Over the course of the winter months, this farmer has been hyper-focused on growing food and community here at Runamuk. I spent the winter just doing the work─getting my affairs in order so that Runamuk can have a successful 2020 growing season. As a result, things on the blog-front have been fairly quiet. I wouldn’t presume to think that my mundane blog-posts have been missed by anyone out there, but I have certainly missed writing during these last few months. Sometimes it is necessary though, to take a step back to focus on what’s really important, and I’m glad I did─there have been some positive developments here at Runamuk.
It’ll be 2 years come July since Runamuk landed in the obscure village of New Portland, Maine. I’m not too proud to admit that it was a big leap for this farmer, and my first year was quite a struggle. Bootstrapping my way to farm-ownership meant I came here with zero-savings, and what little capital I had was eaten up by investments in infrastructure during my first year. November and December were pretty dicey─financially speaking─but once this region got its’ first big snowstorm, this farm became host to a good many skiers to Sugarloaf. I was able to regain my footing, and even get ahead a little.
The FarmstayBnB & Farm-Fresh Breakfasts
The 2 guest rooms here are listed with AirBnB as a “farmstayBnB”. Accommodations are pretty simple. I don’t have much to offer in the way of luxury. Guests get an immaculately clean room with a ready-made bed, and a farm-fresh breakfast made-to-order, for the affordable rate of $50 a night.
I’m very up front about this being a working farm as opposed to a hobby-farm or a gentleman’s farm. The farming must go on even when guests are on-site. Even with an honest description on AirBnB, there have been some guests who did not realize what they were signing on for. It dawns on them about the time they walk into the dinning room. There, my giant chalkboard is mounted to the wall, with an extensive to-do list for each aspect of the farm: livestock, apiary, garden, homestead, etc. That’s when they realize that this is a real farm, and I am 100% serious about my work.
Most folks were intrigued by the farming and I believe they took away a new appreciation for life on small farms. A few were less than impressed with what I had to offer. Yet, I always do my best to make folks feel welcomed and comfortable while they’re here. I know full well my lifestyle isn’t for everyone, so I don’t take it personally when guests prefer accommodations with a private bathroom, or a TV in their room. For the most part though, I think even those guests who were less than impressed with the accommodations left with a favorable impression following my fabulous, farm-fresh breakfasts. Good food can win over even the most stubborn hearts.
Growing Food & Community Through Delivery
With the farmstayBnB covering the bills, I’ve been able to focus on growing food and community through Runamuk’s delivery service. Despite the fact that Runamuk does not yet have the capacity to grow vegetables year-round─or even to extend our season for vegetable production─I’ve offered my community the things I can produce in the depths of winter: eggs, pea shoots, bread and other baked goods. I still have beeswax soap available too.
The delivery program helped to maintain the momentum I gained last summer at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market. This has allowed me to grow the farm’s income even during the hardest part of the year: winter. Each week I post the list of available products from Runamuk to our facebook page. I also email the list to customers who have subscribed to the Runamuk mailing list. Sometimes I post the list to the community pages for the towns I serve─just to remind folks that we are here offering fresh, locally produced foods and products.
The bread was a huge hit, and muffins and cookies are always popular. I gained lots of new customers over the course of the winter, and even managed to turn a few households on to pea shoots. In Kingfield, I picked up a couple of commercial accounts with local restaurants: the Orange Cat Cafe loves my Honey-Pecan granola, and the Kingfield Woodsman raves about my breads.
It got to be that I was baking twice a week. Some of those sessions became 36 or 48-hour marathons with little sleep and a frenzied attempt to keep my delivery schedule. During one such marathon, I realized the baking was going to be too much time in the kitchen once the growing season got underway.
CSA Farm-Share Program
Ultimately, my goal is to feed families and community-members high-quality, nutritious foods─mostly vegetables. I believe the pathway to a healthier lifestyle and a healthier global ecosystem is a diet that is largely plant-based. In light of that revelation, I opted to limit acces to my baked goods and to grow my community through Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Share Program.
Access to my handmade bread, baked fresh each week has become one of the biggest perks of becoming a supporting member of this farm. Several of my dedicated patrons have enrolled just so they can continue to receive their weekly bread deliveries. Other CSA-members are holding out for the fresh vegetables that will be available once the growing season gets underway.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many direct-to-consumer farmers (farmers like myself) are seeing an increase in sales. I have also welcomed a number of new customers and CSA-members to the farm. To better meet the needs of my community during this difficult time, I’ve extended the deadline for enrollment for my CSA Farm-Share program to the end of April. I’m offering flexible payment options for my low-income community members. Just ask.
With local food in such high demand, I’ve decided to open my farm stand early this season. Beginning this Saturday, April 11th, Runamuk’s self-service farm stand will be open every Saturday from 8-2. I’m still working to get things organized, but the farm stand is set up on the enclosed front porch of the farmhouse. I managed to trade farm-credit for a small refrigerator/freezer that I’ve stocked with eggs and breads and pea shoots. In a few more weeks vegetables will be available there too.
I want to encourage the local community to visit the farm─not only to pick up fresh foods and products produced locally─but to connect with the farm that is producing their food. The animals here are all super-friendly and love visitors. During the growing season the gardens and the apiary are fascinating places for observation. Soon I will even have several newly constructed picnic tables on-site.
What’s more, this property boasts a half-mile trail (1 mile round-trip) that runs through the 10-acre pasture behind the farmhouse, into the forest to a secluded wetland area that I have dubbed the “Enchanted Wetland”. I have maps and scavenger hunts available, and the trail is clearly marked. It is my hope that locals will take the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature even for a short time. It’s hugely important for our children to learn more about this natural world around us. We really are all connected on this incredible planet we call home.
Stay Tuned for Up-Coming Stories!
I took the winter off from blogging to better focus on doing the work here to prepare Runamuk for a successful 2020 season. I’m glad I did too, however, the writer in me is ready to once again share stories about farm-life and my journey as a woman who farms. Stay tuned for up-coming stories including (but not limited to) the story of my first-ever lambing-season!!
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!
Earn bonus bucks with Runamuk’s early bird sale on CSA farm-shares!
It’s been 10 years since my first CSA program, back when Runamuk was brand new and I was farming on a one-acre corner lot in-town Anson. I did the more common style of CSA then─where members received a weekly share of whatever was in season at the time. Members share in the risks associated with farming─meaning, if the season did not go well or a crop did not perform, members might not get much in their boxes and could lose money alongside the farmer.
That didn’t sit well with me, because I always want to give my customers their money’s worth. This time around, the Runamuk CSA will work as a pre-paid account that comes with special perks for members. Customers can purchase whatever they like from whatever it is this farm has available. That takes the risk out of the investment for the customer, and the stress out of the program for the farmer─for this farmer, anyway.
Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Shares
Community Supported Agriculture is a relationship between community members and their local farm. Members commit to a whole season, allowing the farmer to offset early season costs such as seeds, amendments, etc. In exchange, members receive an abundance and variety of nutritious vegetables and farm-products over the course of the growing season, along with certain member-perks.
Patrons of Runamuk Acres can earn a 20% bonus by signing up for a CSA farm-share in the months of January and February. Farm Shares serve as a pre-paid account that you can draw on throughout the season. This is a flexible and convenient option which allows customers to shop for what they need, when they need it.
For example, pre-paying $100 will give you a $120 credit with the farm, or pre-pay $300 to gain a $360 credit with Runamuk. This credit can be spent on any of our products, at any of our retail venues, and has no expiration date.
Members are highly valued customers who receive special perks like: dibbs on produce and eggs, the opportunity to make special requests, special invite to an exclusive end-of-season harvest celebration at Runamuk, and a close connection to the farmer producing their food.
Go to our CSA Farm Shares page to become a member today and receive your bonus 20% credit with Runamuk Acres!
Supporting Local Ag
By taking advantage of Runamuk’s Early-Bird Sale you’re helping this farm to make early-season investments in seeds and supplies for the upcoming season. You can play a direct role in supporting local agriculture at a time of year when farm income is low, while the need for investments is high. Currently, Runamuk is saving to buy seed potatoes, tomato and squash seeds, soil amendments, and asparagus plants.
Thanks for following along with our story! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this small farm in the wilds of Maine!
In a surprising new twist, Runamuk is now offering a weekly Farm Delivery Program for locals! Fresh breads, muffins, cookies, leafy-green pea shoots─and whatever other farm-products I have available─delivered directly to the home of participating local customers. Whaaaaaat!?
Originally I’d intended this program to begin in the spring of 2020 with the availability of vegetables. However, I’ve recently resumed my old bread-making habit and as I was kneading a batch of dough one day, I had a sudden revelation. Other folks might also be interested in farm-fresh bread made with a list of ingredients they can actually pronounce. Gasp!
The more I thought about it, the more I realized bread is a staple for most households, and something which I am more than capable of producing. What’s more, my kitchen is already licensed for home processing, and I’m insured under my farm-insurance policy. Quickly following on the heels of that thought, was the same Theodore Roosevelt quote I’ve followed for years:
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
On impulse I posted to facebook, offering white, wheat, and oatmeal bread to the Kingfield and Madison communities. The response was tremendous: 29 loaves that first week!
And so, I’ve decided to run with it. Each week I’m offering up whatever I can produce, whatever I happen to have available to local customers through Runamuk’s new “Farm Delivery Program”. I even made up a “fancy” list which gets printed off and included with every delivery so that customers know what options they will have the following week. Check it out!
This list will change just a little each week, and will vary greatly from one season to the next. Some things will always stay the same─like the breads, for example, but the offerings for cookies and muffins will vary to keep things interesting. Then, when the growing season comes back around, I will add vegetables and honey, etc. to this list as they become seasonally available.
It’s a pretty exciting turn of events for this farmer. Knowing that I’m increasing local food access in this part of rural Maine where I was born and stayed is intrinsically rewarding for me, and hugely motivating.
In rural regions across the country, accessing quality local foods can be a challenge for many folks. While Maine is blessed to have an extensive network of fabulous farmers’ markets, the further inland you travel, the farther locals have to travel to reach those markets. Often it’s not feasible for people to make the trek some 30 minutes or more to the nearest farmers’ market. Sometimes schedules do not line up with market days. Other times the cost of market-goods is out of reach for locals of rural regions where low-income households are more prevalent. By keeping Runamuk’s prices affordable and offering this delivery service, I’m hoping to make eating quality local foods more attainable for a broader spectrum of households.
Local readers: For more details on how the program works and how you can get Runamuk’s farm-fresh products delivered directly to your door, check out the Farm Delivery Program page.
Thank you for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!
After spending the last 10 years fixated on bees, I am finally shifting focus! From this day forward, Runamuk will no longer be all about bees and pollinator conservation! Gasp!
I became enthralled with bees quite unexpectedly. Though I’d been the proverbial tomboy as a child, I’d never been much of a “bug-person”. It wasn’t until my ex-husband introduced me to insects because he found them interesting, that I began to gain some appreciation for those creatures. My journey into homesteading and self-sufficiency progressed, and I brought home that first nucleus colony back in 2010…by the end of that summer I was consumed by “bee-fever”.
My ex-husband once told me that he half hoped I would get tired of it eventually. I really was hyper-focused on bees and indeed, they have consumed my entire life for the last decade. I can’t blame the guy for wanting that fanaticism to abate a little.
Over the course of these last 10 years that zeal has faded some… My focus has gradually shifted from bees to encompass all pollinators, and I got into pollinator conservation because I thought I could do the greatest good for the world by promoting those keystone creatures.
Excited About Soil
Now that Runamuk has it’s own forever-farm, I’ve become uber-excited about soil. I’ve learned that soil is habitat. This habitat isn’t just physical support to hold plants in place, it’s a whole world of lifeforms who’ve evolved together with plants over billions of years. They are all reliant upon one another for their continued existence. So even more critical to life on Earth than pollinators, is the life that lives within the soil.
Working the land here these last 2 seasons has inspired me to include soil’s microbial life in my definition of “beneficial insects”. Rather than promoting only pollinators, I am now keen to work with soil to also encourage life below ground in order to better propagate life above it.
No Longer Selling Bees
On that note, I’ve decided that it is no longer my ambition to sell bees. The investment in equipment to be able to raise mated-Queens is ridiculous, and I don’t have the time or skill to make my own. What’s more, that kind of operation requires copious amounts of time and energy. If I gave up everything else that is Runamuk to focus exclusively on bees, I could succeed (if the financial investment were not also an issue). However, “everything else” is too important to me to give up: the garden, egg-production, and my lovely new sheep…not to mention my kids…. I see a lot of men doing this kind of work (especially men in their retirement), and it works for them because they either don’t have kids at home anymore, or they’re not the ones responsible for childcare.
There’s also the fact that bees are highly unreliable. Every winter there are colony-losses; it’s just a matter of how many. I’ve had winters where my apiary has been entirely wiped out, or very nearly. Now that I am responsible for the longevity of a property of my own, I’m wanting to invest in less-risky ventures.
That’s not to say that I’m giving up bees entirely! Let’s not be silly here lol; of course I’m still going to raise bees! I’m just going to focus on producing honey and beeswax products, rather than also trying to raise bees to sell to other beekeepers. Runamuk will continue to grow with vegetables, chickens and sheep, and the apiary may or may not reach the 50 hives I had once envisioned. That’s OK by me.
Invertebrates and microbial-life are small─sometimes teeny-tiny. They are easily overlooked or disregarded by man, whose ego has rather surpassed the reality of his station upon the Earth. Yet, these creatures are vital to life on this planet. I don’t claim to know all the answers, but to me these 3 things are clear:
Without soil-life (invertbrate and microbial life-forms who reside in the soil) plants cannot thrive.
Without insects to pollinate plants cannot reproduce.
Plant-life feeds our planet: human, animal, and even the atmosphere.
It doesn’t get any more basic than that.
Furthermore, when you look at systems in nature─the relationships that other species have formed with one another are all about the mutual survival of either partner. To ensure the survival of our own species, we need to ensure the survival of insects and plant-life. I truly believe it is Man’s responsibility to look after the Earth.
Does anybody else remember that Saturday morning cartoon, “The Littles”? Or perhaps you’ve read “The Borrowers”, or seen “Arrietty” the Studio Ghibli anime? Little people living under the floor boards is not what I mean in this instance lol, although it might be a good analogy… I’ve decided to to shift my focus just a teeny bit to dedicate Runamuk to “the Littles”, as I like to call them: bees, pollinators, beneficial insects─basically invertebrates in general─but also soil-microbes, fungi and essential bacteria.
For years I’ve been using bee-friendly methods of farming that benefit invertebrates on the whole. Now I also have strategies for working the land here in such a way that will improve the quality of the soil, boosting populations of Littles living within the soil, which will help plant-life here to flourish and in turn promote the Littles living above the soil. Having strong populations of Littles both above and below the ground will benefit the entire ecosystem here at Runamuk, which benefits both farmer and the community this farm serves. It’s a win-win situation.
Giddy Over Soil
There’s just something about soil that makes me giddy with excitement. I’ve always loved working with soil─it’s one of the biggest reasons I enjoy gardening and growing food. It smells good. Soil seriously makes me happy. I feel more connected when I’m working with soil. Dedicating myself to working the soil and promoting the Littles above and within the soil feels like a natural next step for this farmer, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this new focus will take me─and Runamuk! Stay tuned folks!
Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!
An unusual October Nor’easter tore through New England last week, breaking records and causing power outages for over a million households. Here at Runamuk, the fierce winds sent the sheep-tractor flying to land toppled upside-down a good 10 yards down the field. I don’t know how long my poor sheep were exposed to the elements, but they were a soggy, woolly mess when I found them Thursday morning. It seems Old Man Winter has awakened from his long sleep, and is making mischief once more.
Now that I’ve been through a full year of seasons on this property, I have a better understanding of the conditions we’re facing. I can see opportunities for improvements to the livestock accommodations that would make the winter easier on both the animals and their farmer. I’ve been working doggedly through my list of winter preparations, hoping to beat the first snows. Some of the most important projects are things like:
Semi-permanent winter fencing for livestock.
Winterizing hives and providing some kind of wind-break.
Modifications to the Winter Coop
Modifications to the Winter Sheep-Shed
De-worming the sheep
Move the flock back to the Winter Coop
Winter Coop Modifications
Modifications to the Winter Coop were high on my list of priorities; the roof absolutely needed to be tightened up. Last winter the wind was able to get under a large section of the tin roofing so that it billowed frighteningly in the weather. There was also a leak where the flashing had come away from the building that allowed water to drip onto the nesting boxes below.
Note: Heights are a challenge for this farmer; big thanks to my friend Jeremy for climbing up on the roof of the coop to make those repairs for me!
A dividing wall was added─turning one coop into two, allowing me to house chickens of different ages. I added a pop-hole to the coop and made some alterations to the door to prevent snow and ice build up. There was a general tightening of drafty gaps with spray-foam insulation. Then I MacGuyvered a flap at either end of the coop using a couple pieces of mill-felt so that I can increase or decrease ventilation depending upon the temperature outside. Plastic went back on the outside walls this week and now the only thing left to do is add more roosts and nesting boxes.
The Runamuk laying flock consists of some 80 or so birds… I don’t actually know how many I have right now lol; I haven’t stopped long enough to count them. Regardless, moving them from field to coop or coop to field is a big job and one that requires extra hands. It took a couple of nights, but all of the birds I intend to overwinter were moved off the field and into the Winter Coop. Those who didn’t make the cut are slowly being culled: non-producing hens and all but one rooster. No free-loaders at Runamuk.
I’m finally beginning to get some eggs again and I’m hoping to be back to full-production soon. I’m not sure, though, how the cold and dark of winter is going to affect production with these heritage-breed hens compared to the hybrid-commercial layers I had last year. Those Golden Comets really cranked out the eggs all winter… To encourage laying, I’ve set a light on a timer in the coop to come on in the morning at about 4am, but I allow them to go to bed with the sun in the evening. I know they’re capable of laying through the winter, but I don’t want to push them too hard either.
The sheep are still being rotated around the property, and probably will remain on pasture til sometime in November. Since Lilian’s Temper Tantrum, the sheep with their shenanigans have continued to make life especially “interesting” here at Runamuk. Not once, but twice! I found sheep inside my fenced garden. Their shenanigans have only increased in frequency as we’ve gotten closer and closer to breeding season…but that story is blog-post in itself lol.
I can’t blame the sheep though; in almost every instance it iss farmer error that allows the opportunistic sheep to take advantage. I know a lot about raising bees and chickens, but I’m still new to sheep.
Aside from the sheep-shenanigans, it was important this year to have not one but two separate sheep-accomodations. One for just the ladies, and another for the guys. For the ewes I opted to use the Sheep-Shed I constructed last year, but with some modifications. I took off the plastic and removed the hoops, seeking to make a stronger structure that requires less maintenance from the farmer during storms. I also re-positioned the shed to make it more centrally located in hopes I’ll be able to provide the sheep with a least a small yard in the lee of the garage. It will henceforth be referred to as: the “Ewe Shed”, where my ewes and their lambs will live during the winter.
The guys are going to overwinter in the Sheep-Tractor, which will sit out back─just beyond the apiary.
Fencing for everyone is a high priority, and currently still on my to-do list. I actually have all the fencing I need to do the job, but I’m a little short on T-posts and finances are tight, so I’ve been picking them up 2 and 4 at a time when I visit Tractor Supply. The Almanac is forecasting the first signs of snow for mid-November, so there’s still time to get this done─provided I get all the T-posts in the ground before it freezes…
Making sure the livestock was squared away for winter has been my first priority, but ensuring that all of my equipment is cleaned up and put away was high on my list too. I’ve spent a lot of money on tools and irrigation in the last couple of years, and having maxed my credit to the hilt to get up and running here, I know I won’t be able to make those kinds of investments again any time soon. I need to take good care of the equipment I have so it lasts as long as possible.
With that in mind, I spent last Sunday pulling up the tomato patch to get at the drip-tape I’d laid there, and worked my way back from the garden removing irrigation and hoses from the field. I drove the car right out to the garden and loaded the equipment into the back to haul it to the garage. Each hose was fed over the top of the car and then coiled on the other side. The increased elevation ensures that any water still in the hose drains out the other side as I pull it over and coil it up. Each hose neatly with a piece of twine in one or two spots, just the way my farm-mentor showed me years ago.
Incidentally, I had the opportunity recently to show off my place to that same farm-mentor, Linda Whitmore-Smithers, from Medicine Hill in Starks. She came for honey and I seized the chance to pick her brain about pasture management, critter-welfare and product marketing, etc. It was rewarding to be able to show this powerhouse-woman, whom I admire and respect so much, how far I’ve come along my own farming-journey.
“I’m following you!” Linda told me.
Thank you, Linda. It means a lot to know that there’s love and support out there. Indeed, some days it’s the only thing that keeps me going. Some days it feels like I’m working, working, working, and not really gaining. Some days the farm and the finances and being mom─is so overwhelming that I can’t help but wonder what the *#@$ I’m really doing here. Am I really making a difference in the world? Or am I just banging my own head off a wall?
Those are the days I just put my head down and put one foot in front of the other. I pick one task from the chalkboard and just do that one job to completion. When I feel overwhelmed I return to my list to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing. If I’m having a panic attack, I’ll take a yellow highlighter and highlight the most important tasks on the list and then I’ll select my next project from those I’ve highlighted. In this way, one task, one priority at a time, I have managed to accomplish quite a lot. I am gaining on that massive list of winter preparations. And I am gaining in income from this farm. Slowly and steadily, with dogged determination I am gaining ground here.
Old Man Winter is Awake!
I think this next month will continue to be difficult both in work-load and finances, but once ski-season hits, my farmstaybnb will be hopping─and that will give Runamuk a really great start to 2020. I think, that will have a snowball effect (no pun intended) for Runamuk─in a very positive way. Then all I’ll have to worry about is moving snow and serving up those delicious farm-fresh breakfasts for the next few months haha. Stay tuned, folks! Old Man Winter is awake and up to mischief again!
Thank you for following along with the story of this female-farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box! Or follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a daily glimpse into life on this Maine conservation farm!
It comes with it’s own set of unique challenges, yet I’m rather enjoying Runamuk’s Farmstay BnB. The people are always interesting characters, I get to serve as ambassador to the Bigelow Mountain Region that I love so much, and I’m exposing people to the realities of farm-life. While they’re here, I’m feeding guests real food that I have either grown myself or sourced from other local farmers. It’s an exciting new twist in Runamuk’s farm-journey, which has led me to this: I’m offering up a FREE 2-night stay to one lucky winner in a surprise giveaway contest! Surprise! 😀
What It’s Like
Friends have asked what it’s like to have strangers coming into my house. Admittedly this was my own biggest fear prior to launching into this AirBnB thing. Fortunately I have a big house. The way it is laid out allows me to keep the 2 guest rooms on one end of the house. The common spaces are centrally located on the first floor, and I am able to keep the front half of the house for the family.
My second biggest fear was how William would take having guests in the house, and how guests might react if they crossed paths with him. His Autism has given William a resistance to change, a serious need for personal space, and absolutely no filter on his mouth. So far he has not crossed paths with guests, but I’m dreading that day when it inevitably happens. I hope folks realize that this is a family home, and like any other family, we deal with the same sort of every day struggles as anyone else. Unfortunately we can’t shut those struggles off just because we have guests in the house, though I try to ensure things run smoothly and that folks enjoy a pleasant stay.
Anyone who is using AirBnB is comfortable going into someone else’s house or property for a stay. AirBnB has done a good job with their review-system too. Both the hosts and the guests have reviews, so hosts like me can screen potential guests before we decide if we want to accept their reservation. Everyone who has come to Runamuk since I began hosting in August, has been amiable enough, and I’ve had some interesting conversations with some fascinating people that I would not otherwise have met.
“Breakfast is not part of the AirBnB thing,” one guest told me when I asked what I could fix for him in the morning.
“No, but it’s part of my thing.” I responded. In fact, it’s been a big selling point with many guests, and everyone has been enthusiastic about the food.
When people eat at Runamuk, they’re getting food I have either grown here, or sourced from other local farmers that I know. Everything is farm-fresh and homemade: 100% real food. As a farmer, I am able to grow most of my own vegetables. I learned early on to bake and make things from scratch to stretch our household food budget. Even when finances are tight I’m eating pretty good─and I’m a darned good cook when I set my mind to it, thank you very much!
I really like to offer guest eggs and homefries, since this showcases Runamuk’s primo-eggs and my recently dug potatoes. Sometimes I have homemade bread or biscuits on hand. Other times I’ll make fresh muffins with zucchini, or Maine blueberries, or pumpkin…whatever’s in season. If a guest wants pancakes, I make big fluffy pancakes from scratch. If they wanted a waffle, I could do that too. I make a mean omelette, and have taken to keeping specialty breakfast meats just for the potential guest who asks for it. Likewise with coffee and tea; I’ve collected an assortment of higher end beverages to appeal to visitors, while I continue to drink Maxwell house when it’s just myself. It’s nice having someone to cook for and I like the feeling that I’m sending people off with a full belly of farm-fresh food.
Now that I’ve been doing it for a couple of months and have hosted over a dozen guests, I’m rather enjoying serving as ambassador to the Bigelow Mountain Region─Kingfield, Carrabassett Valley, and Sugarloaf. This really is a beautifully stunning part of Maine, and it’s a travesty that so many tourists come to Maine never venturing far from the coastal regions. Sure lobster is great, and the ocean is beautiful too, but have you seen the Bigelows!?
On a clear day travelers can see the Bigelow mountains rising up out of the landscape from more than thirty miles away. The Bigelow Range boasts a whopping 5 of Maine’s 10 highest peaks─the acclaimed 4000-footer club. Their blue-grey ridges on the horizon captivate the eye, and they’re surrounded by an unending swath of Maine wilderness that still teams with native wildlife. They really are breathtaking.
When I was 11 years old my parents bought a piece of land in Salem, Maine─an unorganized township just west of Kingfield. I remember being spellbound by the Bigelows the very first time we traveled to Salem. Even today the sight of those mountains fills by heart to bursting and brings tears to my eyes just to behold them. That feeling spilled over in a big way on the Autumnal Equinox as I drove up through Carrabasset Valley to the foot of Bigelow herself.
All summer I have been working long and hard, and eventually began to find myself longing for a day away─a chance to recharge and reset. I wanted some kind of adventure in the great outdoors. Hiking up a mountain has long been a favored past-time for me, and the ultimate way to connect with the Earth, and reconnect with myself. It recharges this farmer on a spectrum of levels. What’s more, now that I am here─farming on my very own farm, exactly where I always wanted to be: within range of the Bigelows─I feel the need to pay homage to these mountains. And so I decided I would take a day to climb the Horn Pond Trail on Bigelow Mountain.
Bigelow is a long mountain ridge with several summits including Avery Peak, at 4,145 feet, at 3,805 feet, Cranberry Peak at 3,194 feet and Little Bigelow Mountain at roughly 3,070 feet. Hiking the whole of it involves an overnight stay on the summit─which I am looking forward to doing some day, but right now I cannot spare that much time off the farm. Instead, I’ve opted to do it in sections. A couple years back I did Little Bigelow, but have not been hiking since buying the farm last summer, so I was pretty stoked to be going out.
It was just Murphy and I, which was actually quite perfect. We worked through our morning critter-chores, then loaded our gear and ourselves into the Subaru, and by 8:30 dog and farmer were heading north through Kingfield, and on into the Carrabasset Valley.
The road there follows alongside the shallow, and swift-running Carrabasset River, as it winds it’s way between the mountains and high hills that loom on either side. The landscape is picturesque─New England at it’s finest, and steeped in generations of tradition. At this time of year, the trees are resplendent in their bright yellow, orange, and brilliant red hues, and as I drove I was overwhelmed with such love for these mountains─such gratitude─that I found myself sobbing as I approached that great hulking mass of rock.
To have found my way to this place in my life where I bought a farm─within 30 minutes of the Bigelows─and I’m living this lifestyle that is so important and so rewarding─how can I be anything but humbled and grateful for this existence? There before the mountains that inspired it all, how could I not feel beholden to them? And so I cried great tears of joy as I drove through the little village of Carrabasset Valley, further north to the Stratton Brook Trailhead, and I reaffirmed my vow to do all that I can to always protect nature─especially the Bigelow Mountains.
The Wrong Mountain
Ironically, I ended up hiking the wrong mountain that day.
How does that even happen, you ask?
Leave it to me to end up halfway up the wrong mountain before discovering the truth of it, but having never hiked this side of Bigelow before, I wasn’t entirely certain where the Stratton Brook Trailhead was, and through as series of mix-ups and mishaps I lost my map, said “fk-it I’m going anyway”, and took the wrong darn trail.
……………I. Am. AWESOME!!!
With the AT running through the region, as well as the network of trails created by the Maine Huts & Trails, we have an abundance of trails to chose from. I’d like to say that it’s easy enough to confuse one trail with another, but I also completely overlooked the fact that Bigelow is on the eastern side of Route 27, and not the western side that I ended up on. As a rule I have a very good sense of direction─especially in the area where I grew up─so I’m quite mortified to have made such silly a mistake.
The trail was steep right out the gate, and densely wooded with little to no view all the way up that mountain. It seemed to go on and on, and there were very few hikers along the trail. When I came upon a pair of down-coming hikers I ventured to ask: “how much farther to the pond?” I’d promised Murphy a swim in Horn Pond on Bigelow Mountain.
The twenty-something girl looked at me like I had a cupcake on my head, then, in a rather faraway voice that reminded me of a mystic, she said, “Uh─this is the AT.”
I laughed inwardly, well of course I knew it was a section of the AT! and returned patiently, “Yes, but one of the trails on Bigelow is the Horn Pond Trail.”
“Oh, Bigelow’s in the other direction.” she said. “You’re going the wrong way.”
Of course I was. I couldn’t help but laugh, “So what mountain am I on?”
“This is North Crocker.” said the girl’s male companion.
“Oh my goodness!” I said, still laughing at myself. “Well, I guess we’re doing Crocker today, Murph!”
I decided that if the Universe intended for me to climb North Crocker Mountain on that day, then that was just what I would do, and on up that mountain I went─10.4 miles round trip! North Crocker is Maine’s 4th highest mountain, at an elevation of 4,168 feet, and it is a bit of a grueling hike too. Fairly steep-going all the way, picking one’s way over rocks and tree roots, though the trail would plateau periodically, giving my poor legs and my bad ankle a bit of a break. The forest was dense and had not been cut in a long long time─if ever─and felt like something ancient…primal. I felt small and insignificant as I climbed up through that forest, and yet supremely connected to the tangled web of organic systems working around me. The stone beneath my feet offered up that transference of Earth’s energy that I was craving. Replenishing me in a way that nothing else seems to do.
There’s no view at the top to reward the hiker, but Murphy and I were welcomed by a small troop of north-bound through-hikers to the Appalachian Trail.
Murphy, of course, is welcome everywhere by just about everyone and makes quick friends of them all, while I shared homemade chocolate chip cookies─which is another good way to make friends. These hikers were looking forward to passing the 2000-mile marker that day.
“Oh!” I said around a mouthful of tuna sandwich. “I just passed it on the way up here. The number 2000 is depicted in stone along the side of the trail.”
We shared a stories over lunch, they all seemed to be recent college graduates making the AT-pilgrimage before setting out into the world’s workforce. They asked about me and I was proud to tell them that I’m a local: “I’ve always been in the area, but I just bought a farm in New Portland last year.” and I told them a little about Runamuk Acres and my new farmstay BnB.
One young woman promised to look me up. She was from Lubec─a small town on the coast of Maine that happens to be our country’s easternmost point. She said she loves the Bigelow area, but it’s nearly 4 hours away, so taking a day trip isn’t practical. Apparently her mom loves farms, and she wanted to bring her for a stay at Runamuk so they could visit the Bigelows.
Some of my guests have also been hikers. For folks in southern New England states like Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusettes, Runamuk is a nice jumping point to the Bigelows. We’re 30 minutes to Sugarloaf and the Bigelow Preserve, and it really is the most beautiful drive at any time of the year.
Sometimes folks traveling back and forth to Canada will crash here for sleep before continuing onward. Recently a pair of friends making a sojourn together on motorcycles came from Canada on their way to Portland; they were planning to travel back up to New Bruswick along the coast, with a stop near Arcadia.
There was also a lovely older couple from Connecticut. The husband (80-something maybe?) was in the Peace Corp back in the 60s. His troop was having a reunion at a location down on the Maine coast. From there they were traveling to Quebec for a few days, before going to visit the wife’s sister (or was it her aunt?) over in Bangor. After that they would return home. This particular couple were very interested in the story of the man-made islands in the Kennebec River as they came up Route 16. They loved this old house, my old tractor Walter, and were very engaging─with questions and curiosities. They freely shared stories of their own that made for a very pleasant interaction.
I think my ideal guests have been the hikers and those that appreciate the quality of food that I’m offering. It’s challenging for me to keep the house in a state of cleanliness that is acceptable to everyone; some folks are more particular about that sort of thing than others. I knew going into this that I would have to step up my game. Housework is my least favorite thing to do, though I do take great pride in taking care of this very special old house. I think I’ve done a good job of that mostly. Yet, this is a family-home and a working-farm, and for the price I’m asking it’s a pretty sweet deal (just $26/night right now!). Even if the rooms are sparsely furnished, and my dinning room table has a little clutter on it…
Can I help it if I cleaned the bathroom before bed the night before, but my 12yo took a shower before school and then when the guest gets up the bathroom has 12yo’s laundry on the floor? Not entirely.
When the sheep escape and I ask the guest to cook his own eggs because I’m chasing livestock around the field, is that unreasonable of me?
What if a guest comes on a Friday night after I’ve been prepping for market all day, and the kitchen looks like a bomb hit it? Not much I can really do about that, but I always have it cleaned up before guests get up in the morning so that I can cook their breakfast. I’m up by 4 afterall.
I can, however, avoid opening the fermentation buckets while guests are eating their breakfast right there at the table, lol. The scratch grains can be a little─”odoriferous” once they get to day 3 or 4 in the soaking process. I can imagine that might be off-putting to some folks lol.
I’m getting the hang of it now though, I think. Figuring out people’s expectations, and how I can best meet them while ensuring the needs of my family and my farm. But I also know that an “authentic farmstay” is not necessarily for everyone.
My guest rooms are sparsely furnished. I’m a divorced, single mom who just bought a big-ol’ farmhouse! Everything I owned did not fill this place up, and I don’t have a lot of extra stuff or funds to sink into decorating the guest spaces. I’ve taken the best of what little I own and put it all into those 2 rooms─including my own bed. I am currently sleeping on the couch to make ends-meet, and no, it is not a comfortable couch lol.
New and beginning farmers: remember what I said about sacrificing for your farm-dream? and how far are you willing to go? Well, this farmer would sleep on the floor if it meant success for Runamuk.
Win a Stay at Runamuk!
If you─or someone you know─might be interested in an “authentic farmstay” at Runamuk Acres, I am offering up the chance for a FREE 2-night stay! If you’re within driving range, and can cover the cost of your own gas, I’ll put you up and feed you while you explore the Bigelow Mountain Region. You can get to know my super-friendly sheep, learn more about how I’m farming here, or just experience Runamuk first-hand and in-person! If you have a skill you’d like to learn while you’re here, I’m happy to oblige; want my recommendations for day-hikes, dinner, or scenic drives? I will hook. you. up!
The winner will be able to select whatever dates they would like to use their 2 free nights, though I am working to earn my “Superhost” badge with AirBnB in order to gain more frequent bookings. With market season drawing to a close, and winter coming soon, the farm needs the income and I could use your good review sooner than later. We’re also entering peak foliage season in this area, so now is a very good time to visit! Just sayin…
Renewed by the Mountain
The morning after I climbed North Crocker Mountain I was broken and sore. I’m in pretty decent shape, but a 10.4 mile hike up and down a mountain rated as “challenging” wrecked my poor body─especially my bad ankle. When I was 17, I broke the bones in my right foot in 5 places during basic training; that foot has never been right since, and still plagues me sometimes. I never let it hold me back though.
As I hobbled around the farm that day, I couldn’t help but think that the Universe sent me to Crocker for the express purpose of tearing me down so that I could be rebuilt once more. Prior to my hike I had been overworked and overwhelmed, worried and stressed about my situation. The mountain tested me. It tested my own physical limits─and even though I was popping the ibuprofen the following day just to get through the morning critter-chores, I felt that my core foundation: my personal values and principles, and my steadfast determination to protect nature through this work that I do─are stronger than ever. I am renewed by the mountain─and returned to the farm ready to face the challenges ahead of me.
…but I still want to climb the Horn Pond Trail on Bigelow someday soon!
Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Enter to win a chance at a free 2-night stay here at Runamuk Acres, and come see the Bigelow Mountain Region in all it’s glory! Come be my guest!
Recently, I received a request for tips for wannabe-farmers. What advice might I have to offer those who are brand-new to agriculture and are just beginning their farm-journey? It came to me through Instagram, a brand-new farmer messaged to say that she’d recently made up her mind to farm. She told me that I’d inspired her (me!), and did I have any tips to offer a new farmer? If you’re in the same situation─new to farming and not sure where to start or which way to go─then keep reading, my friend, this post is for you!
If you’ve been following along with the Runamuk blog, you’re likely aware that I’ve been calling out wannabe-farmers. Farming is the ultimate form of social and environmental activism we can offer, and the world needs us to stand and take action. Not only is the average age of farmers on the rise, but thanks to industrial agriculture, there are fewer of them, and fewer new farmers following in their footsteps. What’s more, studies by the Rodale Institute have shown that regenerative organic agricultural practices have the potential to allow us to actually reverse global warming. The world needs farmers. And it needs us now.
#12: Start Now!
When it comes to agriculture, there’s a lot to learn, and it really does take a lifetime. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll achieve your goal. Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote often runs through my head: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” There’s something you can be growing─right now─wherever you are. I’m sure of it.
Traditionally farms began as subsistence farms, feeding just the farm-family. It would take a number of years before the farm was established enough to feed it’s community. The USDA sites the average “middle-income” household spends $7,061 on food annually, and the “low-income” households are spending about $4, 070. So even if we’re only growing food for ourselves, we’re still saving ourselves a big chunk of money, and eating better as a result. I’m a firm believer that in order to save the world, we must first save ourselves. If you wannabe a farmer, start growing something today and feed your family first.
#11: Do Your Homework
It is entirely possible to be a farmer without a college degree. I did it, and so can you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study and learn all you can about agriculture, though. There’s so much to learn! Get your hands on as many books as you can and read them all. Take notes if that’s your thing (I still have bins and boxes filled with all of the composition journals filled with my scribbled notes from Runamuk’s early days). Go ahead and watch some YouTube, watch food documentaries, visit your local agricultural fairs and tour the exhibition halls to learn more about agriculture in your area. Take a Master Gardener course if your local cooperative extension offers one. Watch for other interesting workshops or events in your area where you might be able to learn new skills.
This is the time for planning your farm. This is the fun part. Brainstorm what your dream farm might be like. What are you passionate about growing? Are there particular types of livestock you’re interested in working with? What skills do you want to learn along the way? How might you market your products? Where will your farm live? Give your farm a name (oooooo─so exciting!). Don’t worry yet if you do not own land to farm upon─that is not the end of the road─merely an obstacle to be worked around in time.
Do a SWOT analysis for yourself; I wrote about Conducting a SWOT Analysis of Your Farm and have provided an example with a SWOT Analysis of Runamuk. Naturally, these are farm-analyses, but you should do one for YOU. What are your personal Strengths and Weaknesses, and what do you see as potential Opportunities and Threats to your ambitions?
Remember, there are no wrong or stupid answers in brainstorming. Once you have all of these notes down on paper, it will be easier to see where your real passions and interests, strengths and opportunities lie. You can then make a rough plan for your future farm. I strongly recommend a good 5 year plan. Set goals for yourself and your farm; where would you like to be in 5 years? Don’t be afraid to reach, but also try to be reasonable with yourself─this is going to take a lot of work. Save all of your notes and plans for your records. Refer back to them annually to review your progress, and make adjustments to the plan as necessary.
#10: Practice Your Social Skills
A great many─many─introverts are called to farming. I know, cause I am one of them. Entire farmers’ markets are made up of introverts, trust me! But I’ve practiced and practiced my social skills, and these other vendors have too; I’ve learned to be friendly and open with the people around me, and it has gotten easier over the years. Sometimes noisy or crowded situations can still be overwhelming. I’m still awkward, I’m sure, perpetually weird and overenthusiastic at times, but I’ve learned that I am not alone in my social awkwardness, and a friendly smile is a great ice breaker.
#9: Get Involved.
Volunteering your time and energy is a great way for new farmers to gain experience, build a reputation in the community, and network with other people. Most any non-profit organization or local farm will eagerly accept volunteers. Be committed to your cause, work hard, and be reliable. This helps you build trust with your community, and grows your reputation in a positive way. You’ll get to know the people around you, and they will get to know you and your ambitions of farming. Sometimes these relationships can lead to exciting opportunities for the beginning farmer. The people in your community can also be useful resources that you might be able to turn to when you have a question or need some help. Get involved in your community, and develop and nurture these relationships through volunteer work.
#8: Treat it Like a Business
Treat your farm like a business, because it is one. I always tell new farmers to file a “Schedule F” with their taxes as soon as they are grossing $500 annually from farm-sales. This is the IRS form that documents farm income to the government, and once you have a record of this income, you are officially considered to be farming on some level. This is what financial institutions are looking for when you apply for loans as a farmer, so this is an important document to have. And if you can show an increase in your net farm-income each year, that proves to the powers-that-be that your business is indeed growing.
You’ll also want to have an up-to-date resume, and a formal business plan (mine was a whopping 33 pages when I started! Before I could submit it to the FSA I had to condense it to 12). Your local business development center can help you with that.
If you don’t know already, learn how to use spreadsheets and actually use them to track your farm’s income and expenses. These annual cash-flow records are invaluable tools with potential investors and financial institutions. Always keep your receipts! Also keep production records: how many seeds sown and the yield they produced, crop rotations, fertilizing and pest treatments, etc.
#7: Be Prepared to Make Sacrifices.
Imagine the pioneers who went West looking for a new life in a new land…they gave up the security and safety available in the East and traversed over 2,000 miles to reach their destination. Along the way they lost treasured possessions, family members─they sometimes arrived with little more than the clothes on their back after their long and perilous journey. Along your farm-journey, you may also have to give up security and safety, or forsake customary extravagances and conveniences. How far are you willing to go to achieve your goals?
To be able to do the work of farming, you will likely need to make sacrifices somewhere along the way. You might decide to give up your newer model vehicle for a second-hand beater with no monthly payments. If you’re not already, you may consider buying yours and your family’s clothing at local thrift stores. Giving up cable or satellite TV services will usually save you in the neighborhood of $100 a month; likewise with expensive cell-phones. Maybe you’ll stop eating out, or give up extracurricular activities. Or, instead of buying that new living room set with your tax return, you could use that money to buy a tiller, or seeds and tools, etc. Runamuk has been funded over the years, in large part with my Earned Income Tax Credit. I’ve also lived in very poor conditions and suffered cold winters in poorly heated dwellings in order to free up money for my farming ambitions.
In the end, it’s all about priorities and how bad you really want it. As a new or beginning farmer, you’ll need those extra funds to invest in your business. You’ll need money to buy tools, seeds, livestock, fencing, permits, insurance─you name it. Unless you have some capital saved already, or are fortunate enough to have access to money, you’ll have to figure out how to make those investments. Be prepared to make sacrifices to make your farm-dream a reality.
#6: Match the Land to it’s Suited Use.
Whether you’re leasing 1 acre for farming, borrowing space in your great-Aunt’s back-40, or you’re lucky enough to already own a small piece of Earth, you’ll want to match the land to it’s suited use. Do a SWOT analysis on the site.
Landscape: Is it all filled with brambles? or an open pasture with fairly good soil?
Water: Be it a pond, stream, or spigot, you’ll need access to water for pretty much any kind of farming you want to do.
Sun exposure: How much sun does the spot get daily and how does the changing of seasons affect that?
Weather conditions: Is the site open to driving winds? Will you experience winter snow and ice? Consider how different weather conditions might affect your farm-operation at that site.
Drainage: Is the site relatively dry all year? or does it get wet and mucky in the spring?
Existing infrastructure: Are there any existing structures or utilities (like access to water and electricity) that you will be able to make use of?
Soil conditions: Is it suitable for growing vegetables? or too rocky, and better instead for grazing livestock upon?
Plot size: How much space do you have to work with? Dictates how many carrots or sheep, etc. you can raise there.
All of these things will factor into what you can successfully grow at any given location.
#5: Think Outside the Box.
It’s inevitable that you, the new farmer, will eventually meet with some kind of obstacle along your farming-journey. When this happens, do not despair. Instead, take this opportunity to get creative─think outside the box and come up with some kind of alternative work-around to your problem.
This is resiliency at it’s finest, my friends. There are so many ways to farm, so many ways to achieve the same end goal: farm ownership and serving your community as a farmer. Don’t let old-school concepts hold you back. Brainstorm ways around your problem─always remember there are no wrong answers in brainstorming! It’s merely a tool to generate ideas.
If you can’t come up with any ideas, research it to see what other people have done in your situation. Don’t be afraid to ask your peers and your community for input, either. You’ll be surprised by the number of people that want to see you succeed─they want you to be their farmer!
#4: Watch for Opportunities.
Sometimes doors will open for you when you least expect it. In my own farm-journey, I’ve found that by always working hard, and by practicing kindness and gratitude, it fosters my relationships with neighbors and community-members. The relationships I’ve built through my volunteer work has led to many interesting opportunities for Runamuk: everything from donations of equipment and livestock, to access to land to farm upon.
That doesn’t mean you should say yes to every opportunity that presents itself─especially in the case of livestock. Only you know what is right for your farm-operation, and sometimes, even though they mean well, people are just trying to unload their own problem-animals. Try to make good business choices when opportunities present themselves.
#3: Practice Patience.
Unless you have ready-access to farmland, or access to credit and capital to begin your farm with, it’s likely this is going to be a long-journey for you. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot to be overcome to achieve your goals.
Accept that there will most certainly be failures. There will be bad days. Hard days. Days when you’re sick or sore─or both─and you’ll begin questioning yourself and why you even started this journey in the first place.
You’ll wonder if you’ll ever reach your destination. Be patient with yourself and with the journey. Remember it’s not about the destination. You’re already farming. You ARE a farmer.
#2: “Don’t Overwork Yourself” (advice from the farmers’ son)
As I sat at the dinner table with my 12 yo son, BraeTek, I pondered what tips for wannabe-farmers I might have. It was a rainy September evening and we were eating one of BraeTek’s favorites: seafood chowder. I’d made it from scratch, with a variety of canned seafood, and my own potatoes, carrots, and onions, in a rich creamy broth. To go with it we had slathered in butter this artisan bread by Julia, from Crumb Again Bakery in Kingfield, which I’d traded vegetables for at farmers’ market last Friday. It was a wonderful meal to share at the table with my son, catch up on his school day, and just connect over good food.
Admittedly, I take great pride in the fact that my kids have been raised largely on my own homegrown and homemade food. After all, it was the desire to supplement our household food budget, as well as to provide fresh and organic food for my family, that steered me down this path in the first place. My 2 sons have been with me through every phase of my farm-journey, and they’ve seen first hand how hard I’ve worked.
Between the slurping of soup, I thoughtfully asked BraeTek, “If you were going to offer tips for new farmers, what would you tell them?”
At first he gave me the typical teenage-scoff, but I laughed that off and pressed him to give the question some thought. The answer he came back with was actually very good; BraeTek’s tip for wannabe farmers is:
Don’t overwork yourself.
He says, sometimes I complain at the end of the day that I am sore or exhausted from working on the farm all day. And he’s absolutely right, you know…as farmers, it’s important to remember not to overdo it. The farming-journey is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to make sure we’re taking time for ourselves, and saving enough of ourselves for our families too. It’s also important to ensure down time in order to avoid burn-out. What a smart kid!
#1: Don’t EVER Give Up.
This is my number one tip for the wannabe-farmer. If you really and truly want this─if you have no reservations and you know, deep in your heart that you are called to farming, called to serve your community and your planet as farmer─then don’t you ever, ever give up. You will get there.
The path of each farmer will different from the next. It took very nearly 10 years to achieve my own goal of farm-ownership, but perhaps you will have yours and be underway within 3 months or 3 years. Even if it takes you 13 years! in the end, I promise you─so long as you don’t quit─you will eventually find yourself where you are meant to be, doing what you are meant to be doing. Farming.
Join the Revolution: Be the Change
The USDA and the FSA consider a beginning farmer to be one in his or her first 10 years of their agricultural careers (but if you don’t have supporting documentation it doesn’t count!). Yours truly is officially graduating this year, from “beginning farmer” to “farmer”, and while I would not claim to be any kind of expert, I offer up these tips for wannabe-farmers from my own experience. My hope is that I can help other new and beginning farmers to have the courage to start down the path of their own farm-journeys.
The time has come for We the People to stand and take action. We can’t wait for our governments to make changes for us─we’ve waited more than 50 years already for environmental action. No, the time has come for We the People to stand up and be the change we want to see in the world. We have that power in our very own hands─we can be farmers, and we can farm using regenerative practices. We can save our children, affect climate change, and improve society─literally at the ground level. Join the revolution today. Be a farmer.
Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox! OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!
And just like that September is here; summer is winding down, the kids are back in school, and all focus is shifting to winter preparations. Runamuk’s first growing season upon our forever-farm home has certainly had it’s share of ups and downs. Yet, even though finances are stupid-tight and I’m facing another winter here without a snowblower, I’m feeling good about the state of things at Runamuk. Like─really good.
The growing season’s not quite over yet. I still have a lot of veggies in the garden that I’ll be harvesting well into the fall, but my attention (like so many other folks in these parts) has shifted to winter preparations. I have a lot of animals and beehives to make ready, a garden to put to bed, and a big house to secure before the first snows come.
In the past, the personal deadline I’ve set for completion of Runamuk’s winter prep was Thanksgiving. Last year, however, our first snow storm came 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. From that point on I was unable to get fencing up for the livestock, and I ended up with my precious electric-net fencing burried under 5 feet of snow and animals that completely disregarded it come March. So the revised deadline is now Halloween; which means I have less time and more work than ever before to make my farm ready for winter.
It’s a huge advantage for Runamuk to have it’s farmer 100% of the time─and we’ve made some great strides this season because of it. I won’t lie to you and say that it hasn’t been a tough adjustment, though…
A Big Jump
To go from being a landless farmer, to finally having a piece of ground to work with, was a big jump. I admit it’s taken a while for me to come up to speed. Giving up part-time work came earlier than I’d initially planned for, so add that financial weight to your pack when making the leap and you might struggle too. There’s so much to do; everywhere I look I see chores and projects that need doing, and I’m the one responsible for doing them.
I was overwhelmed, and worried maybe the naysayers were right…maybe I really did bite off more than I can chew. Maybe I really am just a deluded young woman who should get a real job, and do like everyone else and just garden or beekeep as a hobby. Why can’t I be happy just living inside the fence like everybody else?
A Solitary Existence
Honestly, I think I wasn’t entirely prepared for the level of isolation that comes with being a single farmer; living alone is still as new to me as this house is. I think, though, that anyone─man or woman─would struggle to some degree with such a solitary existence as this. There are days on end when I don’t venture off this property; someone might stop in for eggs or veggies, but that interaction is short-lived and infrequent. It’s not so bad when the kids are on the farm, but on the weekends when they’re away at their father’s the house feels as big as it really is, and the absence of companionship is more pronounced.
I balked at it in the beginning, and tried to fill the void through dating─searching for my BFF and partner in life. That, however, only succeeded in further defining the distance between myself and the rest of society.
It hurt more than you might think it would…to realize that one’s lifestyle─especially the values and principles you’ve built a rich and meaningful life around─is so far outside the realm of the ordinary that most people can’t even comprehend it. For most people, it’s too much work, too much sacrifice, and not enough money.
People ask me fairly frequently: “Are you doing this all on your own?”
The answer is: “Yes, it’s just me.” They’re not lining up to be the next Mr. Runamuk, and, truthfully, I won’t share it with just anyone.
First Sign of Fall
“Look,” said John, bagel-baker at West Branch Bakery. He was pointing to something in the sky outside the little barn at Rolling Fatties. We─the producers who vend there, together with the local patronage─were congregated for the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, with glasses of local craft beer in hand as we enjoyed the live music on that Friday evening in late summer.
My gaze followed his, searching, til I spotted the distinctive orange blush to the crown of the tall oak outside the Rolling Fatties farmhouse.
“The first sign of fall!” I exclaimed, suddenly giddy with excitement.
Despite the work of winter preparations, and the impending cold and snow that will follow on it’s heels, Autumn is one of my favorite seasons. It’s the harvest season, a season of plenty, and the season for dry, crunchy, fragrant fall leaves. Autumn marks the start of a season for tradition and family, for drawing together and celebrating. It’s also a season for self-reflection, and when I saw those fiery orange leaves on the oak outside Rolling Fatties, I suddenly knew what I had to do.
I leaned in.
Like I’ve done so many times before. I leaned into the storm, put my weight into it, and embraced the work and the isolation. Time alone is actually really good for creative types; and it’s not like there isn’t enough to keep me busy and occupied in my sequestration.
A Rogue Chicken
Somewhat belatedly, I realized that I’m rather like my rogue chickens─who are happier risking their lives outside the protection of the fence, than living with the rest of the flock inside it. That’s why I’m not happy with a regular job and regular hobbies like the vast majority of society; I’m a damned rogue chicken!!!
At length, it dawned on me that I’m actually fairly content being here and doing this on my own. It allows me the freedom to be me without restraint. What’s more, doing this alone allows me to build my farm up the way I’ve always envisioned─without having to make compromises to satisfy a partner. Maybe that’s a little selfish, but after 10 years working toward this goal─researching agriculture and planning every minute detail of the Runamuk farm─it’s hard to make concessions.
I remembered, too, that it’s not the critic who counts. It doesn’t matter what they say. I’m here now. Against all odds, this girl from the backwoods of Maine, who comes from a dysfunctional, blue-collar family, without a penny to her name, and no agricultural lineage to speak of─managed to buy herself a farm. I did that.
Going through the FSA was probably the smartest thing I could have done, too. The government doesn’t want the farm back; the $180K this property cost is just a drop in the bucket to them! Hell─there are probably politicians with toilet seats that cost more than that! And there are certainly politicians who spend more than that on golf-trips…
The FSA, with the programs and resources they offer farmers, has really allowed me the flexibility I need during this phase of the farm, and I wouldn’t be doing even half so well if it weren’t for that support. If you’re reading this blog trying to figure out how to emulate my success, I would urge any beginning farmer to reach out to their local USDA branch to begin exploring the options available to you.
We came to do our grocery shopping for the week with you.
These are probably the sweetest words any farmer can ever hear, and something I take as a huge compliment.
It was Friday night and Runamuk was set up at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market once again. I recognized the couple─they’ve come through the farmers’ market before, I think…or maybe they stopped by the farm? I couldn’t remember their names, but they remembered me enough that they made it a point to bring their reusable cloth shopping bags.
Later in the weekend, on Sunday, I bartered $150 worth of Runamuk’s finest produce for a set of bunkbeds to expand the farmstay. I was brave enough to ask if they’d consider a trade, and these folks were happy to have the fresh, locally produced food, so it worked out well for all of us.
And on Monday, when the guests Runamuk had hosted over the holiday weekend made ready to depart, they bought their groceries for the week to take home with them.
What a rewarding feeling to know that I am feeding these households this week!!!
I am Woman; Hear me Roar
I remember feeling rather as though I was standing on a precipice last year as I counted the days to Closing. Buying a farm requires a leap of faith. You hurl yourself off that cliff hoping against hope that your belief is strong enough to carry you through to success and safety. For me, with no formal education, no agricultural legacy, and no partner─it was a huge leap.
Picture me, if you will, with the comically overburdened ruck-sack that is my farm. My 2 kids are clinging to me like baby sloths─or opossums? No─my boys would be something akin to baby orangutans who are fighting at each other with their long-ass arms as I attempt to bridge the gap. My own arms and legs are flailing as I sail through the air, reaching for that ladder across the way, trying not to look down at the Gorge of Doom far below us. Somehow I managed to grasp the very last rung of that rickety old ladder, and now I’m fighting to pull us all to safety.
Summoning every last ounce of strength, she reached for the next rung on the ladder; she would not give up. Sheer grit and determination fueled her climb. Straining she pulled for all she was worth, muscles bulging, gaining first one rung and then another. Under the heavy burden of farm and family, the Earth’s mighty warrior priestess climbed slowly, pulling herself one rung at a time out of the Gorge of Doom….
They say mentality is your biggest asset, right? 😉
Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe to receive the latest posts from Runamuk directly to your in-box! OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a daily glimpse into life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!
Lilian’s angry temper tantrum on Sunday morning was almost comical to watch, as I worked to shuffle the sheep fencing across the pasture. If you’ve never seen a sheep in a temper-tantrum, you should, “these things are fun, and fun is good…” Personally, I might have found more humor in the ewe’s dramatics if I weren’t sweaty and frazzled from having to chase and capture her twice already.
Lilian is new to the Runamuk flock, replacing Lily─the second Romney that Runamuk had been gifted last fall. During the winter Lily suffered an injury to her knee that she never recovered from, and I ended up having to put her down back in July. That left Runamuk with 3 sheep: 2 boys and a girl. It also left me with something of a problem…
If I wanted any control over the timing of lambing season, I needed to separate my rams from my ewe. To exacerbate matters, Lucy is a little on the small side, and because of that I’ve decided to wait til next year to breed her─allowing her body time to fully mature. The problem was that sheep are gregarious─meaning they don’t do well as solitary creatures. With Lily gone, I’d need another ewe to pair with Lucy in order to separate her from the rams.
Finances here are tight, but Pam and Kelby Young at Olde Haven Farm were willing to take payments from Runamuk (thank you, Pam and Kelby!!!). That softened the blow of the unexpected expense, and last Monday I made the trek to Chelsea to pick out a breedable ewe for the Runamuk flock. I came home with Lilian: a 2 year old ewe that Pam thought would make a good alpha-ewe for a smaller flock.
Lilian has certainly settled into that role, and I think she rather enjoys life at Runamuk. She butted heads (quite literally) with Pippin and Ghirardelli the first day or so, but things settled down once they realized she wasn’t going to tolerate any shenanigans, and the four sheep were all very cozy.
But it couldn’t last. The two sexes needed to be separated.
“You can visit on November 1st!” I told Lilian from outside the fenced enclosure.
She charged the fence at full sheep-speed, then─and very dramatically, I might add─Lilian stomped all four hoofed-feet to slow herself, stopping just short of actually hitting the fence. And she glared at me. Ears cocked, eyes very pointedly glaring at me in displeasure. Then she turned and charged across the pasture in the opposite direction, again stomping her feet very angrily, stopping short before whirling around to glare at me some more. Every parent knows what a temper-tantrum looks like, and Lilian’s behavior sure fit the bill!
I was in the middle of the Sunday morning fence-shuffle─in which I maneuver the fiberglass fence poles and the electric net-fencing across the landscape to open up fresh grazing─all while keeping the animals inside the enclosure. It’s quite a trick, and the job has gotten to be more and more rigorous the more critter-tractors and additional lengths of fencing I add to my operation.
Seeing the renewed vigor of plant-life upon the soil, however, following the sheep and chickens’ grazing regimen has been inspiring, and that fuels me through the work. Everywhere the animals have been, the grasses, which had been sparse before, have come back as a thick green thatch. I can see the difference we’re making here.
Normally this kind of behavior does not happen during the fence-shuffle, but because I also separated the rams from the ewes, I was having to face Lilian’s wrath as I attempted to put more distance between the ewe enclosure and the rams’.
The trouble was Lilian had been studying me as I shuffled the fence around─watching for the net fencing to get slack enough that she might easily jump or run over it. Hence the 2 escapes─and with every breach of the fence, the young and impressionable Lucy went with her.
To keep her inside the enclosure, I had to keep the lengths of net-fencing taught as I moved them to prevent any more escapes. Even then Lilian charged the fence a couple of times, and I would have to dash around the fence to get in front of her to hold the line. When she realized that the fence wasn’t being charged while I shuffled it, she attempted to push her way right through the netting. She got herself caught up in the fencing and took several poles out of the ground as she tried to evade the netting, but only succeeded in dragging it with her across the pasture.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, lunging to grab hold of the entangled animal. Patiently I untangled Lilian from the fence, muttering, “I just got that fence up….”
I managed to get the fence back up (with Lilian and Lucy inside the thing), and decided that instead of trying to push the girls farther back onto the field right then, I’d better give Lilian some time to cool down. I turned the charger on and stood there with arms crossed in stubborn defiance, waiting for her to test the fence again.
Testing the Fence
Lilian stood there inside the fenced enclosure staring across the pasture at the boy’s camp. Ghirardelli and Pippin were happy as could be with their new truck-cap sheep-shed. It didn’t seem to matter to the boys that Lilian and Lucy were no longer by their side. They grazed happily on the fresh forage I’d just made available to them.
It certainly mattered to Lilian, though. Her gaze shifted from Ghirardelli, to me, and then back to the fence that prevented her from joining the boys. She made to charge the fence and I stood my ground: watching and waiting.
She stopped short, glaring at men then eyed the fence. Her sensitive ears picked up the clicking of the electric charger and the sound seemed to penetrate the angry haze, drawing some level of recognition. Lilian approached the fence more cautiously this time.
“Go ahead,” I taunted. “Test it, I dare ya.”
She did, received a little zap and jumped back, trotting away a few yards. The ewe turned around, stomped her hoof, and we started again with the intent staring at Ghirardelli. Once again Lilian’s gaze shifted to me, before going back to the fence, and she came forward, more slowly this time. The ewe stood close enough to the fence that she could touch it if she wanted, but this time she hesitated, listening to the clicking of the electric charger, flinching slightly with each click.
She looked at me with her pale amber eyes.
“I’m the farmer here, Lilian. I’m in charge.” I told her sternly. “And I mean business.”
Lilian sniffed at the fence, wanting to be sure that it really was on. She gingerly touched her moist nose to one of the lines, got zapped again and ran back to the safety of the sheep-tractor. And there she stayed.
It’s been a couple of days now since Lilian’s temper-tantrum. Sometimes she stands inside the tractor and stares intently across the pasture to where Ghirardelli and Pippin are. She seems resigned to the separation now, but still hasn’t forgiven me and refuses to be friendly when I come to visit. Instead, Lilian is somewhat stand-offish─just to let me know that she’s not happy with the living arrangements.
It’s okay; I love her still.
Livestock to Reinvigorate the Soil
Before my study on soil and soil health, I believed pollinators to be the key to the ecosystem. I thought that by promoting pollinators I was doing the greatest good for the whole ecosystem.
Now, following my soil-study, I’ve realized that it’s actually the soil microorganisms, and their intimate relationship with plants, that supports the whole of life on Earth. I’ve come to the conclusion that, by focusing on soil and it’s microorganisms, I can do even more for the ecosystem.
Using livestock to reinvigorate this scrappy patch of land, I can propagate soil bacteria, facilitate better nutrient recycling, and increase the organic matter in the soil. That will lead to more lush and abundant plant-growth, which benefits the insect population─including the pollinators. The benefits of soil health work their way all the way up the food chain, even allowing us to sequester greenhouse gas emissions and reverse global warming.
That’s pretty powerful farming, if you ask me, and a movement that I definitely want to be a part of. To sweeten the deal, I get to work with these super-cute and friendly sheep! What more could a girl ask for at the end of the day than dirt under her nails, a myriad of furry, feathered, and woolly comrades to share life with, and a heart full of love and gratitude?
Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Find Runamuk on Facebook, OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into daily life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!
It’s both exhilarating and terrifying to say that I am now farming full-time─with no off-farm income. No safety net. Nothing. It’s sink or swim; do or die trying. For better or worse, my income is now generated exclusively by this property. My life (and my finances) are in my own hands.
Parting Ways With Johnny’s
These last 4 years I’ve made the best of my situation as a single mom, working part-time off the farm in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, while still farming full-time. I gained many advantages working at Johnny’s, but it wasn’t easy trying to do both, and in some ways it really hindered Runamuk’s progress. Even still, I’d intended to continue working part-time for another couple of years to supplement the farm’s income. However, over the course of the last winter, it became increasingly apparent that after 4 years, Johnny’s and I had outgrown each other, and in May we parted ways.
I thought I might find something closer to home, and take a housemate to help cover the monthly bills. However, with a special needs son who requires my supervision 3 days each week, a farmers’ market on Friday night, and the Runamuk farm-stand on Saturdays─my schedule is fairly limited.
What’s more, with a large garden, 150 chickens and 4 sheep to rotate around the pasture, 20 beehives, new apple trees and perennial food plants in the ground this year, plus the household and my children to manage─Runamuk has reached the point where it really needs it’s farmer every. single. day. The time has come for me to be fully committed to the farm. Right here. Right now.
Not having that safety net, though, is pretty terrifying. To make matters more difficult, Runamuk has been suffering an egg-shortage. Production from last year’s flock is going downhill, and we’re still waiting for the new flock to start laying. It’s a little painful having to tell people I don’t have eggs for them.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to cover the financial shortfall with produce from the garden, allowing Runamuk to cover the cost of all the animals here. I sold a few hives this Spring, and a couple of Queens, and mercifully, was able to take a honey harvest last week. Runamuk is treading water and I’m keeping my head above the surface─but it’s a good thing I’m a strong swimmer!
Our presence in the community is growing; it’s really happening. Folks stop by, saying they saw the signs on Route 16─or they saw my post on Facebook and wanted to check us out. Runamuk has gained a number of regular patrons, and I’ve gained some new relationships with locals here. Like Steve─the kindly, white haired retiree who always has 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5!) peanut butter dog biscuits in his pocket when he comes for eggs.
Okay, maybe that’s Murphy’s relationship, lol, but there are plenty for me!
It is happening; Runamuk is cultivating those relationships, nourishing it’s community, and growing into the farm it was always meant to be. Yet with winter coming on, I know the household still needs some kind of supplemental income─you know-if we want to be warm. I wasn’t having much luck finding a housemate, and I refuse to take a boyfriend for the financial support alone, so a friend suggested I try listing my spare room with AirBnB.
AirBnB has been mentioned before, but in the past I’d always resisted the idea. I didn’t like it─partly because of William’s difficulties with new people, but largely because I was uncomfortable with the idea of having strangers stay overnight in my house. I’m friendly and sociable enough, but I’m also an introvert with reclusive tendencies─and, like many farmers, I relate better to animals than people.
Over the course of the summer, though, I’ve become rather accustomed to strangers dropping by. Sometimes it’s just to buy eggs or swiss chard. Other times they’re interested in a tour of the property. And sometimes folks are hoping for a peek at this old farmhouse. I am always grateful for a visit, and happy to oblige; afterall, I would not have this farm without the support of the people. So this time when it came up, I didn’t have that same guttural reaction to AirBnB that I’ve had in the past, and I gave it more serious consideration.
Note: For those who aren’t familiar with it, Airbnb is an online marketplace for arranging or offering lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences. The company does not own any of the real estate listings, nor does it host events; it acts as a broker, receiving commissions from each booking.
Locals don’t really want to live in New Portland, Maine (except me, apparently!). It’s kind of in the middle of no where. You really have to commit to the idea of driving to get anywhere from here, and most rural Mainers do not want to have a long commute. Hence the difficulties finding a suitable housemate.
For outdoor enthusiasts, however─tourists enjoying Maine’s rugged wilderness─or travelers journeying to or from Canada, New Portland is a plausible destination. The tourism industry drives this region of Maine; I could see how I might tap into that and use it to my advantage. I did some research, and when I found several articles indicating a popular trend toward farmstays, I made up my mind. I listed Runamuk’s spare room, and, almost as proof of concept, I had 3 reservations within the first 48 hours!
The Guest Room @ Runamuk
I didn’t give it a fancy name, just “The Guest Room”, but it’s a pretty sweet space, I think.
A newer, first-floor bedroom rather separate from the main house, but still readily accessible to the bathroom and other common areas. The room has been repainted to brighten the space, and decorated in what I hope comes across as “farm-like”, with an old quilt, handmade quilted pillows, and original Common Ground Fair posters given to me by a former colleague at Johnny’s (thank you, Tom!).
The Guest Room is sparsely furnished, but there’s a desk and upon it I’ve organized a few of my favorite books related to food and agriculture. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and “In Defense of Food”, by Michael Pollan, “Food Not Lawns”, “Locally Laid”, and a copy of “The Maine Birding Trail”. Included in a stay at Runamuk is a complimentary farm-breakfast made with our own eggs, which seems to be a popular selling point so far.
At the foot of the Bigelow Mountain Range in western Maine─Runamuk is just 10 minutes to the historic Wire Bridge in West New Portland, 10 minutes to Kingfield, 20 minutes to Carrabasset Valley, Sugarloaf, and the Maine Huts & Trails. And the farm has direct access to the ITS 84 snowmobile trail. So in addition to the farm and Runamuk’s own events, workshops and classes, this area offers plenty of other activities: hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing (cross-country or downhill), snowshoeing and ice skating, golfing, and snowmobiling. It’s basically a four-season playground.
Here’s the listing on AirBnB: Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm-Guest Room, feel free to share with friends and family who might be visiting the area, or who are interested in an up-close and personal farmstay at an authentic working Maine farm!
And just like that, I’m farming full-time!
Leaving Johnny’s to be a full-time farmer wasn’t the plan for 2019, but over the course of the summer I’ve come to realize that this is exactly what needed to happen. Runamuk has reached the point where I just cannot do any more if I’m giving my time and energy to another company. I’m one person, farming alone, and I’m needed here. AirBnB is going to allow me to be on the farm full-time, working to grow Runamuk, while still earning that supplemental income we require at this early stage. I decided that William and I are just going to have to get used to hosting guests here─and who knows? maybe it’ll be good for us.
When the Fates Decide…
It’s a wonder to me, how sometimes we can make very deliberate choices for our lives, while other times it seems as though the Fates decide for us. Looking back at some of the doors that have opened and closed for me along the way, steering me further along my journey into farming and wildlife conservation, I can’t help but marvel at how many of my choices were made for me─by circumstance.
When I look at it that way, how can I not feel as though this is where I was always meant to be? that this work is what I was put here to do? And how lucky am I that the Fates ordained to make my dreams come true, when there are so many out there still waiting for theirs to be made reality?
Every day in this beautiful, marvelous place is a precious gift. Even on the worst of days, I am grateful to be here and to have this opportunity. You can be sure that I will not squander what I have been given. I am giving everything of myself to make it work. Pouring my time, money, energy─my very soul─into this property, growing my farm and feeding my community.
I am a farmer, and this is my story. Thank you for following along.
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