Real Food and Real Community for Real People

“Real food and real community for real people” was the motivation behind Kim Roberts and Mark Prentiss’ purchase of 2 Runamuk CSA shares recently. Kim and Mark wanted to find a way to use their stimulus funds to support their local community. They wanted to buy local food to donate to the food pantry at Salem’s United Economic Ministry(SEM). They discovered that area farmers had little produce available during the depths of winter. Pivoting, Kim and Mark thought that purchasing a CSA share in the name of SEM would be a good alternative.

True Mountain Maple

real food and real community for real people inspired by the folks at True Mtn Maple
Check out True Mountain Maple online to find their list of local distributors!

Kim Roberts and Mark Prentiss own and operate True Mountain Maple over in Industry, Maine. I’d met Kim previously at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, and her partner briefly, in passing. They bottle their syrup exclusively in glass. This is something I can relate to, as I refuse to put Runamuk’s honey into anything plastic.

Being farmers themselves, Kim and Mark decided they wanted to invest their stimulus funds into the “bank” of their community. If they could buy local food to donate to the SEM, they could support local farms. At the same time supporting folks who are food insecure. When Kim called me out of the blue with the idea, I was thrilled to participate.

The Salem Economic Ministry

My family moved around the Kennebec River region quite a bit when I was a child. We moved from Anson to Madison, then Madison to Skowhegan. I was 10 when my parents bought a few acres on Baker Hill in Salem and built a house there. For 5 years I lived just a mile away from the Salem Economic Ministry. I attended high school at Mt Abram in Salem, and my best friend still lives right there in the heart of Salem Township.

Salem United Economic Ministry
The Salem United Methodist Economic Ministry.

Salem’s United Methodist Economic Ministry strives to create healthy, sustainable communities. The 50-year old facility has a thrift shop, a food cupboard, and a bunk house. The thrift shop offers good, used clothes at affordable prices. I have often shopped there myself. The bunk house is host to missionary groups who come during the summer months. These missionaries work to help local families stay safer, warmer, and drier during harsh Maine winters.

Coming from some pretty destitute beginnings myself, Kim and Mark’s idea of giving locally produced food to SEM’s food pantry really resonated with this farmer. I was happy to help. Unfortunately, all I had left on the farmstand was half a bushel of squash and a few remaining pie pumpkins.

Kim found similar situations with other local farmers that she reached out to. In southern Maine you might find four-season farms more numerous. Those are farms that have been able to invest in high tunnels or greenhouses for year-round veggie production. Here in western Maine, though, that kind of agricultural operation is still pretty rare. Kim found very little fresh produce available for their project.

Enter the Runamuk CSA

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Generally, folks will invest in the local farm of their choosing by purchasing a “share” early in the season. This enables farmers to buy their annual farm inputs, at a time of year when funds are low. In return, the CSA member receives a weekly share of veggies or other farm products during the growing season.

Runamuk CSA offers real food and real community for real people
CSA enrollent deadline: May 5th, 2021.

In exploring alternative options, Kim read about the Runamuk CSA here on our website. She reached out to me again, asking if this might be an avenue for securing real food and real community for real people. Kim wondered how it might work.

How the Runamuk CSA Works

Runamuk’s CSA is a little different from other CSA programs. Most CSA farms ask customers to pay a large sum upfront, usually several hundred dollars. Often, you will see a 20, 22, or 25-week CSA. The farmer determines what will go into your weekly CSA share. Typically, the shares are all the same whether your household will use the included produce or not.

At Runamuk, I’ve tried to make our CSA as flexible as possible. It is my goal to make local food more accessible to a broader range of the community. We allow our customers to decide how much they can afford to pay, whether that’s $50 or $500. With every payment, we add a bonus credit. We offer a 20% bonus during January and February, 15% in March, 12% during April. The rest of the year, members receive a 10% bonus credit whenever they add more funds to their account. Thus, if Kim purchased a $400 “family-sized” share in January, she would end up with a $480 credit with Runamuk.

What’s more, Runamuk allows the customer to decide what they want to receive in their shares, and when. I email our CSA members each week with an update from the farm. The email includes a link to a list of available products for the coming week. That list varies from one week to the next, and can look very different from one season to another. For example, during the summer months, the list of available fresh produce is long. Whereas, during the winter I spend more time in Runamuk’s licensed kitchen cranking out baked delectables.

I leave it up to my CSA members to place orders when they want something for pickup or delivery. Or they can stop by the farm to shop at the Farmstand-on-the-Porch. They can pick and choose the products they want, as well as the quantity. Their order total is simply deducted from their account balance.

Some members place an order every week, religiously. Others save their funds for the height of the growing season, ordering vegetables in bulk to process for the winter. Unused funds never expire and are rolled over to the following year.

I told Kim if someone at the SEM was willing to take responsibility for placing orders to utilize the funds, I’d be happy to expand my delivery range to include Salem Township. She conferred with the folks at the Ministry and reported back that they were thrilled with the prospect. Kim sent along the funds from their stimulus payment, and the deal was sealed! Kim and Mark’s goal of establishing real food and real community for real people had been achieved!

Farming is a Way Forward

#lovemainemarkets
We all need to eat, why not eat local and support your community at the same time?

Of course, not everyone is in such a position that they don’t really need those stimulus funds from the government. I had to use mine to pay down Runamuk’s utility bills. However, for those who are doing okay, like Kim and Mark, the concept of using those funds to stimulate your local economy by supporting local farms, makes complete sense. And I’m not just saying that because I am a farmer, lol.

Studies show that when farms thrive, Main Street businesses and local communities thrive too. Farmers are the backbone of our nation, the first rung on the economic ladder. Every year consumers spend over $1 trillion on food grown by US farmers and ranchers. Our food systems link farmers with other enterprises. From input providers for seeds, fertilizers, retail chains, restaurants, hardware stores, lumber yards, and everything in between. The economic impact of farmers stretches beyond the limits of their farms and ranches. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, farming is a way forward for Maine’s economically depressed regions. For any economically depressed region!

Note: A few years back, I wrote a piece about Farming as a Way Forward. To learn more about the why and the how, feel free to check it out by clicking on the link!

I say to you now, if you’re sitting on your stimulus funds, or if you’re expecting a tax return in the not-too-distant future, consider using a portion of it to invest in your favorite local farm. CSA programs are increasingly numerous, and the benefits of eating fresh, locally produced food are indisputable. This kind of expense is one that benefits not just your own household, but the well-being of your entire community. I truly believe that Kim’s notion of real food and real community for real people, is one that we can all get behind. We can all make a difference in our communities, just by eating locally produced foods. Now go forth and be the change you wish to see in this world!

Thanks so much for following along with the story of this #femalefarmer! It is my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my community, and protect this scrappy patch of Earth through wildlife conservation. Check back soon for more stories from Runamuk Acres, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love, my friend!!

The Perfect Solstice Gift

hay mission

This farmer received the most perfect solstice gift this year. It’s no secret I’d been struggling with car troubles for the last few months. I was really pushing the envelope with my old Subaru Forester, so my boyfriend loaned me his old minivan to get by with til I could get newer wheels. When both vehicles died on the same day, I was left stranded─quite literally─with no means to replace the thing. This is the story of my 2020 car woes, and how it all ended with the most perfect solstice gift a girl could have asked for.

Car Troubles

The mechanic told me back in 2019 that I should think about replacing Runamuk’s Subaru Forester. Like most older Subarus, mine was becoming increasingly rusty, prone to muffler issues, and things were beginning to get worn out on the 20 year-old vehicle. Doing the kind of work that I do, I’m pretty rough on my vehicles. Yet, these Subarus are wicked rugged and have always done the job for me. That old Forester and I have been through quite a lot in the 3 years I drove it. I’m so grateful she held out as long as she did.

This summer, though, the old Forester began overheating. She was rapidly burning through water. I had to stop every twenty miles to put more in the radiator. I knew her days were numbered, but I did not have the funds to replace her. The farm is doing well. My finances are stable─as in, I am managing to keep the lights on, water running, phone and internet working, and the insurances paid. I am even managing to keep this big house heated, and my menagerie of pets and livestock are always fed and healthy─even on a shoestring budget.

But I have zero savings.

Runamuk's old Subaru Forester
Cattle panel mission 2020 with the Runamuk Forester!

Deron’s Minivan

To help me get by a little longer, Deron (remember my sweetheart boyfriend?) loaned me his old minivan. It was pretty beat-up and at about the same stage in it’s life as my Forester. Unfortunately, after driving it just a couple of months, this one began overheating too! (insert facepalm here)

I managed to maintain it for a while, adding water to the radiator every twenty miles or so. Then, one Thursday back in November, I was heading toward Kingfield for Runamuk’s weekly delivery run, when the van began overheating and water was suddenly spurting out of the engine with a horrible racket! With my heart in my throat, I pulled the van off the road onto the first place I could find, turned off the engine and sat there flustered and dumbfounded.

my sweetheart
My sweetheart, Deron.

Farmers are supposed to be the jack of all trades, and while I have a fairly diverse skillset, I fully admit that anything mechanically-related is way over my head lol. I didn’t know what to do. I knew the van had previously had issues with it’s water pump, and obviously it had something going on with it’s radiator. And I knew, too, that I couldn’t just leave the thing sitting there on the side of the road, especially since it wasn’t even mine. But should I try to drive it back to the farm? Or should I call a tow-truck?

For 10 minutes or so I waited for the engine to cool down. I was anxiously trembling and sweating, aware of the fact that one of my customers was coming down from Carrabasset Valley to meet me in Kingfield to pickup his order. Cell-service being one of those expenses I’ve chosen to forego in favor of farming fulltime, I could not call him to let him know what was happening on my end. Nor could I call someone for advice or assistance.

Eventually, I decided to see if I could get the van back to the farm. I was only a few miles down the road. I could pull off the road again to let it cool down if needed. Hopefully the engine wouldn’t blow up on me…

I held my breath all the way back to 344 School Street in New Portland, then parked the van with relief. There was still time to catch my customer for his delivery, so I decided to take the Forester to Kingfield. I’d driven it on some shorter trips and the radiator held up fine─so long as I took care to put water in it.

The Forester

For months, I’d been using the Forester only to cart water and supplies back and forth to the livestock on the field. Before I could go to Kingfield with it, I had to top off the radiator and put more air in all four tires. I was so flustered and panicked, trying to hurry my little air compressor to fill the tires, that I didn’t realize that instead of topping off the radiator, I was putting the water in the wiper fluid reservoir!

Um………………..I wasn’t kidding when I said I lack mechanical abilities…. Under normal circumstances, though, I can at least manage to put the fluids in the correct place!

Needless to say, the Forester only made it halfway to Kingfield before it was seriously overheated. Once again I had to pull off the road. At this point, I didn’t realize that I’d put the water in the wrong reservoir, so I thought the Forester had finally died altogether. Now what was I going to do?

Like so many other situations I’ve found myself in, I would have to be my own hero.

From the farm to Kingfield it’s only 7.5 miles. I was maybe a little closer to Kingfield than the farm as I considered my options. The way I saw it, I could either walk or hitchhike back to the farm─take or leave the groceries I’d been trying to deliver─and come back for the car later. OR, I could walk or hitchhike to Kingfield, make my deliveries, and worry about the car later.

Hitchhiking

It was a bitterly cold November day, overcast and almost dreary. Though I am accustomed to working outside in all forms of weather, and I was dressed appropriately with leggings under my jeans, fingerless gloves and a hunter-orange knit-hat on my head, I was not exactly prepared to be hiking that day.

Still, my customers were expecting their groceries, and I felt pretty strongly about fulfilling my commitment to those households. Opting to continue on to Kingfield to make the deliveries, I shouldered one of the reusable shopping bags filled with bagged carrots, potatoes, squashes, and breads. In my hands, I carried 2 more shopping bags. I figured I was brave enough to catch a ride if I could and practiced shuffling the bags to one hand to free up my thumb.

bigelow mountain range
The view of the mountains from the hill overlooking Kingfield, Maine.

That long and winding road doesn’t seem so empty and desolate from inside your car. Once I got out there, however, I realized it’s a pretty lonely place to be. In this part of Maine, where the densely forested wilderness hugs the road for long stretches between towns, it can also be a dangerous place to be. Encounters with wildlife could go badly and I could end up injured or worse, alone on the side of the road. Luckily, I only had to walk a couple of miles (mostly uphill, of course) before someone stopped to pick me up.

That compassionate soul was a young man named Gabe, who worked in Kingfield at Mainely Provisions (formerly Tranten’s). His family have a homestead on the West Kingfield Road. We chatted a little about farming as he drove me to town. He was kind enough to wait while I dropped my wares off at the local pharmacy, where one of my CSA members receives her deliveries.

Western Maine Pharmacy

Audrey Parks is the owner of Western Maine Pharmacy in Kingfield. Shes also one of Runamuk’s regular CSA members, with a young daughter who loves . Since door-to-door delivery was not possible, I hoped to leave all of the orders at this one central location. Then, I could send the other CSA members there to retrieve their groceries for the week.

The ladies at Western Maine Pharmacy were only too happy to help. What a relief it was to unload those bags of groceries knowing that I’d fulfilled my obligations even in the face of calamity. What a blessing for this farmer to have the kind of built-in support system that CSA members provide. Every one of these households has a vested interest in the long-term sustainability of this small farm. They want to see me succeed, and that’s a very powerful motivator for this farmer.

My BFF

A=adventures in the old Subaru Forester
I hauled everything from trees, sheep and bees, to manure, lumber, and cement blocks with that old Forester! Mischief managed. RIP old girl.

Gabe was heading to work at Mainely Provisions, so I caught a ride there and thanked the young man with a loaf of my farm-fresh multigrain bread. He seemed surprised, and received the bread enthusiastically. I was glad to give him some kind of reward for his charitable act of kindness.

Unsure of my next move, I loitered outside the grocery store for a few minutes. I was just about to set out for home under the power of my own two feet, when it occurred to me that my bff, Carolyn Bachelder, had recently taken a job at Mainely Provisions. It was possible that she was in the area and I might be able to beg a ride from her.

Logging into the free wi-fi provided by grocery store, I sent Carolyn a message. “What are you doing right now?”

Just as I sent the message, I watched Carolyn’s shiny black minivan pull into a parking spot directly in front of me. Someone up there was watching out for me.

Carolyn and her husband Chris gave me a ride back to my car, where Chris took a quick look under the hood for me. He pointed out that the radiator was bone-dry. It was then I realized that in my panicked haste, I’d put the water in the wiper fluid reservoir rather than the radiator. Didn’t I feel like the biggest idiot in the world!

2 Broken-Down Vehicles

I still feel like a big dummy for that mistake, but once we put water in the actual radiator, the car ran again….but only for another week or so…

When that old Subaru finally died, she had the courtesy to do it less than a mile from the farm. I had BraeTek and both dogs with me too, which made me super thankful we weren’t stranded miles from home in the dark of night with no way to call for help. Later that evening my sweet man, Deron, came to tow my pitiful car back to the farm, and there she’s sat ever since.

So there I was with a delivery-based farm-business, 2 broken-down vehicles in my dooryard, no wheels to get anywhere, and no money to buy them.

“What are you going to do?” asked Deron’s father, David, later that week as he chauffeured this farmer around to make her deliveries.

Options

I sure didn’t have many options in that moment. As far as cash goes, I could either hope for a second stimulus check or wait 2 months for my tax return. Getting a loan wasn’t an option because I already know I can’t afford a payment. What’s more, following my bankruptcy filing, I am committed to avoiding such debts. No more loans, and no credit cards ever again. Period.

As a farmer, though, I’ve learned to leverage my own productivity to the farm’s advantage. Runamuk is offering a fairly wide array of products at this point─mostly food─and all high-quality, fresh, and locally produced by yours truly. That’s a valuable trading commodity, and bartering has become the Ace up my sleeve.

I’ve learned, too, that it’s OK to ask for help, though it is still a difficult thing for a proud person to do. The community this farm serves, has proven to be one of the greatest assets Runamuk has. When all else fails, this proud farmer will post to Instagram and Facebook, email CSA members with an update, or write about whatever the latest BIG problem might be. Humbly, I dare to ask for help, offering up up the only thing I have to give: FOOD.

Bartered refrigerator
The refrigerator I bartered for!

Runamuk has recruited volunteers for work parties in this way, sourced a refrigerator for the farmstand-on-the-porch, secured livestock, soil amendments and more. I always offer fair value for the goods or services I need. Sometimes I can make the trade right there on the spot. Other times I’ll offer a credit with the farm, and induct the person I am trading with into my CSA program. Then, they’ll receive Runamuk’s weekly email and availability list, and they can place orders every week for pickup or delivery.

In most instances, the folks I barter with become dedicated CSA members. They like the program and value my food so much, that even once we’ve exhausted the initial credit, they usually add more funds to their account. I’ve gained a number of loyal customers this way.

And so, I posted to Instagram and Facebook, lamenting the death of my Subaru Forester. I shared with my community the plight of my car-less, penniless self, and offered up to the Universe a potential payment arrangement or a trade of goods for wheels. I knew full-well it was a long shot, yet I hoped against hope that someone out there might be willing to work with me.

Steve’s Old Truck

In the meanwhile, I continued with my regular chores and workload, bumming rides and walking back and forth to the post office to mail holiday packages. As 2 days became 2 weeks, I began to feel pretty burdensome. Facing another delivery day without my own wheels, I decided to trek across town to attempt an offer on a pickup truck.

The truck belonged to old Steve Rogers, Murphy’s most favorite person in the world (next to myself, of course). Steve is another resident of New Portland, and has been stopping by the farm since I landed here. This kindly older fellow buys eggs, or bread, or cucumbers, insists on paying top dollar, and always has a biscuit in his pocket for Murphy.

Steve has worked for Bob’s Cash Fuel for years, even into his retirement, and has serviced the boiler here in the farmhouse─free of charge─made repairs to my furnace, and generally been a helping hand and supportive friend as I work to grow this farm. This year, Steve bought himself a shiny new Subaru. He began using the truck less and less, until it seemed to be sitting there untouched.

It was late December, and bitterly cold in the first light of morning as I walked the mile across town. I’d been trying to call his phone for days, but the cell-signal in New Portland is notoriously spotty, and I hadn’t been able to raise Steve. It was delivery day again, and I desperately wanted to catch the man before he left for work.

When I knocked on his door, red-cheeked and out of breath, Steve’s new Subaru was warming up outside. He peeked out the window of his front door to see who could possibly be knocking on his door at 7:30 in the morning. I grinned like an idiot standing there in the cold. “Sammy!” he said in surprise.

A Good Deal

It sure was a hard thing to ask. I admit I beat about the bush a bit─trying to feel it out before broaching the subject. I know how fond Steve is of the old truck. First I told Steve of my car troubles. Then, I asked about borrowing the truck for the day to make my deliveries. Eventually, I came out and asked the old timer if he’d consider selling it.

He hesitated only a moment before saying “Yes.” And I know he wouldn’t have parted with it for just anyone.

Steve's Old Truck
Steve’s beat-up old truck is beautiful to ME!

In return for the last years the old truck had to offer, I only have to provide Steve with enough space at Runamuk to raise a few pigs and turkeys, and raise his Big Moose Pumpkins for the deer. It seemed like a good deal to me and I was super grateful.

However, being fairly old, the 2000 Chevy Silverado’s days are numbered. It wasn’t the answer to my prayers, but a good temporary solution. I’d bought myself some time.

Donation

And then, something miraculous happened….

Even as I type this now, it’s still hard to fathom, and yet, wonder of wonders, damned if it didn’t work! Somehow─by the grace of whatever Gods might be─someone out there heard me. Something about my story resonated with that soul, and some wonderful, compassionate, caring person saw fit to DONATE $5000 to the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm to aid in the purchase of a reliable vehicle. Can you believe it!?

When the notification of payment received came through on my phone, I looked at it with disbelief. I was sitting at the kitchen table at David’s house. Deron and I, with his kids gather there every Friday evening for supper. My heart was in my throat and tears stung my eyes as I held the phone out, waving at Deron to look at the screen. I needed to know if what I was seeing was really real, or if I was just delusional.

“What?” asked David. “What is it?”

“I think someone just sent me $5000!” I choked out, sounding a little hysterical. “Am I seeing that right?”

Deron finished reading the note attached to the transaction and confirmed it, “Yup, they said they admire your determination and want you to have a reliable car.”

“You’re shittin’ me!?” exclaimed David incredulously.

NOTE: The wonderful, marvelous soul who donated these funds to Runamuk wished to remain anonymous to the public. They suggested, though, that I share how others might donate to the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm as well. With this in mind, I’ve created a Donate page with information on how to Volunteer, a Wish List of items we are in need of, and a PayPal button for monetary donations. Every small or large contribution is a help and greatly appreciated.

Click here to go to the new Donate page and see how you might help Runamuk too!

Anson Auto

It seemed fitting that it was the day of the Winter Solstice, that Monday, as I took myself over to Anson Auto (formerly known as North Anson Auto). I’d stopped at this used-car dealership 2 weeks before, to take a closer look at an ’06 Subaru Forester I’d been eyeing. When I discovered that it had a standard transmission, I wanted it bad lol. I’d been watching it ever since.

Deron’s father, a former machinist for Solon Manufacturing, met me at the dealership with his trained eye, as I have fully demonstrated that I lack mechanical-know-how.

I love that it was this same place that I bought my first car at 22 years ago. I love even more that I was able to establish a valuable relationship with the new owner, Dana Perkins, through this transaction.

“Don’t show him you want it!” David cautioned me, like any father would.

“I know, I know,” I said with a smile. “I’ll do my best.”

Dana Perkins is one hellova saleman, with a wealth of experience at some big-name central Maine dealerships. He’s recently bought this small-town local car dealership and automotive garage, with it’s accompanying junkyard of available spare parts. Like me, Dana is working hard to build his business, support his local community, and live a life of meaning and purpose. I wanted to give him the value of the car, but there were a few other pressing issues about the farm that could use a little cash too─like heating fuel.

In the end, Mr. Perkins and I reached a mutually agreeable deal. Mostly I paid him in cash, but he accepted $500 of the purchase in the form of a CSA membership with the farm. Each of us gained a valuable new customer that day.

The Perfect Solstice Gift

Later that afternoon, when I drove that nice, clean, new-to-me Subaru Forester home to the farm, I offered up prayers of thanks to the Universe. With tears in my eyes, I marveled that I should be so lucky…so blessed…that my hard work and perseverance would be noticed and rewarded with such a perfect solstice gift! To go from hitchhiking with 2 broken-down vehicles in the yard, to suddenly having the truck for hauling that I’ve long-needed, as well as the car for deliveries, was nothing short of miraculous.

The Perfect Solstice Gift_Subaru Forester
Runamuk’s Subaru Forester─take two!

After such a long, hard road as the one I have traveled to make this farm a reality, it is a wonder to me, to be here now. When so many people thought I should give up, get a real job, and accept my place in society like everybody else…I could not. Somehow, my path is continually reaffirmed for me. At every obstacle, I have found a way forward. Every time I think I’ve exhausted all of my good graces, when the darkness seems like it’s closing in─when I think, “surely this is the end of the road for Runamuk”─something amazing happens, and the path is illuminated once more.

In this way, I have learned to have faith. Faith in myself and my community, but, most of all, faith in my journey. It is that affirmation which made for the perfect solstice gift, and that which this farmer will carry in her heart, into 2021. Come what may.

Thank you so very much for following along with the story of this #femalefarmer! It truly is a privilege to be able to live this life, serve my community, and protect this scrappy patch of Earth through wildlife conservation. Check back soon for more stories from Runamuk Acres, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love my friend!!

Guineafowl!

Folks rave about guineafowl for their tick-eating capacity. Yet, what most people don’t tell you is how incredibly loud and obnoxious these birds are! Or the fact that they can fly a fair distance, so containing them is nearly impossible. I kept guineas once before, about 10 or 12 years ago, and vowed I would never ever do it again. Stubbornly, I’ve held onto that vow all these years─right up until I received a call from Herb, one Saturday morning a few weeks back.

Guineafowl

guineafowl via Hostile Valley Living
PC @hostilevalleyliving via Instagram.
Check out Hostile Valley Farm online!

Originating in Africa, guineafowl are a heavy bird from the same family as chickens, grouse, and pheasants. Their heads are featherless, making them look distinctly prehistoric, while the plumage on the rest of their body tends to be some shade of grey with little white spots. I can concede, at least, that they’re a pretty cool looking bird.

Guineas evolved to follow behind African herd animals, and monkey troops, to forage in the manure left behind. In this way, they serve an important role in their native ecosystem by controlling populations of mosquitoes, flies, gnats, locusts, scorpions and other such invertebrates.

But they’re freaking LOUD!

These birds are seriously loud animals. When they get going, their raucous racket can be heard for quite some distance. It is a harsh interruption to the peaceful tranquility of the rural landscape. Personally, I find it downright offensive. I like the sounds of the wind moving through the forest canopy. I like listening to the bird-songs, and the trilling of insects. I don’t like guinea-noise drowning everything out.

And then the phone rang.

Herb

“Runamuk Acres,” I said brightly into the phone receiver. This particular Saturday was sunny and mild for late-October. I was happy to be on the farm, gearing up for a day of outdoor projects.

It was Herb.

I’d never met Herb before, but the old man knew me─and Runamuk─thanks to his wife. Apparently the woman had seen a story in the paper about Runamuk some years back, and it had resonated with her. She’d always wanted to come visit Runamuk Acres to meet me, of all people, to see if she couldn’t learn something new. Herb told me she’d passed away 2 days ago, after 47 years of marriage.

“Oh I’m so sorry, Herb!” I lamented. In that moment, grief for my late-father, my grandmother, and my beloved Aunt Lucy welled within me. They’ve all passed within the last 6 years, so I knew something of what this man was going through.

They were part of that self-sufficient older generation, Herb and his bride. They gardened, canned and stored food, hunted and processed their own meat. These people are real, honest-to-goodness Mainers. Herb described his wife as an avid herbalist, too, collecting edible and medicinal plants from the land. He said she was always putting unusual things in their salads, and getting creative with adding wild-harvested foods to their basic diet.

“I don’t know what I’m going to eat now.” Herb said several times. “She’s got jars upon jars of stuff she’s collected, all stored in the cupboards, but I don’t know how to cook anything. She did all that.”

I Said Yes

His wife was also the one who tended their small flock of poultry: a couple of aging hens, and a half-dozen guineas. He talked about funeral arrangements, sounding generally overwhelmed with life. My heart went out to the old man, and when he asked if I could take the birds off his hands, you know I said yes.

“We honor the friendship by remaining true to dreams shared in common.” Deron reminds me sometimes, when I am sad and missing my Dad, or my Nana, or Aunt Lucy.

Later that same day, Herb brought his late wife’s flock to Runamuk Acres from Norridgewock, about 40 minutes south-east of the farm. When he stepped out of his vehicle, I could see that he was a man small of stature, but big of heart. Why else would a man go to such lengths, but to honor the woman he loves?

We settled the birds into the coop, then chatted awhile in the sunshine. Mostly I listened while Herb talked about his late wife. It was plain to see that Herb had loved her dearly. He was lost without her, bereft and adrift in life at his late age. I knew that listening, and promising to care for his wife’s flock was the most compassionate thing I could do for the man.

And so─much to my chagrin─I have guineafowl yet again.

Honoring the Dream

herb's guinea-flock
Herb’s late-wife’s guinea flock.

Yes, they’re loud, and I feel a little guilty for the cacophonous racket coming from Runamuk that my neighbors must now endure. Mostly though, I feel good about taking in these birds to help Herb honor his beloved, aiding him in his grieving process. I feel good about honoring this woman I never met, who believed in me and in Runamuk. And I feel good about honoring the dream she and I shared in common. The dream to live a free and productive life, as self-sufficiently as possible, in close connection to nature, with love in our hearts.

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Confession #2: Conservation Contract

conservation contract

Last Thursday, this farmer Closed on a Conservation Contract with the FSA that will safeguard Runamuk Acres for the next 50 years. In turn, the farm received a significant reduction on it’s mortgage. I’m floored to be a legitimate conservation farm, yet it all came about because I failed to make my mortgage payment that first year. This confession is about farm-finances, and how that colossal failing turned out to be a blessing in disguise for this female-farmer.

Over My Head

I confess to you, dear reader, that I was unable to make my mortgage payment in my first year. There. I’ve said it.

If you’ve been following along with my story (first of all, thank you so much for that!) likely you’ll recall what a great and mighty leap it was for me to go from landless farmer to farm-owner. My income was just barely enough to qualify for a mortgage in the first place. Then there were expenses related to moving, first-year investments to be made, and a lot of work to be put in to grow the farm and it’s customer base. What’s more, because we came to the farm in July 2018, I wasn’t actually able to plant any crops to increase my financial-standing until spring of 2019. Truthfully, I was in a little over my head.

farm-finance struggle
I love Brene Brown!!!

Even now that this failing has turned into the most wonderful blessing, I am ashamed of the why and the how of this particular story. I’ve agonized over how much detail to share with you, reluctant to admit that I’m a failure─scared of what the haters would say. In the end, I had to talk through it with Deron (remember Deron? my sexy, blue-eyed boyfriend?) to be able to put these words down for you. Ultimately, we both felt that my story might help someone else overcome their own farm-finance struggle, and that alone makes the tale worth sharing.

Leading up to buying the farm back in 2018, I’d been careful with my credit and my expenses. Once I came to New Portland and began establishing Runamuk here, I maxed out my credit cards very quickly. At that point, I was just settling in─trying to get the ball rolling for Runamuk at it’s new home. Even working part-time at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, it was all I could do to keep the lights on, the water running, and everyone fed. Then, when I lost my position with the company and decided to give fulltime farming a try, I had to choose between paying the credit cards every month and buying feed for my livestock. Which would you choose?

So there I was, summer of 2019, unable to make my first mortgage payment, and now I was also delinquent on my credit card bills. Terror fueled my every day as I waited for a foreclosure letter to arrive in the mailbox. I was coaxing myself through panic attacks as I moved chickens around the field. Trying to bolster myself as I trucked veggies to the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, telling myself it wasn’t all an act in futility. Shame kept me awake at night. To have overcome so many obstacles along the path to farm-ownership, only to fail in my very first year was the ultimate humiliation.

Hope to Hold Onto

fsa conservation contract
USDA Service Center for Somerset County.

Janice Ramirez, my agent at the Somerset County FSA branch gave me hope to hold onto. She told me there were several servicing options for such a situation, but we had to wait 90 days after the mortgage payment due date to be able to start the process for any of those programs. She also said that I would need to have all of my accounts current (including my credit cards), and that my numbers would need to match those submitted the year before, which included income from off-farm employment…meaning I had to go back to work.

I had no idea how the FSA expected a single woman to grow a farm-business to the point where it could pay a mortgage if the farmer was not on the farm to do the work. I also had no idea how I was going to manage working with 2 kids at home, 1 with special needs (at that time William was still coming to the farm 2 nights a week), and 1 for whom I received regular calls from the school for behavioral issues. Nonetheless, I went job hunting anyway.

Sugarloaf ski resort is just 30 minutes from the farm. I knew it would be easy enough to secure a job there. Indeed, it was maybe 15 minutes after I’d submitted my application online that I had an email requesting an in-person interview. I took a job as a maid at the Hotel on the mountain, figuring it would be easy enough compared to the work I’m used to doing on the farm. Little did I know that would turn out to be the singlemost horrid work-experience of my life─aside from the glorious mountain views of course. But that’s a story for another day lol. In the meanwhile, I filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to eliminate my credit card debt, which amounted to nearly $20K.

Chapter 7

Filing bankruptcy is another thing I’m not super proud of. It feels like yet another huge failing. Even so, I’m of the mind that this is a warped and twisted financial system set up by the wealthy corporate elite to make money off the masses. I also believe that these options exist to be utilized and I am not above using them if it means I can continue to farm.

I decided I would do this just once. Moving forward, I vowed I would not use credit cards or take any other loans to advance my farm. Runamuk would work strictly on a cash or barter system. In January of 2020 my Chapter 7 bankruptcy case was finalized, zeroing out my accounts and giving me a fresh financial start. This brought me in line to be able to pursue servicing with the FSA in the form of this conservation contract.

What is a Conservation Contract?

The purpose of the program is to help protect and conserve important environmental resources on the customer’s land. By participating in this program, customers reduce their FSA debt, thereby improving their overall financial stability. Borrowers can conserve wildlife habitat and improve the environmental and scenic value of their farms. In exchange, the FSA reduces a portion of the customer’s real estate-related FSA debt.

Debt for Nature Conservation Contract
BraeTek at 13.

To get the maximum financial benefit for the farm, I had to consider a 50-year contract. That’s effectively the remainder of my working career, or the rest of my life depending─and a good chunk of my children’s lives as well. This was a big decision, and not something to be taken lightly.

Under the terms and conditions of the contract, I cannot do anything more with that acreage than maintain it for public appreciation or scientific study as wildlife habitat. No building, timber harvesting, grazing or farming of any kind. What’s more, I have to protect it, ensuring that no one encroaches on Runamuk’s boundaries─else I am held liable with the US government.

BraeTek was just 12 when I brought forth the idea of the conservation contract. Ultimately, it is my hope that at least one of mine or Deron’s children will take up my legacy when I am ready to give up the reigns to the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm. Including the kids in the decision-making processes gives them some sense of responsibility and accountability for the farm.

What’s more, I know that even if they move away and never step foot on another farm for the rest of their lives, they will carry these experiences and memories with them for the rest of their lives. It will have some effect. As mothers and fathers I guess that’s the best we can hope for…that our children will carry some part of their childhood─some part of us─with them into the world.

Go forth, my son, my daughter, but do not forget me…

Determining Eligibility

It has been an incredibly slow and painstaking process to reach Closing on this project. The FSA does not do very many of these conservation contracts, and my agent had never done one herself. Statewide, there are only 55 Farm Service Agency Debt for Nature Conservation Contracts─just 3 in Somerset County (including Runamuk).

To begin with, my FSA agent had to determine if I was eligible for the program. We had to identify the boundaries for the acreage I wanted to put under contract. Then, we had to establish whether or not that acreage would qualify for the program.

conservation easement
Runamuk’s conservation acreage.

Eligible lands for contract include:

  • Highly erodible lands.
  • Lands containing aquatic life, endangered species, or wildlife habitat of local, regional, or national importance.
  • Lands in 100-year floodplains.
  • Areas of high water quality or scenic value.
  • Historic or cultural properties listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Aquifer recharge areas of local, regional, Tribal,or State importance.
  • Buffer zones necessary to protect proposed conservation easement areas.
  • Areas that contain soils generally not suited for cultivation.
  • Areas within or adjacent to Federal, State, Tribal, or local conservation areas.

Site Inspection

The FSA recruited a team of specialists to do a thorough site inspection. This was a big hurdle to be overcome, yet it was something I had really been looking forward to. As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, a self-taught naturalist, and avid nature-lover, I just knew this property had potential. Indeed, it seemed as though the Universe was confirming that instinct when just 3 days before the review, I spotted a Canadian Lynx crossing the road from Runamuk. Surely that could only be a good omen?

On June 2nd I led the party of four on a roundabout tour of the acreage I’d selected for conservation. The group consisted of Janice Ramirez, who is my FSA agent, Nick Pairitz, soil conservationist with the local NRCS, Jeremy Markuson, biologist, also with the NRCS, and one Joe Dembeck, with Somerset County’s Soil & Water Conservation District. Joe had worked as a fisheries biologist for 20 years in positions with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

It was a great privilege for this farmer to have such a wealth of knowledge and expertise on the farm. To see my property through eyes trained by years of education and experience was a fascinating and priceless gift. Their report confirmed what I already suspected about this piece of land, and offered up new insights into this little wildlife refuge of mine.

Site A

conservation agriculture
Runamuk’s enchanting little wetland habitat.

Before coming to the farm, these men spent time in their respective offices reviewing the proposed conservation acreage. Using Google Maps, topomaps, and various USGS maps, they had identified 2 sites of particular interest.

“Location A” is a small wetland area that also happens to sit upon a large underground aquifer. This aquifer feeds the town’s municipal water supply, serving 60 households in the village of North New Portland. The pumping station lies maybe a hundred yards beyond the wetland and Runamuk’s property boundaries, sitting alongside Route 16. That alone makes the site worth protecting.

Check out this article from The Irregular about New Portland’s new pump station, which was recently constructed in 2004.

What’s more, the tiny unnamed stream running through the site empties into Gilman Pond, which flows into Gilman Stream. Gilman Stream is home to a thriving colony of Brook Floater mussels. The Brook Floater is a species of freshwater mussel listed as a threatened species in Maine, and listed as endangered or threatened in nearly every state in which it is found. That also makes this site worth protecting.

A Little About Mussels

conservation contract for wildlife
Brook floater mussel. PC Phyllis Grant via Instagram @phyllyirl

I like mussels, as I enjoy fish and seafood when I can get it. In doing research for this post, I learned a lot about freshwater mussels, their role in the aquatic ecosystem, and the role of the landscape in their distribution.

Did you know that freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled groups of animals in North America? Of the nearly 300 species found in the US, 70 species (or 24%) are currently listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. 17 (or 6%) are being considered for federal listing, and 35 (12%) are believed to be extinct. A whopping 75% of the country’s mussel fauna is listed as endangered, threatened, special concern, or extirpated in some part of their range.

I firmly believe that very creature on our planet has a role of some sort to play in their ecosystems. Mussels are a valuable food source for wildlife like otters, muskrats, raccoons, geese, fish and humans. Most importantly though, mussels recycle nutrients, and improve the water quality and structure of the benthic environment (the eco-region at the bottom of a body of water). The filter feeding activity of an entire mussle community removes large quantities of suspended material from the water column and reduces turbidity. Most of these nutrients are quickly released back into the aquatic ecosystem.

To learn more about Freshwater Mussels, check out this 2007 report provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. It’s fascinating stuff!

Back to Site A…

A small stream of crystalline water cuts through the terrain, with high banks on either side fostering a diversity of wetland plants and grasses. Dead and dying trees, mostly cedars, live in the heart of this wetland. The entire setting is surrounded by a dense and towering forest, making it seem separate and apart from the rest of the world.

“This is ideal habitat for establishing a maternity colony of bats,” the biologist, Jeremy Markuson pointed out. He explained how bats will roost under the peeling bark of the dead and dying cedars. “They like little clearings like this, where they can swoop in after insects at dusk.”

Joe Dembeck lay on the rickety old snowmobile bridge that sags across the unnamed stream, peering down into the water to see what kind of aquatic life might live there. I was very pleased when he discovered brook trout fry, indicating an essential spawning grounds for native fish. Likely the fish come from Gilman Pond about 1500 yards from the site. Incidentally, trout just happens to be this farmers’ favorite fish to eat.

Site B

farm service agency debt for nature contract
The Hackmatack is the only conifer to lose it’s needles every fall.
PC: Caitlin Connell via Instagram @sunny_slopes_farm

Diversity thrives in wetlands and I’d expected that site would draw these men, but “Location B” surprised me. It is a scrappy 5-acre parcel that is sparsely vegetated and─at first glance─seemingly devoid of life. There, the previous owner removed the topsoil and tree stumps following a timber harvest a couple decades ago. Knowing that there are 2 gravel pits bordering my property, it is my guess they were searching for gravel deposits there. The forest has struggled to regain a foothold in the gravelly soil left behind, and I had thought it a rather sad and forlorn part of the forest til the review team cast another light upon it.

The forest has been slow to regenerate there. Growth is sparse, comprised mainly of some red and white pine, and a lot of Northern Larch (aka Tamarack, “Hackmatack” or─my favorite─the “Hack”), which I am very partial to. To me it looked like a sad, sorry piece of land where nature was struggling to overcome the effects of human activity. According to the biologists, however, this is great habitat for turtle nesting, ideal overwintering habitat for myriad native insects, including solitary bees and wasps, and perfect habitat for the common nighthawk, whose populations have been in decline for 20 years now.

Click here to read the review team’s entire report…

How Do You Do It?

runamuk acres conservation farm
Your friendly neighborhood farmer.

“How do you do it?” asked Deron’s 80 year old father. We sat over coffee at the Whittemore’s family home in Madison. David Whittemore Sr. looked across the kitchen table at me with an incredulous expression on his time-weathered face. There was no judgement or criticism in the question. He sincerely wanted to know, how am I able to afford to farm full-time by myself? How am I making it work?

I shrugged and answered honestly, “I really don’t know. But somehow I’ve managed to keep the lights on, the water running, and everyone is fed, happy and healthy.”

Actually, I wonder a lot about how I’m making it work. Mostly, I think it comes down to the sacrifices I’ve been willing to make and the amount of effort I’m willing to give it. I could do an entire post just about the things I’ve gone without or given up. For now, let it suffice to say I’ve gotten pretty crafty when it comes to keeping my expenses low. In this way, I’ve managed to keep things going here. This conservation contract is just one more tool in my arsenal that keeps this girl on the farm and farming.

By entering 41.47 of Runamuk’s 53 acres into this conservation contract for the next 50 years, the FSA took $99,900.09 off the farm’s mortgage. Holy poop!!! In turn, that reduces the farm’s annual mortgage payment from $8750 to $3,927, making solo-farming much more attainable. Best of all, this makes Runamuk an official conservation farm─standing proud for wildlife, and protecting our environment at the local level. I’m pretty darned proud of that!

Thank you for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

Confession #3: Real Love

There are those who say that real love is only a myth, while others spend their whole lives searching for it. This farmer had all but given up on the notion of love, when it caught me unawares and struck like lightning. You and I both know it’s no one’s business but my own whom I choose to love. However, since our significant others have some bearing on the course of our lives, this man is now a part of Runamuk’s story. As such, I feel his contributions deserve to be accounted for. Thus, my third and final confession is that I’ve finally found a true and real love to call my own.

Men Like Deron Whittemore

Men like Deron Whittemore really are far and few between. I think that’s shameful, honestly. The world would be a better place if more men were as good-natured, hardworking and family-oriented as this man. Perhaps, if more men were even half as honorable and compassionate, I wouldn’t have quite the chip on my shoulder as I do. Finally I have found a partner in life who seeks not to control, dominate, or dictate. This man simply seeks to help, and to co-exist─and he loves me of all people. Imagine that.

It’s a big and unusual package that I bring to the table, afterall. As appearances go, I’m no super-model, but I can hold my own. That’s not the problem. No, it’s the peculiarity of the person that I am, and all that comes with me that gave me cause for doubt. Not every guy wants a reclusive, tree-hugging, granola-type tomboyish farmer to be his woman. In fact─in my experience─most don’t.

Finding Connection

We connected online. In this day and age, I am not even going to feel guilty or embarrassed about that. We are both of us so busy in our lives that meeting someone special and finding that connection in our every day activities was never going to happen. Besides─I’m a farmer. I work on my farm. Every day of every week. Who’m I gonna meet?

Somehow though, I was inexplicably drawn to Deron. We met at Dunkin Donuts in Madison on a Friday evening. He and I were the only customers in the shop. I was spellbound sitting across the tiny table from this man with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, a broad set of shoulders, and a large pair of work-roughened hands. The rest of the world seemed to fade away, and time stood still as we chatted over coffee. It was so simple, yet so magical.

Deron’s Journey

Deron has had his own long and difficult journey, meeting me here at this point in time with a number of scars and shadows of the past, having raised 3 kids on his own. Much like myself, the Universe tried and tested him, and the path he has walked molded him into the man he has become. Yet, through it all, Deron has remained honorable and good-natured, emerging on the other side a stronger, more compassionate man for the experience.

Like me, he is a life-long Maine native, raised in Solon, just 13 miles from where I was raised in Madison. It’s a wonder our paths never crossed. We even had kids in the same class at the district junior high lol. Funny how the Universe can bring 2 people together at just the right moment in time…

We have a lot in common, Deron and I─like our love for this region of Maine that we call home, love for the outdoors, for family and community. Deron served as Cub Scout leader of his son’s troop for many years, and is now an active member of our district school board SAD #74.

Having spent years of his career in retail management at places like Ken’s Outback Tavern and Aubuchon Hardware, Deron brings a wealth of business experience to the table. Now he works for the Union, in commercial construction because the hours and benefits work better for his family.

Deron’s Influence at Runamuk

Deron has been here, behind the scenes, for some fairly momentous milestones over the last year: the introduction of the farm’s first lambs, shearing day, and Harvest Celebration─to name a few. He’s been instrumental in some projects that were just too big for this farmer to tackle alone: closing in the hoop-house, the half-acre sea of cucurbits, 20 beds of potatoes, Hay Mission 2020, and the farm sign.

It was his influence that led me to bring back Runamuk’s CSA program, to stick with bread-making when the kitchen seemed oppressive, and to expand the garden to a full acre of vegetable production. It’s amazing how having the right person in your life can drive you to grow─on all levels, while the wrong person can hold you back in a real bad way.

Taking it Slow

We’ve been taking it slow, trying to do things right to build a strong foundation for our future together. It will be a long time before Deron comes home to the farm permanently. Afterall, it’s not just the 2 of us in this relationship, we each have children and family to think of. At middle-age, we are each walking our own path along a journey already set in motion, with our own individual goals and aspirations to fullfill.

Even so, I can’t help feeling that this love is a precious gift from the Universe─a blessing for enduring every trial and hardship put before me and emerging on the other side still filled with hope and love. Never before have I been so certain about a man. Never before have I felt I would do whatever I could to move heaven and earth for this one person. And never before have I been met at that same level by such a worthy partner. That is how I know I have finally found real love in Deron Whittemore.

Thank you for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm.

Beebe the Livestock Guardian Dog

Last week, we welcomed Beebe the livestock guardian dog to Runamuk Acres. This was one of those amazing opportunities that just lined itself up for me and was too good to pass up. I love it when that happens lol. The resulting journey to Downeast Maine was an epic adventure, and the canine protector I came home with will be a valuable asset to the farm. I am one happy farmer.

ISO Livestock Guardian Dog

I am always on the look-out for opportunity. That’s been a big key to the successes I’ve had as a farmer. Simply keeping an open mind, and being ready to seize the moment has led to so many wonderful opportunities.

At the same time though, I’m not one to simply sit and wait for Fate to do all the work. I decided to create an advertisement on Craigslist: “ISO Livestock Guardian Dog”─putting the concept out there into the ether in hopes the Universe would see fit to provide. In the meanwhile, I joined a number of LGD groups on facebook. Following other LGD owners through their struggles and successes helped me learn more about these animals. It gave me a healthy appreciation for what it was going to take to do a good job raising one to serve Runamuk.

A Long-Shot

Thank you @magicallyflatyeticorn for tagging @RunamukAcres on Instagram!!!

The biggest hang-up I had was that I didn’t actually have the $1000-$1800 that an animal like that costs. The farm is gaining momentum now, but that kind of money is currently out of my reach. I had to hope against hope that someone out there would be kind and compassionate enough to work with this farmer to hash out some kind of payment arrangement or barter for goods and services. I knew it was a long shot, but I put it out there anyway. If you never ask, the answer will always be no. And sometimes─just sometimes─the answer might surprise you.

The chance to score my LGD came to me through Instagram and one of my local followers there. I am blessed with a supportive network of followers both in real life and online, and I am so grateful for it. Laura Casey @magicallyflatyeticorn tagged @RunamukAcres in the comments of a post on Instragram asking, “Do you folks know anyone looking for a guardian?”

I didn’t have any expectations when I reached out to the dog breeder @dawnland_wolfhounds on Instagram. Bravely, I asked my question and waited hopefully, for his response. It was a pleasant surprise when he returned that he was fine with a payment arrangement. He said he just liked seeing his dogs go to good, working homes. Overjoyed at this news, I made an appointment for the following day.

Downeast

From the farm, it was nearly 4 hours downeast to Crawford, Maine. Having never been further east than Bangor and Hampden, this was quite the adventure for yours truly. Though the color was past peak foliage, the majority of the trees still had most of their leaves despite it being mid-October. The burnt yellows and orange hues made for a beautiful ride on a sunny Tuesday morning.

As I went further east into Washington county, I saw vast hillsides painted a burnished red by the scrubby, low-growing blueberry bushes. Our nights here in Maine have grown cold, most plant-life is dead or dying. They are withdrawing their energies back into their roots, deep down in the ground. But, oh! What a display the wild Maine blueberry makes across those barren fields! That is a sight I won’t soon forget.

After a couple of false stops thanks to Google Maps, I eventually arrived at my destination. I met Eric Bacon, who raises Central Asian Shepherds, as well as chickens and goats.

The Central Asian Shepherd

Even with all of the research I’d done on LGDs, I’d never heard of the Central Asian Shepherd─apparently they’re still fairly rare in the United States. This breed is a product of natural selection, bred not by men, but by climate and circumstance. Only the hardiest pups survived, and only those with strong guardian instincts were allowed to stay with the flocks. CASs come from a vast territory of land that spans from the mountains of Mongolia to the deserts of Kara Kum. It is a legacy that is merged with the civilization of man, and their timeline can be found by tracing the history of the ancient Silk Road. Today they continue to be widely used in Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The Central Asian Shepherd is considered an “extra-large” dog, heavily built and powerful. They are extremely intelligent, brave, and self-assured dogs, hardy and adaptable. These are territorial guardians bred to guard people and their possessions. The CAS is extremely affectionate, completely and utterly devoted to their families, and they absolutely love children. They seek out human attention, bonding first with their humans and then with the flock. They will guard whatever is placed in their perceived territory.

Since I have 2 male dogs kicking around the farm already, Eric suggested I pick out a girl-pup to avoid potential conflict. He warned me that even then, I should be aware this breed is very territorial and protective by nature. He advised me to always be careful with visiting dogs.

Beebe

There were half a dozen female puppies to choose from, many with the badger-faced markings that I’m so partial to. Only Beebe, though, had the pretty brownish-grey 2-tone coloring, with longer fur than some of the other dogs, and oh-so-soft to touch. Eric separated her from her siblings so that I could spend a little one-on-one time with her to make up my mind.

I knelt there on the ground, fishing peanut butter flavored training treats out of my pocket, while the other dogs barked in protest and goats bleated nearby. Patiently I proceeded to coax the puppy’s affection, feeding her the little nibbles, and loving on her the way that all dogs adore. When I would get distracted by my conversation with Eric, Beebe began nosing the pocket where I’d stashed the treats, demanding another and another. It wasn’t long before she rolled over for me to rub her tummy, and I knew I’d won her trust.

I had no doubt that Beebe was the one. Just in the span of a few short minutes the pup had already proven herself a quick learner. Already she’d given this farmer her trust. Having learned long ago to go with my gut instinct on such matters, I asked the man how much, and we proceeded to hash out a deal that suited both of us, though I think Beebe was the real winner this day.

“Seeing them go is hard, but once they’re settled in their new homes, that’s when their personalities really start to show. That’s when they become the dogs they were meant to be.” Eric told me as he said his goodbyes to the puppy he’d raised.

Life at Runamuk Acres

beebe the livestock guardian dog
Beebe at 5 months.

Beebe is acclimating quickly to life at Runamuk Acres, but she is not yet ready to assume her role as livestock guardian. Because of her size, it’s easy to forget that she’s only 5 months old─still just a baby. She has quite a lot of growing and training to get through before Beebe will be ready to take on a pack of coyotes. Right now we’re working on the basics: where to poop and where not to, “Come”, “Sit”, “Stay”, and “No”. We’re building a relationship, she and I, building trust and growing love between us. That is the most important thing, for it is love that will drive the dog to protect all that this farmer holds dear. And afterall…love is everything.

Thank you for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm.

Confessions From a Female Farmer: Part 1 – Mom Issues

I confess to keeping secrets from you, my loyal readers and dedicated followers. This past year at Runamuk has been filled with some big changes for both farm and farmer. I’ve faced down some serious mom-issues, restructured my financial situation, and fallen in love with the man of my dreams. I took a long hiatus from writing, giving that energy to the farm and to my family. Waiting to see how events would play out before I dared validate them, I’ve kept my cards close to my chest. Now, as we slip deeper into the Dark Days of the Year, I am ready to write once more. I’m ready to continue for you the story of my journey as a female farmer in the western mountains of Maine.

Mom-Issues

the boys
My 2 handsome sons: BraeTek (left), William (right).

This part of the story is about the farmer who is also a mom. These are fairly personal issues and therefore harder to share publicly. Yet, I feel strongly that these are the issues steering the course of a farm─any farm─and things like this need to be acknowledged. Family is at the heart of farming. Ask any farmer why they are willing to work so hard for so little pay, and I’m willing to bet that he or she will tell you they do it for the lifestyle it provides their family. They do it for love. With that in mind, I confess that I’ve faced down some pretty challenging mom-issues this year.

William at 17

Early this past spring, my son William stopped coming to the farm for his regular weekly visits. Now 17, he had long since decided that he no longer needed a mom, he loathed going back and forth between two homes, and he preferred to reside full-time at his father’s. Finally my ex and I capitulated, and I was forced to accept that my baby was grown up and no longer needs his mom.

World’s Okayest Mom

I have long since accepted the title of “World’s Okayest Mom”. No where near the worst mom, but a far cry from the best. I used to think it was me─my own maternal failing. It took another mother to recognize the cards and point out to me that I’d been dealt a particularly challenging hand.

I have 2 sons, William and BraeTek, born 4 years apart. At the age of 3, William was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now 17, William has been reevaluated and labeled level 2-autistic─meaning he needs support to be able to function within normal society.

william
William at 17

“Can you tell?”

Someone asked me recently if you could tell by looking at William if he was different, and I said yes. He is a handsome young man now. Tall and slender─like my father was─with the same dark hair. But it’s his mannerisms that set him apart instantly.

On a good day, William can be charming and engaging. He loves to tell stories and be the center of attention. He’s very dramatic, and will wait for just the right opportunity to play out some prank he’s been scheming. William loves to read and research, has an obsession with old comics like Garfield, TinTin, and Foxtrot. Quick-witted and smart, with a memory like an elephant. I love those days.

On a bad day, William can be surly, or grumpy, withdrawing from the world to the sanctity of his bedroom. He has a fairly rigid perception of the world (The World According to William) combined with a significant lack of tolerance and some impulse control issues. Thanks to his everlasting memory, he holds a grudge like no one’s business, and will sometimes fixate on an event or particular conversation from the past. On a really bad day, that combination can cause him to self-combust. He might even work himself into an angry tizzy in which he is a danger to himself, and to those around him.

William’s Wrath

me n my son
It’s getting hard to get my boys to take a pic with their dear old mum!

I admit that I have been a target for William’s wrath for years now, and his resentment toward me seemed to grow with every passing birthday. He resents the bees. He resents the farm. BraeTek is 13 now, and William still resents me for having a second child lol. He resents the divorce. Change is hard for him, and going back and forth between two homes upsets him. Most of the time he is even offended by my unconditional love (but maybe that’s more a teenager thing than an autism thing?).

I could write a full-length book about what it was like raising William and trying to raise a farm at the same time lol. Maybe some day I will…

Suffice it to say that William’s behavior escalated to the point where my ex and I could no longer deny his right to choose where and how he will live. Shortly after his 17th birthday William stopped coming to the farm every week. I was left blaming myself, questioning my priorities and my maternal capabilities.

I wonder─do all mothers and fathers feel that same sense of self-doubt when their children leave the nest? If you have any experiences or sage words of wisdom to share, please feel free to drop a comment below─or shoot me an email if it is too personal for you to share here.

Quiet House

William having fledged the nest was a rough adjustment, for sure. This big old house was a lot quieter with only BraeTek and I in it. Eventually, I worked through my feelings of inadequacy, putting into perspective the challenges that I had faced in raising my children. Though it still pains me, I accept that William is just more comfortable at his father’s. I can pick myself up and carry on, knowing that I have always done the best I could to do right by my children, while still being true to myself and my own dreams.

In the wake of that acceptance, I began to see a new opportunity to focus my maternal energy on my younger son, BraeTek.

Tradeschool for BraeTek

It was a long series of events, actually, that led me to induct my son into “Runamuk’s Tradeschool for Recalcitrant Teens”. BraeTek had been struggling at school for the last couple of years. He was having trouble keeping up in class, had fallen behind in math pretty significantly, and his handwriting was atrocious. He was depressed and lacked confidence, but played it off as indifference.

BraeTek_Summer 2020

He railed against what he perceived as injustices against himself or his friends amid the junior-high society, and I was being called into school frequently for one incident or another. In the face of these struggles and the stress of having an autistic brother at home, BraeTek had become resentful─withdrawing into internet media just as so many kids today are inclined to do.

Lazy

Then he started bragging about being lazy…. My son!

I was aghast. Lazy is the ultimate dirty word in my book. While I feel taking the occasional lazy-day is completely acceptable and sometimes necessary to recharge, lazy as a way of life makes me cringe violently.

child with pine cone
BraeTek at age 3

Maybe it is the active farmer inside me, or the naturalist closer tied to the land than to society, that cringes when she looks around to see so many people, young and old, lost to the cell-phone void. I see tomorrow’s generation of up and coming bright minds─seemingly with no clue of how to actually do anything. Young people with no motivation or work ethic to accomplish much in life─largely because they are completely and utterly addicted to their screens: tablets, computers, cell-phones, and video game boxes.

Then the covid pandemic set in, and kids everywhere were suddenly home fulltime. Though BraeTek had a few chores, there was so now much time in the day that he was spending hours upon hours in front of a screen─either his phone, a computer, or the TV. That just wasn’t acceptable to this mom.

A Valuable Opportunity

I decided this was a valuable opportunity to instill a sense of work ethic in my son. I offered him $25 a week, or $5 a day, to work for Runamuk Monday through Friday. Still in it’s infancy here in New Portland, the farm cannot afford to hire outside help. It can, however, afford $25 a week for an unskilled, underage apprentice.

BraeTek has always been something of an entrepreneur─motivated by money. At 9 years old, he was selling lemonade at the Madison Farmers’ Market. By 11 he had added homemade dog treats to his stand. Now he leapt at the chance to earn his own money by working for the farm.

BraeTek as my apprentice.

Over the course of the summer, I began to see how I might create an education for my son right here on the farm. I had homeschooled my kids before─William til he was 12, and BraeTek til he was 7. There was no reason I couldn’t pick that back up. I’d always enjoyed learning with the kids, exposing them to new things, and sharing my days with them. By the time school started up again this fall, my mind was made up. BraeTek would not be going back to public school.

Acclimating to Working Life

It was a little rough at first, as BraeTek acclimated to working life. He had a new routine, higher expectations, and increased responsibility. The money was great─$25 a week is a lot when you’re 13─but he learned pretty quickly that he would actually have to work for it and that mom has some pretty high standards. Runamuk is growing and gaining financially, but $25 a week adds up to $100 a month, and that is still a lot of money at this stage. As a farmer, I have to be able to justify that expense even if it is my son.

I’m excited, though, to have this opportunity with BraeTek. He needs to be able to work at his own pace, maybe with a little extra support, and a lot more physical activity. I can give that to him right here on the farm. What’s more, looking around at the masses of humanity zombified by their screens, effectively rendered useless to society, I can’t help feeling fairly passionately that learning to work, and developing a strong work ethic is going to be a huge asset for him.

Steered by “Mom”

I know that parenting is never easy, and perhaps letting go is the hardest part of the job. William fledging the nest was certainly a tough adjustment for this mom. Of course I will still see him from time to time, but he’s beyond needing me at this point. BraeTek on the other hand, will need me for at least a few more years, and I have big plans for him. It will be interesting to see the impact this young man will have on the farm─and how much of an impact the farm will have on him.

fresh carrots
William has always loved fresh veggies straight from mom’s garden!

In truth, Runamuk has always been steered by “Mom”─by the choices this farmer has made as a mom. Afterall, it was for my children that I ever started growing food in the first place. It was our family’s low-income situation that drove me to make my own, to DIY. Learning to bake and cook from scratch allowed me to stretch our grocery budget so that we could eat better. Now that we have settled in New Portland and the farm is really growing, I can’t wait to see how my children will steer Runamuk through the next phase of it’s journey.

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm.

New 1-Acre Garden!

Runamuk’s new 1-acre garden is both exhilarating and terrifying for this farmer. I am immensely proud of the progress we’ve made since gaining a permanent location 2 years ago. In spite of the challenges, Runamuk continues to grow at a steady pace, and for that I am grateful.

The new garden with the backside of the farmhouse just beyond. It’s a thing of beauty.

With 25 households participating in my CSA program, and the farmstand to supply, Runamuk needed to expand it’s garden in a big way this year. I’d initially intended to use my own tractor and disk harrow, but ran into a snag with Walter, my old ’51 Farmall tractor (named for my late father, Dana Walter Richards). I wound up hiring Walker Flemming, a local acquaintance made last year at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, to rototill the new 1-acre garden plot. It was money well spent, too; he did a fantastic job.

This is one sexy fence!

Once the tilling was done, we ran an electric fence around the whole thing─more to keep out our own dogs and the rogue chickens than anything else lol. With Murphy on patrol, and so much activity around the farm, the deer and other wildlife haven’t come very close. It’s an impressive thing─that new fence says “this is serious business”.

That feels like the theme this year─with the newly expanded sheep flock, a new 1-acre garden, a refrigerator for the farmstand, the CSA program, on-farm festivities, and (finally!) a farm-sign. It all says: “this is serious business”. NOT just another hobby farm.

Yet it is not without challenges.

Til a couple of weeks ago, when we finally received 2.5 inches of rain, we hadn’t seen any measurable precipitation since the 15th of May. According to the National Drought Monitor, Maine─like the rest of the northeast─is experiencing “moderate drought conditions”. That’s pretty usual for a region that typically has plenty of rainfall, though July does tend to be dry.

My soil is sandy and poor here, lacking in organic matter. Before the rains, walking through the new garden was like walking through a silty powder. I could watch a strong gust of wind carry the newly tilled soil away in a brown cloud.

After the rains, I saw a number of local gardens portrayed on Instagram that were under water. We’d gotten so much rain all at once, that the parched earth could not absorb it all. The water had no where to go. In my gardens however, the soil was thoroughly saturated, but there was no standing water. One of the perks of having sandy soil is superior drainage.

Working upon the earth following the rain, it felt rather like a sauna. Yet after such a long, dry spell, I dared not complain. Kneeling in the pathway pulling tedious weeds away from my precious carrots, I was covered in a sheen of sweat, with a steady drip off the end of my nose into the garden soil. Several maddening horseflies swarmed around me, landing on my shoulders and back to bite at me. A sense of urgency compels me to work harder and longer, and I am forever criticizing myself for not being able to do it all at once.

I finally have a farm-sign! Woot! Woot!

Sometimes when I look around the farm all I can see is an endless list of tasks that need my attention and projects that need funding. It’s terrifying to look at that new 1-acre garden already blushing green with weeds, knowing that it’s going to be overrun and impossible for one woman to control without better equipment.

That’s what keeps you humble, I think lol─as a farmer…. Knowing that no matter how hard you work, you will never be completely caught up. Then, just when you think it’s safe to breathe, Mother Nature throws a new curve ball at you. Like covid-19. Or a droughty growing season.

Regardless, Runamuk will continue to grow year by year, and I will continue to improve the systems in place here so that my work gets easier, and the farm becomes increasingly more productive. Now that I’ve been here a couple of years, I can see clearly the sort of infrastructure I need to have in place in order for Runamuk to be successful long-term, and already I have the investments for the next 2 years picked out to meet that goal.

Looking at it that way─with an eye on the bigger picture─I can tamp down that sense of panic that threatens to engulf me. So what if the garden is weedy in 2020?

Hamming it up with Hakurei Turnip-Head.

I stand to stretch my back and legs, inhaling deeply as I close my eyes to just stand there. For a minute I allow myself to be one with the world around me. The sun is hot on my face, yellow behind my eyelids as an oh-so-subtle breeze toys with my fly-away hair. Birds in the trees around the garden call to one another, singing their sweet songs. A frog’s low croaking comes from the pond just down over the gully behind me: ba-room, ba-roooom. From the field out back a rooster crows and one of the young lambs maaa’s for my attention.

I am a farmer, and this is my farm. I am a facilitator of life─working to improve the soil, improve habitat, and cultivate a more prolific ecosystem on these scrappy 53-acres. My very being is now intertwined with all of these creatures, and all of these plants. For the next 40 years I will be working to make conditions more favorable for plant and animal life here. In return the land will feed and sustain myself and my family, as well as the community we are a part of. Soon enough I will have bigger and better harvests for the people this farm supports. That is my goal. This is my life now, and the legacy I will leave behind. Weeds and all.

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm.

Runamuk’s First-Ever Lambing Season!

This was Runamuk’s first-ever lambing season, and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to sheep-breeding. I’ve more than doubled the size of my flock this spring, going from 4 sheep to 10, my ideal flock-size. This means that next year Runamuk will be able to offer our grass-fed lamb-meat to local patrons. I am one happy farmer.

Lilian’s Birthing

While I’ve kept chickens and bees for well over a decade, I’ve never raised anything larger. Breeding and birthing critters is still new to this farmer. Since the fall of 2018, when a pair of Romneys were first donated to Runamuk, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about sheep. Like: they can (and will) jump a fence, how to treat bloat, and─consequently─how to prevent bloat in the first place lol.

Those donated romneys are no longer with me, but they spurred in me a love for ruminants and sheep in particular, and last spring I invested in a starter flock of finnsheep. The goal is to use the sheep for pasture management and soil remediation. With that comes the additional benefit of grass-fed meat to feed my own family, as well as other local households.

Aside from the sheep-shenanigans leading up to breeding season (for details on that story check out: Lilian’s Temper Tantrum) and difficulties keeping my rams separated from the ewes, my first-ever lambing season was a wonderful success. There were no calamities or disasters. I did not have to intervene in the birthing or resort to calling a vet. Everyone is happy and healthy here at Runamuk and that is a beautiful thing.

Making the decision to invest in an older ewe was a good move on my part, I think. Lilian was 2 years old last summer when I picked her out at Olde Haven Farm in Chelsea, Maine. She’d already been through a pregnancy and was a good mother to her previous lambs. Being a novice to sheep, I’d never been through the birthing process and it was my hope that Lilian’s experience would carry us all through it without any issues. And she did, too.

I watched my ewes growing broader around the middle, anxiously awaiting lambing-day (or night), and even installed a security camera to better monitor the situation. I dubbed it the “Lamb-Cam”.

Somehow the lambing still came as a surprise. It was March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. My 13yo son, BraeTek, and I, had just settled onto the couch for a movie night. I used an app on my phone to check the security camera just as the movie was starting, and there it was! A tiny white squirming lamb that Lilian was busy cleaning! I showed the video to my son and then had to practically race him out to the sheep-shed, so eager to see this new addition was he that he could scarcely contain himself.

While we were there in the shed admiring the newborn, Lilian flopped herself down and gave birth to a second lamb. It was astounding to me that BraeTek was so ga-ga for the whole experience. I’d once teased him about his own birthing process, and he’d become so upset that he was nearly in tears because the thought of it was so utterly repulsive to him. His enthusiasm for the event was a precious thing for this farmer/mom.

Lilian gave birth that day to 1 male lamb, and 1 ewe lamb, which was exactly what I’d hoped for out of this breeding season. Of course I want more ewes, but I need enough rams too, that when I put one with the ewes for breeding, there’s not just one ram left all lonely by himself. Sheep are gregarious creatures and always need a buddy for company.

Lilian’s ram lamb: Hakurei Turnip-Head.
Lilian’s little ewe lamb made the front page of The Irregular newspaper in Kingfield!

Runamuk was also featured recently in the Irregular’s Spring Guide! Check out the article: Local Eating and Agriculture

Lucy’s Birthing

Because of her diminutive size, I had intended to wait til next year to breed Lucy. Mid-winter sheep-shenanigans, however, resulted in Lucy’s impregnation, and on May 5th she gave birth to a tiny, but very strong and healthy, ewe lamb. Thankfully there were no complications and everyone is doing fine.

Lucy and her tiny baby, Thumbellina.

Investment Lambs

Before I realized that Lucy was expecting, I’d sent part of this year’s tax return to Pam and Kelby Young at Olde Haven Farm for investment into another breeding ewe. My ideal flock size is a 10 sheep. 10 chosen breeders will live here at Runamuk. Every spring the flock will grow with lambing season, but every fall the extra animals will be turned into food. It may seem cold or harsh, but this is the reality of farm-life. I believe that 10 is a comfortable number for this small farm to support.

So when Olde Haven reached out to say that the lambs were ready, I gladly made my way southward to Chelsea, ME. Bringing new animals to the farm is always a treat.

This was my third visit to Olde Haven Farm for critters. Breeding stock is a big investment, and not to be taken lightly, I think. The animals at Olde Haven are high quality: happy, healthy, friendly, and they come from good people doing good work for their family and for their community. It makes me feel really good to support a fellow farmer.

Pam met me at the busy farmstand and led me to the backside of their farm’s property. The pastures at Olde Haven stretch out behind their high-tunnels, all surrounded by the Maine forest. The newly weaned lambs sprawled en masse in the shade under a tall tree, and Jack, the Great Pyrenees, monitored the situation. A trio of small lambs came crying to the fence at the sight of us.

“Can you tell which ones are the bottle-babies?” Pam asked.

Kelby joined us on-site, and I relayed my 3 specifications for this year’s investment: it needs to be a girl, needs to be friendly, and not too small. Coloring was less of a consideration now that I have a fairly well-rounded palette in my flock.

I really admire the way Pam and Kelby work together as a team to help me select the animal that will best meet my needs. They know their flock well, so they know who is more friendly, which lambs came from good mothers, and which ones will make good breeding stock.

At length we selected a sturdy white ewe lamb and tucked her into the dog crate I’d brought with me. Then, as we were preparing to depart, Kelby gestured to the little black bottle-fed lamb and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want one more?” I think he was seeking to reduce some of the burden on the farm-staff. Bottle-feeding babies is a huge time-commitment and Olde Haven is a diverse operation; the Youngs have a lot going on there.

Half-joking I retorted, “Is it free?” At this point in the season I’ve already made my annual farm-investments and the funds are not there for Runamuk to make any large purchases.

Kelby looked to his wife, Pam, “Fifty bucks?”

Pam agreed and so I gratefully accepted the animal. I would have to feed the lamb a bottle every morning and night for the next 3 weeks, but $50 for a breeding ewe was an offer I couldn’t turn down.

I managed to get outside the fence this time, making my departure, when those farmers petitioned me to take a third ewe. A little white lamb, another of the bottle-babies, was crying pitifully as I took the black lamb away─they were sisters. Pam and Kelby didn’t want to split them up, so of course I said yes. I came home that day with 3 new ewe lambs, paying just an additional $50 for the pair of bottle-fed lambs.

New ewe lamb: Fiona.
Bottle-babies Maleficent (left), and her sister Aurora (right).

First-Ever Lambing Season a Success

And just like that I now have 10 sheep in my flock!

It’s a relief to be able to say that Runamuk’s first-ever lambing season was a success. I’m not too proud to admit that I still have a lot to learn about sheep husbandry. However, there were no major calamities or tragedies, and for that, this farmer is extremely grateful.

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm.

Deliveries on the Back-Roads of Maine

deliveries on the backroads of maine

I have to admit that deliveries on the back roads of Maine have long been a favored pastime for this farmer. Countless little roads thread their way across the landscape, beckoning the traveler off the 2-lane highways and deeper into the heart of the state. Here are the places where Maine’s legacy still exists─a hold-over from days gone by. Steeped in history and tradition, these back-roads fascinate me. Delivering Runamuk’s farm-goods to households in these rural and wild parts of Maine is never a chore, but a privilege I am grateful for.

deliveries on the backroads of maine
One of Maine’s many backroads.

Roaming the Backroads

When I was a girl, my mother would occasionally load her 3 children─myself, my younger brother and my baby sister─into the beat-up yellow station wagon our family owned. She drove the car out of town, stopping along the way at Casey’s Market in Anson to buy ham Italian sandwiches (another Maine tradition) and other picnic provisions. Then she drove northward, away from the cities and towns, into the depths of the Maine wilderness. Sometimes we went swimming at Embden Pond. Sometimes we were fishing little streams off an unknown bridge on a dirt road somewhere in Moscow or Rangeley. Other times we picked blueberries behind an abandoned farmhouse in Phillips, or blackberries under the powerlines in New Vineyard. These are treasured memories for me, and probably my favorite memories of my mother.

Roaming the backroads became a habit when my eldest son, William, was a baby. Sometimes a ride in the car was the only way to get him to nap. The backroad drives became a means of escape when life became rocky for me, and I spent countless hours rolling down one dirt road or another, searching for my forever farmhouse.

While progress comes to southern and central Maine, creeping ever northward into rural areas, off the beaten path old Maine still exists. Forgotten farmhouses in varying conditions are scattered in unknown river valleys. Above them on a high hill or mountainside, little log cabins complete with outhouse are hidden in the dense forests.

stonewall on the backroads of maine
The stonewalls criss-crossing the landscape were constructed by hand by early farmers to Maine!

Maine’s Legacy

Stone walls running along the roadside speak of a legacy almost forgotten, while massive maples act as sentries, lining the roads. Gnarled branches spread out overhead as you pass beneath the trees. Sometimes that legacy has been maintained, the fields preserved, the old farmhouse in-tact. Other times the forest has reclaimed the fields where livestock once grazed, and all that remains of the farmhouse is a stone foundation in the earth only visible during spring or fall, when the forest vegetation has died back, allowing the secrets of the landscape to be seen.

In these parts there still exists many family homesteads with backyard gardens and a coop full of chickens. Here people still go smelting and eat fiddleheads in the spring. They make strawberry-rhubarb pies and can jars of raspberry jam. In the fall they hunt to put meat in their freezer and during the winter they go ice fishing. People in these parts are still connected to the land and Maine’s rich agricultural legacy thrives even in this modern society. These are my people. This is where I belong.

backroad adventures
Where in Maine?

Committed to Local Food

When they were younger, egg-deliveries were the perfect excuse to get out of the house without the kids and take a drive down a backroad. As Runamuk grew, I gave up the deliveries in favor of setting up at the local farmers’ market. Getting back to delivery over the course of this winter has been wonderful. Ironically, it prepared my farm in advance for the coronavirus pandemic. I was offering delivery before delivery became a necessity, and I really haven’t had to change much about how I do business.

In fact, more than 20 households have enrolled to participate in Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Share program. These people have committed to local food─they’ve committed to Runamuk─and they have such faith in my abilities that they’ve even pre-paid to have dibs on the food I am producing. That is a huge compliment to this humble farmer, and something that is not taken lightly. It is now my responsibility to ensure that those families have access to high-quality, fresh foods every week. This is serious business.

I’ve been preparing for this all winter, though─ramping up production and putting different pieces in place. I am ready and eager to do the work. Shelves upon shelves of seedlings sit under lights inside the farmhouse waiting for the ground to warm up. This past weekend I was finally able to get the hoop-house closed in to allow for expanded seedling production. These plants will fill my expanded gardens, and will eventually fill bellies within my local community.

farmer sam card
This is a card from one of the families I serve.      3yo Rory loves my blueverry muffins!

To me, there is no higher honor than to be someone’s farmer. It truly is my privilege to be able to stock the shelves at the Runamuk farmstand, to make these deliveries on the backroads of Maine, and to feed and nurture the people and places I hold most dear. Who’s your farmer?

Note: The deadline to enroll in Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Share program is Thursday, April 30th.
Click here for details and to read about the special perks I’m offering members. Those who are interested in participating, but are either waiting for tax returns, stimulus checks, or are simply strapped for cash, please don’t hesitate to contact the farm to ask about late-payments, payment arrangements, potential bartering opportunities, or work-shares. I really want to make high-quality, fresh foods accessible to as many households as possible. That is my commitment to my local community.

Thanks for following along with the story of the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm! Subscribe by email to receive the latest blog-posts directly to your inbox. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!