds were against even those who were actually willing to interview for the space. With my teenaged son in the house, Deron’s teenagers occasionally at the farm, and my business to protect, I was super critical of who I brought into our lives. Unfortunately, even that didn’t save us from a couple of bad apples.

Most of the individuals I allowed to rent my rooms, were good and honest, hardworking young people just trying to get ahead in life. They liked the novelty of living on a farm, but none of them were really here to be a part of anything Runamuk-related. Most of them, I doubt, ever looked us up online to learn more about what we do or what we’re about. Certainly none of them tried to get involved, and I can only think of one that tried to lend a hand. They went to work, came home and slept, then did it all over again. That suited me just fine.

Trouble With Housemates

The trouble with housemates, it that it’s hard to really know the quality of someone’s character from one 20-minute encounter. There were at least a couple of housemates that caused significant disruption here. One came between my sister and I, seriously damaging a most precious relationship in my life. Another was prone to some unsettling mood-swings, that made me uneasy with his presence in the house. Something wasn’t right about him…

Eventually, he put me in the position of having to ask him─in no uncertain terms─to find somewhere else to live. It takes quite a lot to push me to that point, but after having worked so hard for this farm, I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow anyone to threaten it─in any way, shape, or form. After he’d departed, we found evidence of cocaine-use in his room. My gut instinct about the guy had been 100% correct.

This baby gate did not hold Beebe back once she realized she could jump…

Beebe brought a whole new source of anxiety to the situation, when she arrived on the farm. Slow to warm up to strangers, I was forever rushing to restrain her whenever one of my housemates needed to access to the bathroom. For her own protection, I asked Deron to build a half-door off the dinning room to keep Beebe out of the common spaces. She does eventually warm to new people, and once she does she is the biggest baby, wanting only love and tummy-rubs.

Incidentally, she never warmed up to the crack-head. She made it unmistakably clear that she viewed him as a threat, and I will never discount Beebe’s judge of character ever again.

Mainly, it’s just awkward trying to farm and share space with strangers. The first-floor guest room is right off the main entrance to the house, so I am forever anxious about making too much noise when we are doing our twice-daily critter-chores. That same room is directly on the other side of the kitchen, which means I worry about banging cupboards too loudly, or playing my music too loudly on Baking Days.

Those days will very soon be over, though. I’ve had my fill of trying to share this sanctuary of mine. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to move on.

The Training Wheels are Coming Off!

The scary part is that I am still very much dependent upon the income from those room-rentals. While the CSA generally pays for the farm, the income I’ve generated through renting those 2 rooms has been paying for the house. They cover the electric, water, and phone utilities, along with household supplies like toilet paper and laundry detergent. To make up the difference, I’ve decided to re-invest in Runamuk’s “Farmstand-on-the-Porch”. The time has come for Runamuk to stand on it’s own. The training wheels are coming off!

Beginning Monday, March 14th, the farmstand will be open 6 days a week. I’ll stock it with my own handmade bread baked daily in Runamuk’s licensed kitchen. There will also be an assortment of delectable goodies: muffins, cookies, my “Fantabulous Granola Bars”. Our fresh microgreens and eggs will stock the shelves, too. Then, later this season, local patrons will have access to a full gamut of vegetables. Customers should check in with us for seasonally available products like our raw honey, pork, and lamb.

Previsouly, when I tried to keep a farmstand going here, there was some confusion about where it was located, and how it worked. One of the many projects I am currently working on are some new signs to eliminate confusion for customers. Our farmstand is located inside our enclosed porch, and is self-service. Usually, BraeTek or I are kicking about the farm somewhere, but with just the 2 of us to manage things, we cannot drop what we are doing to wait on customers, else nothing would never get done, lol. That being said, I never discourage visitors from seeking us out if they have questions or need help.

Fantastically Foolhardy?

At the moment, I’m not sure if giving up the room rentals is a fantastic idea, or a foolhardy one. Likely, it’s both: “fantastically foolhardy“.

I admit that when I stop to dwell on the matter, the idea of trying to get by without that income twists my gut with fear. The electric bill is already past-due, and the water is in arrears─if I could get off those public utilities, that would be a game-changer! The car needs work to take a sticker, and the truck needs parts just to be useful. Doing this kind of work, I’ve worn through every pair of jeans I own─I’m down to my last pair, which I keep washing and re-washing. I did splurge recently on a package of underwear, lol, but I have just 1 bra left─which is missing 1 of it’s 3 hooks to hold the thing on my body (insert facepalm here)! I could go on, but I think you catch my drift…

It’s downright terrifying to be letting go of that dependable income. Yet, I am just so damned burnt out on trying to accommodate strangers in my house, that I need to do something different. I make money with my hands. I literally grow it in the ground! Whoever said that money doesn’t grow on trees, definitely wasn’t a farmer…just sayin’. And since when have you ever known me to shrink from a challenge? If I wanted to do things the easy way, I would not be here today, doing this work that I love. No─I think this is the right move, at the right time. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, and hope like hell that it works.

Thank you so much for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!