It was a bittersweet ending to Runamuk’s CSA program last week as I laid out shares for our members. Mostly carrots, accompanied by the few squashes and pumpkins I’d been able to produce. This was a particularly challenging season and after careful consideration, I’ve decided to close the CSA for good. Part of me is disappointed in myself, while another part of me feels liberated and excited. Go get yourself a cup of tea or coffee (or whatever your preferred beverage is…), and join me for an update from the farm!
A Challenging Season
Ask any gardener or farmer throughout the state and you would find them all in agreement that this was a challenging season. Too much rain made it difficult to produce crops or harvest hay. Growers had a hard time working the soil, seeds were washed away or caused them to rot. It made great conditions for insect pests to thrive, wreaking havoc on plants and making outdoor chores a test of mental fortitude.
This was the last straw for me. I was already struggling with my workload. My finances are recovering oh-so slowly from last year’s pig-fiasco. And my heart is still healing from my break-up earlier in the season. Having the garden tank meant what little I was able to produce had to go to CSA members, leaving none for the farmstand, and precious little for my own family.
The CSA was NOT working for me.
Waking up to some harsh realities, I’ve spent a lot of time in self-reflection this season. Assessing my life and the farm, how I use my time and energy, and discerning where my heart is calling me in this next chapter of my life. As a result, I’ve decided I need to spend some time just taking care of myself for a while.
Part of me feels selfish for that, but a wise person recently informed me that it’s not selfish to take care of yourself…
It’s easy enough to allow life to sweep us along in a direction that really doesn’t align with our inner selves. I needed stability in my life, a home for myself and my family, so I leveraged the skills I have to gain it. I’m damned proud of that accomplishment, too! I love farming. Feeding my community is intrinsically rewarding on a deeply personal level. Yet, my heart has always been in self-sufficiency, conservation and writing. To some degree farming has taken away from all of that.
The bald truth of the matter is that CSA funds are gone as soon as they come in. Several thousand dollars comes in between January and March from the commitment of local households. That money is then used to purchase seeds, plants, soil amendments, equipment and all manner of supplies for the upcoming season. This season’s poor growing conditions meant that I did not have enough product to both feed my CSA members and stock the farmstand. So, I made the call to prioritize my CSA members and abandoned the farmstand. Without the cash generated through the farmstand, this means the farm is essentially making NO money.
Thankfully I have multiple income streams.
Changes at Runamuk
Yet, try as I might, I cannot seem to generate enough product─enough cash flow─to take my farm to the next level. I’d need to grow, make or bake way more product in order to make the kind of money I’d need to be able to hire help. Without that extra help, I can’t seem to do enough to make that money. It’s a catch-22.
I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I’ve been able to bootstrap my farm along from nothing. Now, however, I seem to have reached a sticking point. I am financially unable to make key investments in things like: a high-tunnel for season extension, refrigeration to hold product until it can be marketed and sold, a tractor or employees.
I work long days with little time off. I’m running myself into the ground and I still can’t reach the level required to really be a productive farm feeding it’s community. Coming to terms with the fact that I am just 1 person able to accomplish only so much, has led me to reconsider where my time and energy are going.
It might be something of a bittersweet ending, but it’s time to make some changes at Runamuk Acres…
Ending the CSA
Realigning myself with my core values, I’ve let go of everything that does not serve those ambitions of self-sufficiency, conservation and writing. The CSA has to go, but the farmstand will remain offering whatever we have that is superfluous to the needs of my own household. Thankfully I have multiple income streams. The farmstay is HOT on Airbnb. And so are my farm-to-table breakfasts (pun intended, lol).
MY Family First
Easing my son, BraeTek, into adulthood has to be a priority right now. I take my responsibilities as homeschool-mom very seriously. I spend a lot of time lesson planning and working with my son to ensure his progress and development. I need to ensure I have the time and energy needed to give to my son’s education. This is, perhaps, the most important thing I will ever do, and I want to look back knowing I gave it my all as a mother.
The farmstay actually really works for me right now. I’ve been having a lot of fun with my Farm-to-Table breakfasts, even creating some specials based on the seasonal availability of products. Initially, I offered breakfast free with the stay. However, due to the rising costs of ingredients, I’ve been forced to start charging for it. That’s really been a big help to the farm, too, though.
As I laid out those last shares, I thought about where it all started, how far we’ve come, and all of the many people and families I’ve connected with through Runamuk’s CSA program. Some members have been with me since my days at the Madison Farmers’ Market. Others have made Runamuk part of their family’s lives─making ME a part of their lives. We’ve shared a special connection through food and community. This is a precious gift, I think, that we’ve given each other, and I am humbled and grateful for it─truly.
There is satisfaction and pride in knowing this bittersweet ending does not detract from all the good Runamuk’s CSA has done. We’ve provided a deeper connection between family and farmer, offering insight into the dynamics of farm-life and the effects nature can have on food production. We’ve exposed our community to new foods, and educated them on new ways to cook familiar foods. With any luck, I’ve forged relationships that will have an impact on the lives of these families long after the end of Runamuk’s CSA. That is my hope, anyway…
Thank you for following along with the story of this lady-farmer! It truly is a privilege to live this life serving my family and community, and protecting 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!