The Maine Big Night Project is Coming to Runamuk!

maine big night project

This spring the Maine Big Night project is coming to the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm! Amphibians and reptiles played an important part in my childhood, fostering my love for wildlife at an early age. Even today, these keystone species continue to hold a special place in my heart. I am super excited to be able to bring this citizen science project to this part of Maine.

I Love Frogs and Turtles!

Runamuk loves amphibians and reptiles
Caution: We brake for turtles.

As a young girl, I was the proverbial tomboy. I spent a lot of time playing outside with my younger brother. We played in the dirt making mud-pies or cakes, creating cities for his matchbox cars or digging with his tonka trucks. We found secret forts, explored the forested landscape that surrounded our home, and climbed trees.

My absolute favorite thing to do, though, was to seek out the nearest pond or wetland habitat, to catch frogs, salamanders, and turtles. I liked hanging out by the water’s edge watching the wriggling tadpoles. It was a treat to see a turtle sunning itself on a log. And I was forever turning over rotted logs and heavy rocks to look for salamanders. If ever we did not come when my mother called, she knew exactly where to look for my brother and I, lol.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by these animals. My science reports, in school, were always about amphibians or reptiles. I was so taken with herpetology that I researched it extensively, even after I graduated high school. Whenever I went hiking, there was always a field guide for amphibians and reptiles in my pack. In fact, until I became obsessed with bees, amphibians were my major passion. I wanted to save the frogs.

The Problem Facing Frogs

Maine Big Night Amphibian Monitoring Project
Amphibian populations are declining. Photo credit: Greg LeClair.

Amphibians’ complex water-and-land life cycle makes them more vulnerable than most animals. Because of their permeable skin, frogs and salamanders are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. Amphibian eggs have no protective shell, making them susceptible to harmful UV levels. Their mucousy skin easily absorbs harmful pollutants that might be in their watery habitats. Climate change is causing higher levels of disease among populations, while habitat encroachment results in the loss of important breeding grounds.

We’ve been watching the decline of these animals since the 1960’s. Even in protected national parks and wildlife refuges, the average population decline of amphibians is 3.97% each year. In some regions, the population loss is even more severe. Scientists predict that within the next 20 years, some species will disappear from at least half the habitats they occupy.

Note: Check out this article from the USDA to learn more about Why frog and toad populations are declining.

Why Frogs Matter

Amphibians and reptiles are important members of our aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. They serve as both predator and prey, transferring energy between the two systems.

Viewed as indicators of wetland health, amphibians offer us an early indication of ecosystem change when monitored over long periods of time. Populations of amphibians may exhibit measurable changes in site occupancy, distribution, abundance, species richness, and increases in both disease occurrence and malformations. These changes cause a ripple effect on other aspects of the ecosystem. Predator, prey, and competitor populations, for example, as well as energy flow and nutrient recycling.

What is the Maine Big Night Project?

Volunteers record data about species found at sites across Maine. Photo credit: Greg LeClair.

The Maine Big Night (MBN) is a citizen science project led by scientists and UMaine specialists. Programs like these rely on community involvement for data collection, and also provide direct relief to conservation issues. MBN seeks to identify important crossing sites, and relieve pressure from road mortality at the same time.

The project has 3 main goals:

  1. Identify significant and vulnerable migration routes for amphibians across the state of Maine.
  2. Provide direct relief of road mortality to local amphibian populations.
  3. Create an opportunity for Maine citizens to participate in wildlife conservation and natural sciences.

At 286 sites throughout the state, community members can participate in the Maine Big Night project anytime between April 1st and April 30th. Participants are required to complete a brief training course and pass a quiz with a least 80% accuracy. Don’t be intimidated, though, it’s an open-book test, and you can retake the quiz as many times as needed to pass.

Once you’ve signed your liability waiver, you can adopt the site (or sites) you’d like to survey. These are 1000-foot sections of roadway which tend to encompass a wetland or forest, usually within range of a significant vernal pool.

But…What is a Big Night?

“What’s a Big Night?” David asked, trying to understand why I was so excited.

We were at the Whittemore homestead again for Sunday supper. Deron was at the stove cooking (a man who cooks! pretty sexy, right ladies?), while I sat at the table across from his 80-year old father.

“It’s that night in the spring when the frogs are all over the road,” I explained.

Maine Big Night Project
Mass numbers of frogs, toads, and salamanders make their way to vernal pools on a Big Night. Photo credit: Greg LeClair

We’ve all seen it─that first “warm” rainy night in the spring, coming home late and there are frogs all over the roads… It generally happens once the ground has thawed and the nighttime temperatures are consistently above freezing. Then the rains come. This is when amphibians begin migrating to breeding grounds.

A true “Big Night” is when immense numbers of migrating amphibians move simultaneously. For that to happen it needs to be around 45-degrees, and rainy, though you will still see smaller numbers of amphibians moving in temperatures as low as 32-degrees.

I knew that to many of that older generation the idea would sound preposterous. I couldn’t help grinning prematurely at the reaction I expected to this next bit, “This is a citizen science project that involves helping frogs cross the road.”

He looked at me across the table for a moment, then said flatly, “You’re going to help the frogs cross the road.”

I giggled and grinned happily, “Yep! I sure am!”

He glanced over his shoulder at Deron and asked, “Where did you meet this chick anyway!?”

Maine Big Night Comes to Runamuk

Maine Big Night at Runamuk Acres
Volunteers wanted! Photo credit: Greg LeClair.

Believe me, I know it sounds ridiculous. I don’t care. I’m going to take my 14 year-old son out after supper some night in April─along with whomever else I can convince to help me. We’re going to put on reflective vests and headlamps, set our cars along the roadside with 4-way flashers blinking in the night, and stand out in the rain to help frogs and salamanders cross to and from their breeding grounds.

Personally, I just don’t feel good about running over frogs on the road. I never have. And I absolutely cannot imagine a world without frogs or salamanders. The MBN project is one small way I can help. Plus, it’s a great way to get my kids (and yours!) engaged in natural science and community involvement.

With that goal in mind, I’ve enrolled Runamuk to serve as a host organization for MBN volunteers in this part of the state. This means certified participants can sign-out safety gear, data sheets, and ID card for free at Runamuk Acres. I just have to have the materials back by May 30th so I can send them back.

Greg LeClair, Project Coordinator, told me that Runamuk is the northernmost organization to participate in the Maine Big Night project. There’s a real need for data collection in this part of the state, so that we can know that status of amphibian populations in the Kennebec River and Western Maine regions. Once we know what we’ve got, then we can begin monitoring those populations, and monitoring the health of the ecosystems they represent.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer click here to go to to the Maine Big Night homepage for more info. OR click here to go directly to the Volunteer Materials & Training page.

I took the training course right away, and have adopted 3 sites in the surrounding area: a site on the Bog Road on Route 16 (just a few hundred yards away from the farm), one over on the Deer Farm Road here in New Portland, and another on the 4 Mile Square Road in North Anson. Locals are invited to join Runamuk’s Maine Big Night excursions, or you can work independently and create your own MBN adventure. I sincerely hope you will.

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!!

Runamuk’s Farmstay AirBnB & Surprise Giveaway!

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.

guest room infographic
Thanks to the layout of my ginormous house, the guest spaces are separate from the rest of the house. Common spaces like the kitchen, dining and bathrooms are in the center of the first floor, while the family space is on the opposite end of the house, away from guests.

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.

The Breakfast

runamuk breakfast_muffins
Breakfast at Runamuk Acres!

“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!?

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.

bigelow mountain range
The Bigelow Mountain Range splayed out on the horizon.

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.

hiking bigelow
Murphy has a big tongue-lolling smile on his face til I told him to “Stay” for the picture…

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

north crocker trailhead kiosk
AT Trailhead Kiosk

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!”

Making Friends

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.

at trailmarker
The top of North Crocker Mountain!

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.

The Guests

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.

farmstay reviews
Some of Runamuk’s reviews on AirBnb.

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!

2 Nights FREE at Runamuk’s Farmstay B&B

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…

maine foliage report
Maine Foliage Report for the week of 9/25/2019

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!

Runamuk’s 1st-Ever Open Farm Day!

open farm day

This past Sunday Runamuk participated in it’s 1st-ever Maine Open Farm Day. This was Maine’s 30th annual Open Farm Day, which gives the public the opportunity to meet their local farmers and support agricultural businesses across the state. Runamuk invited it’s local community to stop by the farm, offering tours, the chance to pet the sheep and meet the chickens, or to have pictures taken atop Walter, our antique tractor. It was a very rewarding day on the farm.

open farm day_2019

Quality vs Quantity

Honestly, I didn’t promote Runamuk’s participation in Open Farm Day very loudly; in fact, I just sort of whispered it. This season has been so hectic as Runamuk seeks to establish itself here, and I’ve been coping with some seasonal farm-overwhelm as I try to keep up with it all (more about that in an upcoming post!), so I just wasn’t able to give much energy to the event. Even still, I was happy with the handful of people who stopped by that morning: quality vs quantity.

open farm day_billiejo and easton
My neighbor, Billie Jo, and her grandson, Easton, at Runamuk on Open Farm Day.

open farm day_2019
The neighbors brought their grandson, Easton, to pet the lambs!

open farm day_2019_local family
The lambs loved a visit from Benjamin and his family!

Every Day is Open Farm Day at Runamuk

Later that evening I saw a few remarks on facebook from local folks who said they would have gone if they’d known, so I’d like to take this opportunity to say that every day is Open Farm Day at Runamuk. The public is always welcome to stop by for a tour, take a walk through the pollinator meadow, or find out what we have available for veggies and farm-products. We’re open every Saturday from 8 to 4, but I would happily coordinate tours any other day of the week, and of course, we accept drop-ins too.

Runamuk is a community farm─as in, we exist to serve our community. Yet, Runamuk is more than just another small farm; Runamuk Acres is an education center for nature and agriculture. We want to inspire people to value and protect the natural world. We also seek to inspire other farmers to use the forces of nature to their advantage and farm for climate action.

And so we invite the public in. Come see us!

The People’s Farm

I feel very strongly about sharing the farm with the people in this way. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the support of our community, both locally and online. What’s more, to buy Runamuk’s forever-farm I took advantage of government programs funded by tax-payer monies. This farm belongs to the people; I’m just fortunate enough to be it’s Steward.

If you’ve been following my story for a long time (thank you!), you likely already know what I have in mind. But for those who might be new here: imagine a series of trails winding through Runamuk’s 53 acres of fields and forest, beckoning the people to take a stroll. There will be several picnic tables for families or class field trips to use to eat their lunch outdoors. I’ll host workshops and fun events on-farm to promote education on a wide range of topics.

Luckily there is an existing trail on the property, so I can build on that, and even without picnic tables, Runamuk is a lovely setting for a picnic lunch. I’m stoked, that a couple of local schools have already inquired about field trips.

open farm day
Benjamin has fun with Walter, Runamuk’s ’51 Farmall tractor.

Next Year

There’s always next year, to get out and participate in Maine’s annual Open Farm Day. Runamuk will definitely sign up again next year, and the years following that, since I plan to be here doing this work on this scrappy piece of Earth for the rest of my life. With any luck, by this time next year things will be running more smoothly here, and I’ll be able to give the event more time and energy.

Thanks for following along! Be sure to subscribe by email to keep up with the latest from Runamuk Acres; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day to day workings of this bee-friendly Maine farm!

Farming as a Way Forward for Maine’s Economically Depressed Regions

dharma farm

Not too long ago I attended a town meeting in Madison in which I told selectmen that I see farming as a way forward for our economically depressed region of Maine. A new zoning ordinance had been passed in Madison that affects agriculture in my hometown, and I was there in official capacity as a representative of the Madison Farmers’ Market. It is my hope that people will see the rationale of this concept. We can revitalize our rural economies through agriculture. Farming IS a viable way forward; I truly believe this.

dharma farm
Jeff Knox of Dharma Farm in Washington, ME. Photo credit: Dharma Farm. Find them online today!

Even in the midst of the local foods movement, it’s difficult to persuade the mainstream public that farming is a viable option for regional growth, and I doubt my words bore much weight with Madison’s Board of Selectmen. For far too long society has viewed farming as work that any simpleton can do; work that involves long hours of toil and drudgery, and results in little pay and a low-quality of life. Farming has not been a career choice parents generally wanted for their children. I’m taking this opportunity to present 7 reasons why I believe in farming as the way forward for Maine’s economically depressed regions.

1. Support Local Economies

Supporting family farms and local community food systems is a powerful strategy for jumpstarting our fragile economy and strengthening communities across America. Agriculture is a frequently overlooked source of economic development and job creation.

The economic impact of the nation’s food producers stretch far beyond the limits of their farms and ranches. Food systems link farmers with other enterprises, from input providers for seed and fertilizers, to retail chains, restaurants and everything in between. Every year consumers spend over $1 trillion on food grown by US farmers and ranchers, yet the real value of agriculture to the nation lies much deeper.

Farmers are the backbone of our nation, the first rung on the economic ladder; studies show that when farms thrive, Main Street businesses and local communities thrive too. Consider farming as a way forward.

2. Cultivate Food Security

farming as a way forward
Harvest-time at Daisy Chain Farm, Belfast, Maine. Photo credit: Daisy Chain Farm. Find them online!

Studies show that access to healthy, affordable nutritional food is an issue in urban areas, as well as rural regions. Michelle Kaiser, researcher in the School of Social Work in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, says:

People don’t think of rural areas as places without healthy foods. However, many people live miles from the nearest store, and this makes them less likely to buy fresh, perishable foods because they buy groceries less often. In urban areas, many people buy their food from restaurants or convenience stores, where nutritious food is scarce. Even if there is a nearby grocery store, many people don’t have access to reliable transportation to those stores.

Increasing the availability of whole-foods, such as fruits and vegetables, enables people to avoid processed, unhealthy foods.

What’s more, local food production enables a country or region to overcome food insecurity and recover from emergencies. When disaster strikes, distribution channels can fail and supermarkets can become out-of-stock in short order. By focusing on farming as a way forward, we’re investing in our own long-term food security.

3. Stewardship Opportunities

A 2012 report by the UN titled “Food & Agriculture: the Future of Sustainability” suggests that significant investment in small and medium-sized farms is needed to improve the overall health and viability of our food system worldwide.

Small family farms have been shown to be the most effective, per acre, at ecological stewardship, biodiversity and production of nutrition. These small farms are better able to maintain the quality of soil, air and water, compared to large scale agriculture, which degrades soil and water quality in the short term, reducing the biological health of the soil ecosystem, and also making them more vulnerable to disease, drought, crisis and collapse.

Farming key to reducing greenhouse gases and improving our overall health with better food options. It’s time to support these small farms and invest in local agriculture.

4. Increased Self-Reliance

Fostering local agriculture increases a community’s self-reliance and reduces our overall dependence on Industry. Small farms are teaching facilities where people can learn that there’s something everyone can do right now, to improve their own self-sufficiency and live healthier lives. Your local farmers can teach you everything from how to cook the vegetables and meats you buy at the farmers’ market, to how to bake your own bread, how to compost, and how to grow your own food─farmers are always willing to share their knowledge and skill-sets.

Increased self-reliance allows us to avoid more processed foods, live healthier, more meaningful lives, and save money too. These skills give us independence from big Industry, which doesn’t always have our best interests at heart, and affords communities a measure of security knowing that if something were to happen tomorrow to prevent the distribution of food and goods to the supermarkets, we have the capability of providing for ourselves and those around us. Farming as a way forward allows us more independence.

5. Build Community

Scientific studies indicate that food, specifically when shared and experienced with others, has also shown to benefit our minds, enrich our feelings toward other people, and it can increase people’s trust and cooperation with one another. Social psychologist, Shankar Vedantam states:

“To eat the same foods as another person suggests that we are both willing to bring the same thing into our bodies. People just feel closer to people who are eating the same food as they are. And then trust, cooperation—these are just the consequences of feeling close to someone.”

It may not seem like a ground-breaking discovery, but sharing food with other people can have longstanding effects and should be utilized as a powerful tool in our community-building arsenal. Food has an amazing ability to draw us together. We all have powerful memories of being cooked for, and those acts of generosity and love run deep within us─they inspire us, and compel us to reciprocate. Through food we can foster relationships, motivate people and build community.

6. Vibrant Farming Community

farming as a way forward for economically depressed regions
Seedling production at Bumbleroot Organic Farm, Windham, Maine. Photo credit: Bumbleroot Organic Farm.  Find them online!

Maine has a longstanding agricultural legacy that pre-dates the arrival of European settlers, and at one time our great state was considered the bread-basket of the nation. Since the 17th century farming has changed significantly, but agriculture has continued to be a driving force in our state, with new farms being started at a rate nearly four times faster than the national average. Maine also boasts one of the highest organic-to-conventional farm ratios in the United States.

We’re fortunate to have a robust farmer support system, with MOFGA─the nation’s oldest and largest organic farming organization, the Maine Farmland Trust, and a surprising lack of partisan preoccupation when it comes to agriculture in the state-houses. Why shouldn’t we build upon this industry that’s already established and thriving in our state?

7. Land-Rich

Maine is a land-rich state. With the exception of the coastal region and some scattered cities in the southern and central part of the state, we’re still very rural, with large tracts of land yet undeveloped. Land that had once been farmed has since been abandoned and is just waiting for a good steward to breathe life back into it. Entire fields where dairy cows once grazed have been forgotten, and in many cases are merely bush-hogged annually to keep the forest at bay.

Many homeowners own more than half an acre, and some families possess larger tracts that are passed down from one generation to the next. If you were born and stayed here in Maine, there’s a good chance you know someone who has acreage where opportunity for farming exists. This is a huge resource that Mainers can utilize to generate income for themselves─if only they would consider farming as a way forward.

Consider Farming as a Way Forward

Society’s long-standing perception of farming as a poor career choice is pervasive, but slowly beginning to crumble thanks to the modern agricultural movement. There’s a new generation of farmers on the horizon─they come to farming from all walks of life, and a broad spectrum of demographics and interests. Not just young people, but parents seeking a better lifestyle for their families, older folks looking to make a change in their lives or to start something new; they’re an incredibly diverse group. 

These new-age farmers want to make a difference in the world; they’re into the idea of clean food and living more sustainably on the land. People are finally beginning to realize that our natural resources in this world are not going to last forever; these new-generation farmers want to do their part─not only to conserve what we have for future generations─but also because it’s the right thing to do.

Who are we to think ourselves so superior to every other life-form on this planet that we can justify the consumption of Earth’s resources? How can we legitimize the ravaging of the planet that we share with other creatures? And what gives us the right in the here-and-now to disregard those who will come after we are gone? What kind of legacy are we leaving behind? and would our descendants thank us for it if they ever could?

If we search our hearts, I think we all know the answers to those questions. No, you’ll likely never get rich serving the land and community, but farming IS a viable way forward, and I urge you to consider it. I urge our elected officials not to overlook the possibilities that agriculture holds for our rural regions. I ask parents not to disregard the opportunities that farming might offer your children. And I beseech people young and old to consider farming─on any scale─to make a difference in this world.

What do YOU think? Feel free to weigh in; leave a comment below!

Stepping Down as Manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market

friends at market

After 6 long years, the time has finally come: I am stepping down as manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market. This was a difficult decision for me, but with Runamuk’s new #foreverfarm home, I feel confident that I am making the right move for me. I’m looking forward to devoting all of my time and energy to Runamuk, and to bringing my vision for a pollinator conservation center to life.

Why Volunteer?

For the last 10 years I’ve given my time and energy to a number of local organizations, trying to do my part to support my community, striving to be the change I want to see in the world. I truly believe community involvement is important─not just for the community, but also for ourselves. Volunteering your time and energy for a cause helps you grow as a person, you learn new things, meet new people, and are intrinsically rewarded for the service you do. I really think everyone should be involved somehow in something that matters to them.

Volunteer-work is also a good way for someone to establish credibility in their community, build a reputation and network with new people. For me, it was a powerful tool in growing Runamuk; people in this region of Maine have come to associate me with Runamuk, and Runamuk with bees and bee-conservation. I strongly encourage beginning farmers wanting to break into the market (or any person looking to make a name for themselves) to seek out ways to get involved with the community you will be serving─get to know the people and learn what gaps exist that you could fill, or seize unexpected opportunities that might present themselves through associations with the locals.

Serving the Madison Farmers’ Market

For me, it all started with the Master Gardeners’ program at my local cooperative extension. From there I went on to establish the Somerset Beekeepers and served as president of that group for 6 years. I served as a 4H leader for a time, and of course, there’s my service to the Madison Farmers’ Market. I know that many of the opportunities I have had, would not have been presented to me had I not put myself out there, given of my time and energies to these programs and my community.

Of all of those programs and services, the Madison Farmers’ Market is the one that is nearest and dearest my heart. Facilitating local food in my hometown, supporting local agriculture in this region where I grew up, and just getting to know my community on a very personal level─has had a profound impact on my life.

maine regions map
Madison on the Maine map.

For those who are not from the area, Madison is a fairly rural town, located along the banks of the Kennebec River, in what is known as the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine. Even with fewer than 5 thousand inhabitants, Madison is a mecca for the many outlying villages that are scattered throughout the Foothills and the closest access to a grocery store, banks and gas stations.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market, not only have we cultivated meaningful friendships between fellow farmers, we’ve also developed some strong relationships with the locals of Madison, and it’s “sister-city”, Anson, just on the other side of the river. We’ve met people from the villages of Starks, Embden, and North Anson. One woman comes from as far north as Salem (an unincorporated Maine township located 10 or so miles north-westerly from Kingfield) to visit the market. These relationships, and getting to know the people of the area where I was born and raised, where I have chosen to stay and raise my own children─these are what I treasure most about being a part of the Madison Farmers’ Market.

I’ve learned so much about farming and growing food just by spending my Saturdays peddling my wares in the parking lot at the Main Street Park in Madison, Maine. Sitting there in all types of weather, with my comrades in arms (just figuratively, lol!), discussing all manner of topics, learning from each other as we offer locally produced foods and goods to the people.

Though I am stepping down as market-manager, Runamuk will continue as a member of the market, and dedicated patrons will still be able to find me at the Madison Farmers’ Market every Saturday selling my wares.

Some Highlights From My Career as Market-Manager

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ISO Volunteers

So who will step up to fill my shoes? What will happen to the Madison Farmers’ Market now that Sam is stepping down?

That I can’t say….

Currently the Madison Farmers’ Market is in search of a volunteer─or better yet: a group of volunteers─who can take on the responsibilities of the market duties. There is the possibility of a stipend for a “market-manager”, though I do not know yet how much that stipend might be. What we’d really like to see is a committee, made up of at least 3 volunteers: a treasurer, secretary/marketing person, and an EBT-point person who will spearhead the Maine Harvest Bucks program for the community (the program that allows the market to offer EBT/SNAP shoppers bonus-dollars for purchase of fruits and vegetables).

Without help the Madison Farmers’ Market will no longer be able to accept credit, debit, or EBT cards at the market, and we will surely have to relinquish the Maine Harvest Bucks program.

Serve Your Community!

If you’re reading this from the Madison-Anson area and are interested in supporting local agriculture─consider giving of yourself to the Madison Farmers’ Market. If you have a passion for increasing local food access, serve your community by serving it’s farmers’ market. And most definitely, if you’re a beginning farmer in the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine, think about building your reputation by getting involved the Madison Farmers’ Market.

Even if you’re located elsewhere, I still encourage you to participate somehow in your local community. Many wonderful services and programs exist only because of the people who freely give of their time and of themselves to facilitate them. What’s more, you’ll be enriching your own life at the same time. But (in the words of Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow) “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Get involved today and find out for yourself!

Please share this post to help the Madison Farmers’ Market find new volunteers so that we can keep our special services going for the people of Madison-Anson and the surrounding rural areas. Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer!

Farmer Talent Show a Success

fts sonia and wren

What a great time we had at the Farmer Talent Show Sunday night! It was a hugely successful event, and thanks to those who participated and came out to see the show, we were able to raise the funds needed to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

farmer talent show signageIf you’re a regular reader of the Runamuk blog, you might recall the post from a couple months ago announcing the Farmer Talent Show as a means for raising funds to support the Maine Harvest Bucks (MHB) program at the Madison Farmers’ Market. MHB increases access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP/EBT shoppers at local farmers’ markets and is made possible by government funding and various grants procured by the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. However there was a gap in the funding this year that meant farmers’ markets across the state either had to temporarily suspend the program, or step up to cover the funding shortfall themselves.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market we were adamant that the community we serve, located in Somerset County─an economically depressed region of central Maine─should continue to have access to the benefits the MHB program offers, and so we devised a fundraising strategy that included reaching out to local businesses, as well as hosting this Farmer Talent Show.

I really can’t take much credit for the event that happened last night. The Open Mics at the Madison and East Madison Granges were a concept breathed to life by my friend Sonia Acevedo from Hide & Go Peep Farm in East Madison. Sonia is a dedicated member of the East Madison Grange and last fall she initiated the monthly Open Mic events, which have since been taking place on the last Sunday of the month.

When the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets notified us of the funding gap for the Maine Harvest Bucks program that our market participates in, Sonia proposed the idea of using the regularly scheduled Open Mic as a Farmer Talent Show to help raise funds for that program. I fell in love with the idea and ran with it, coming up with the singing goat graphic to promote the event, and with the help of some of the other vendors at the Madison Farmers’ Market, Sonia and I actively promoted the event and hoped for a good turn-out.

tomato tattoos
Epic tomato temporary tattoos donated by Backyard Farms!

There were refreshments in the form of cookies, brownies, chips and salsa, and even fiddlehead cake! Given that this was a farm-themed event, it was totally appropriate to have a baby goat on site, and my cousin Josh Richards, who owns and operates “Leaping Lizards” a rescue center for exotic lizards, brought a few specimens to show off to the crowd. We even had “I Love Farmers’ Markets” and epic tomato temporary tattoos to offer in exchange for donations.

Not only did we have a good turn-out, but we managed to fill the meeting room at the East Madison Grange and we had a long list of performers in a wide range of ages and skill levels that made for a really great show. There were guitar-players, a trumpet-player, an accordion and a dulcimer, a fiddle and banjos, even a story-teller.

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ellen and dog special guest judges
Our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog!

 

It was especially fitting that our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog, 2 of our market’s most devout patrons. They did a great job awarding recognition to the various talents who entered our show, designating “Best Trumpet Player” and “Best Story-Teller”, “Crowd Favorite” and “Best Performance by a Band”, were among some of the winning categories.

Winning performers had their pick from a table laden with various gifts, trinkets and prizes our market-members had assembled, including a gift basket of soaps and body rubs from S&S Kid Farm, a big beautiful potted petunia and a basket of fresh eggs from Hide & Go Peep, and a pair of wooden book-ends depicting a horse to name a few.

Here’s my group below: “The Appalachian Sheep Dawgs”, including Alyssa (all but hidden behind the curtain from this angle─sorry Alyssa!), Ken Hahn (my banjo instructor), myself (in red) and the daughters of Ken and his wife Kamala: on guitar is Victoria , and Amelie on the fiddle.

Note: Don’t laugh at me when you watch this!!! I’m still a novice when it comes to playing the banjo, with only a year’s experience on the instrument under my belt. It takes utter concentration for me to not drop the ball in front of a room filled with 70+/- people!

At the very end of the evening we raffled off the tub-trug gift basket donated by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, containing an assortment of seeds, garden gloves, a Johnny’s beanie, a trowel and a hand-held seed-sower.

jss gift tub trub
Gift tub-trub donated by Johnny’s filled with misc. garden supplies!

Thanks to everyone who participated and came out for this show, our market was able to raise nearly $300 between the raffle and the tickets-by-donation. These funds, in addition to a $500 donation from Backyard Farms and a $200 donation by Paine’s Dairy Farm (both of Madison, Maine), means we have surpassed our fundraising goals and we will be able to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market! Yaaaaay!

No…I can’t take credit for what happened at the East Madison Grange on the night of Sunday, May 27th, but as I sat there amid the crowd gathered together to watch this wide-ranging display of talents in the name of local food, local farms, and community support, I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of love and affection, and I knew that I had contributed to something really special. In rural central Maine, a small, wayward band of grassroots activists─also known as farmers─collaborated to bring the public out in direct support of the community they serve. Life doesn’t get much more beautiful than that, if you ask me, and I am grateful every day to be able to call myself a farmer.

Thanks for reading and following along with my story! Feel free to leave a comment below if you are inspired to share with us. And be sure to subscribe to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly to your in-box!

Runamuk at Maine School Garden Day

peppers-at-runamuk

Runamuk has been invited to participate in Maine School Garden Day to talk about bees! It’s been a while since I was able to get out in the community to talk bees, so I’m pretty stoked to have been invited.

maine school garden dayOn Saturday, April 28th teachers from across Maine will gather at the Maine Academy of Natural Science in Hinckley to learn more about gardening, and Runamuk will be there to talk about pollinators, beekeeping, and bee-friendly gardening.

Maine School Garden Day is a day-long conference organized by the Maine School Garden Network. This year’s topics include a rice cultivation, integrated pest management, tower gardening, garden yoga, and my presentation─entitled: “What’s the Buzz About Bees?” A fellow representative of Johnny’s Selected Seeds will also be on hand for one of the other presentations, and Johnny’s has given me some pollinator-friendly seeds to distribute to teachers at my session. Thank you Johnny’s!

Take a look at the agenda for the day; it’s going to be really fun! Readers local to Maine should feel free to share news of this event with teachers you know who might be interested in participating. The cost for tickets is $40, though I believe there are scholarships available if you ask.

A new growing season is upon us, and soon we will be moving to our forever-farm! Subscribe by email to get the latest posts and articles from Runamuk directly to your in-box! 

Fedco’s Tree Sale: a Maine Adventure

me at fedco tree sale

Yesterday was my first-ever visit to the annual Fedco Tree Sale and what an adventure it was! An event the reminded me of Black Friday─but instead of sales on electronics, toys, and household gadgets people were lining up to take advantage on huge savings on trees and plants.

fedco tree sale
Growers come from all over the northeast to take part in Fedco’s annual sale.

Maine’s longstanding agricultural heritage and community of trend-setting farmers has spurred the establishment of not one seed-company in our state, but two. You’ve heard me talk about Johnny’s Selected Seeds and many growers out there are already familiar with that catalog, but have you heard of Fedco Seeds?

Fedco is a cooperative based out of Clinton, Maine. Established in 1978 when the company took on the tree order from John Bunker (Maine’s legendary apple expert), first filling orders for Maine customers but now grown to serve customers in all 50 states and broken into 5 divisions including Seeds, “Moose Tubers” (Maine seed potatoes), Organic Growers’ Supply, Trees, and Bulbs. As they’ve grown Fedco has maintained it’s grassroots feel and cooperative mentality, encouraging customers to “make cooperation work for you by forming ordering groups to take advantage of our generous volume discounts.”

The Fedco catalogs are printed on recycled newsprint paper and maintain that grassroots feel and appearance, with black and white line-drawings scattered throughout the publications and detailed descriptions of each item. I especially love Fedco’s tree catalog and have spent hours and hours in years past pouring over the thing─lusting after the antique apple varieties with their descriptions depicting the legacy of each tree. I admit I have always enjoyed learning about history and that affinity readily crosses to agriculture so that I have this obsessive fascination with the history behind plant varieties, farmlands and the stories of farmers who came before my time.

With Runamuk’s unsettled past I’ve avoided buying and planting any perennials larger than a clump of chives or coreopsis. Being a landless-farmer makes it difficult to put down roots and really dig into a piece of land in the way that perennials like apples and nut trees require. It’s hard enough to leave behind a vegetable garden after spending several years building the soil, to have to leave behind long-lived plants like an apple tree would be unthinkable, so haven’t made the investment.

However when I was invited to accompany my friend (and long-standing supporter of Runamuk) Gwen Hilton, I thought the Fedco Tree Sale might be a good opportunity to score a gift for Paul’s upcoming birthday. He owns 40 acres here and has talked in the past about creating a food-forest garden on his property, so a tree seemed to be the perfect gift.

Friday morning dawned and I was filled with excitement and anticipation, dropped the kids off at school and met up with Gwen and her friend Valerie Comstock, who is another avid gardener and retired teacher from Starks. We 3 ladies piled into the Hilton’s old farm-truck, affectionately named “Nellie” and set off for Clinton and the Fedco Tree Sale.

trees at fedco tree sale
The trees and plants were lined up under their corresponding identification cards.

fedco fruit trees
Carefully assembled displays of trees all in a row!

It’s thanks in-part to Fedco’s cooperative mentality that they are able to offer this annual sale on trees and plants, and it’s a really big deal for gardeners and farmers. People wait all year for this event, coming from as far as Aroostook County or from out-of-state to take advantage of the prices to make big investments in their land. It’s a labor of love and hope, a dedication to improving our little patch of Earth, a commitment to improving our own lives and the atmosphere inside the warehouse was positive and inspiring. It was an amazing feeling.

The crew at Fedco is made up of gardeners and farmers who know their stuff and the set up at the tree sale was well done. The trees and plants were organized into groups according to type, and then the different varieties were lines up down the row. There were identification cards stapled to the wooden beam above with a few basic facts about each variety to help growers make selections. Information like the recommended use for the fruit (ie-dessert, storage, fresh-eating, etc), estimated harvest season (early, mid-season, or late), and other pertinent information. The bareroot trees were then lined up under their ID card and mounded with moist sawdust to await their new caretakers.

at fedco tree sale
My fearless companions on this adventure: Valerie Comstock on the left and Gwen Hilton on the right.

We arrived just after 9 and already the warehouse was packed with growers of all ages and walks of life. Many folks came with a list of varieties they’d selected out of the catalog and they pushed their way through the throng to get in and out as quickly as possible. Trees and plants were put into boxes or shopping carts and one had to be mindful as you moved up and down the rows, both of your own trees’ branches and of the tree branches of those around you. There were many friends and acquaintances, people who might not have seen each other in a while reconnecting over a common interest; even among strangers there was a free exchange of information about growing that bridges cultural gaps. It’s inspiring to see how gardening can impact people.

The whole thing was rather impulsive and spur of the moment for me. I had not intended to buy perennials this year but with Gwen’s invite and Paul’s approaching birthday I reconsidered. I knew he wanted dwarf apple trees, and we had talked in the past about the Black Locust─a great early-season nectar source for bees, as well as a really nice hardwood for fence posts, lumber or firewood, so I had that in mind as I wove my way through the crowds with my companions. I found the locust, which seemed reasonably priced at $12.50.

It turned out the only dwarf apple trees Fedco had at the tree sale was in the form of rootstock. I was a little dismayed at first. I’d imagined getting Paul a 2 or 3 year old tree. But a kindly older gentleman with laughing blue eyes explained that I could graft whatever varieties I wanted onto the rootstock, and I think he would have come to Runamuk to show me just how to do it if the distance between our 2 homes weren’t so great (one of the downsides to Maine is that it’s a large state and it can sometimes take several hours to get from one place to another). However with my large community of friends and aquaintances I’m certain I’ll find someone to teach me how to graft when the time comes. What’s more, Fedco hosts an annual Scion-Exchange event that makes establishing new varieties very affordable, so I wound up getting a bundle of 10 dwarf apple tree rootstock for just $20 bucks!

The line to check out wrapped around the back wall of the warehouse, but it was pleasant enough standing there conversing with friends about growing and farming, and the sales were worth the time spent. When we finally reached the front the Fedco folks expertly bundled each customer’s plants, packing the bare roots of the trees and shrubs with moist sawdust, and then wrapping it all together with ceran wrap. I charged it to a dusty credit card I’d pulled out of my dresser drawer for the occasion and walked out of the warehouse feeling like a winner: I spent just $32.50 for 11 trees!

check out line at fedco tree sale
This is the check out line: running along the back wall, and then along the side wall to the front of the warehouse.

wrapping the tree roots at fedco tree sale
These guys are skilled at packing up the ungangly masses of roots for shipping and transportation of live plants!

me at fedco tree sale
Here I am with my locust and rootstock!

We wrapped up our adventure by stopping up the road to the Fedco seeds and supply warehouses and then stopped for lunch at the Kel-Met Cafe in Skowhegan (another first for me), but it was the Tree Sale that was the high point of the day. That feeling of hope and love─this positive and inspiring vibe that permeated the tree warehouse and spilled out onto the grounds, infecting each and every one of the shoppers. Whether they realize it or not, these dedicated gardeners and farmers from across the state of Maine and beyond─will carry that feeling home with them and plant it in the soil with the trees and shrubs and other plants. That’s the kind of feeling that provokes us into action; the kind of thing that inspires others to follow our lead and so spreads throughout a community. That’s the kind of thing we need more of in this crazy, mixed up society and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Check out the Fedco website and be sure to call to order their catalogs so that you too have access to great cold-hardy varieties, heritage fruit trees and organic supplies for your farm or gardens!

Big news at Madison Farmers’ Market!

fun-and-games-at-market

This will be the Madison Farmers’ Market’s 5th season and what a season it is shaping up to be! I’m so excited and so proud that I’m fairly bursting! We have some big changes planned and despite the snow in our local forecast, the days are getting longer and I have faith that spring will soon be here and I will be in the dirt once more.

big-news-at-the-mfm_fiNew Vendors!

Our little market has grown from just two lonely farmers along the side of the road on Main Street in Madison to twelve farmers this year, with the recent addition of two new vendors. At our annual New Applicant Meeting we met with potential vendors and unanimously voted to bring Steelbow Farm and S&S Kid Farm into the fold. Coincidentally, both these farms are located on the Father Rasle Rd on the Norridgewock side.

Finnegan and Jason are transplants to the area, working with a local land-owner to establish their farm here in Maine. They’re offering mixed vegetables and a CSA program─both with the Madison market and also in Bangor.

Shana Brown is a local whom I’ve been acquainted with for years. She raises goats and makes fabulous goat cheeses, as well as goats’ milk soap and different body butters. Shana also grows vegetables and raises rabbits, so you may see some of that from her too.

Switching to Saturday!

maple-products-at-market
Haulk’s Maple of Madison with a wide variety of Maine maple products.

When we first started the Madison Farmers’ Market, we worried about having to compete with the larger and well-established Skowhegan Farmers’ Market. We went with Sunday and have actually developed a select following of customers who like that we’re available on Sunday. However, while the market has seen some growth, the rate is not at the level our local farmers require in order to meet their income needs. What’s more, it has become apparent that in-town Madison is much busier on Saturday than it is on Sunday. After several years observing our community, our farmers have concluded that─in general─the people of Madison-Anson seem to like to do their running around on Saturday so that they can stay at home or go to church on Sunday. With that in mind (and after much debate), our farmers have voted democratically to take this big and bold step in order to better meet the needs of both the community and it’s farmers.

Madison Farmers’ Market
is switching to Saturdays!

The market will continue to be held in the parking lot at the Main Street Park in Madison, directly across the street from Skowhegan Savings Bank from 9am to 2pm. We will host all of the same vendors with the same great, locally produced foods and products, but we’ll be there on Saturdays rather than Sunday. We will continue our participation in the Harvest Bucks program in order to be able to offer bonus-bucks to EBT-shoppers too. Hopefully this means more local folks will be encouraged to shop and eat local foods, but just in case that wasn’t enough incentive to come to the Madison Farmers’ Market this summer─there’s more!

Introducing our new Kid’s Club!

annual-farmers-market-convention-maine
Trisha Smith at MFFM’s recent convention.

Regular readers of the Runamuk blog may recall that I recently attended my second-ever farmers’ market convention back in January. After sitting through a presentation entitled “Bringing the whole family: integrating youth and family programming at the farmers’ market”, I was inspired to begin our very own Kid’s Club program at the Madison Farmers’ Market. It is my hope that with this program we will not only inspire enthusiasm for fresh, local foods in the next generation of market-shoppers, but also build relationships between the community and it’s farmers.

Our market in Madison is already super family-friendly. Several of us bring children with us to market and we’ve gotten pretty creative with our shenanigans there. Check it out:

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Here is my son with fellow-farmer Crym Sullivan of Sidehill Farm in Madison: squash-bowling at market is a competitive sport!

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We don’t just paint faces at market, Jessica Paul creates beautiful works of art on each child!

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We love little ones at the Madison Farmers’ Market!

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Who says you shouldn’t play with your food?!

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More fun and games at market.

How does the Kids’ Club work?

madison-farmers-market-kids-clubTheme-Days: For each week of the program I’ve planned some really fun themes like “Shoots & Sprouts Day” and “Decomposers Day” in observance of National Gardening Month, and “Birds & Bees Day” in honor of National Pollinators Week. Other fun themes include “Alien Day” as part of World UFO Day, “Mid-Summer’s Day” to celebrate the Summer Solstice, and “Adventure Day”─think Indiana Jones, Star Wars, LOTR and every fairy tale or fantasy you’ve ever read or watched.

Special Events: As part of the Kid’s Club program, on July 9th the market will host “Every Day Heroes Day” to show appreciation for our local firefighters, law enforcement, paramedics, nurses and other such every-day heroes. I hope to have the local fire department come with a firetruck, as well as our local sheriff (who actually has been an occasional patron to the market–yay!) and maybe even a local game warden. Then on August 20th, to observe International Homeless Animals Day, we’ve scheduled “Man’s Best Friend Day” with a pet food and supply drive to benefit the Somerset County Humane Society. Our annual Harvest Celebration will conclude the program on Saturday, September 9th.

Sponsored by Backyard Farms!

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Prototype of the Kids’ Club Passport.

In order to pay for this program, I had to seek local sponsorship to cover the cost of the $2 tokens for the kids (I set a goal of 100 kids for the first year of this new program), along with the supplies needed for the crafts and activities planned over the course of the season. After meeting with Tim Curtis (Madison’s town manager) with a host of materials–including a prototype of the Kid’s Club Passport, a program overview, and some initial ideas for market-themes–Tim took my prepared materials and approached Backyard Farms on the market’s behalf. As you probably know, Backyard Farms is a huge greenhouse right here in Madison where over 200 employees grow tomatoes all year-round. In fact, believe it or not – this is their 10th anniversary!

Within days, I had a response from Jim Darroch, Director of Marketing at Backyard Farms, who said:

Teaching children to develop healthy eating habits can be challenging for busy parents. Especially if their kids are picky eaters or reluctant to try new things. Not only does this passport idea make it fun for kids to try different fruits and vegetables, it makes it easier for Mom or Dad too.

How amazing is that!?

Getting the word out

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Marafax beans─an heirloom variety─available from Groundswell Seed Farm of Embden.

Now that I’ve got the details and funding of the Kid’s Club squared away, all that remains is to get the word out to the community about this great new─and free─program. As luck would have it, when I went to that annual farmers’ market convention I was able to reconnect with Cheryl Curtis, who has been a friend of the Madison Farmers’ Market since it’s inception.

Cheryl is now working for Somerset Public Health visiting local schools teaching nutrition, and I am going to be allowed to accompany her to introduce the Kid’s Club to my target audience. In May I will visit children in grades K through 6 at Madison Elementary, Garret Schenck Elementary in Anson, and the Carrabec Community School in North Anson. Flyers will also be sent home with students to inform parents, and even more flyers will be distributed across the communities by myself and my “army of farmers”.

Come see us at market!

madison-maine-farmers-marketMarket season for the Madison Farmers’ Market begins on May 13th this year─that’s the second Saturday of the month. If you’ve been a devoted patron to our market, then we hope you’ll be able to come see us on our new day; for locals who have been considering giving the market a try but haven’t made it because of scheduling conflicts, we hope these big and bold changes encourage you to come see us.

I’m so proud of the community we’ve been able to build through our farmers’ market. Over the last few years, we’ve seen slow but steady growth and we’ve developed some great relationships with customers and friends to the market. Our local farmers are an eclectic bunch─all kind, friendly and knowledgeable people. Each and every one of them are dedicated to farming and to bringing fresh, local foods to the people of Madison and Anson.  It truly is a wonderful feeling to be a part of something so vibrant, honest and inspiring, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Be sure to follow the Madison Farmers’ Market on facebook for market-reminders, special event listings, and up-to-date information from your local farmers.

Maine Farmers’ Market Convention

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Leigh Hallet, executive director of MFFM leads the proceedings.

Maine is blessed with a robust community of farmers and people that are passionate about local food. Not only do we have MOFGA (the Maine Organic Farmers’ and Gardeners’ Association), the nation’s oldest and largest organic organizations, but we also have the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets (MFFM). This was the second year I attended the Maine Farmers’ Market Convention which is led by MFFM and was held yesterday at the Kennebec Valley Community College Alfond Campus in Fairfield.

The MFFM was established in 1991 and has grown into a rich resource, serving farmers markets and working to grow access to local food across Maine. In 2014 Leigh Hallett took over as Executive Director; then in 2015 Emilie Knight was hired as the SNAP Program Coordinator, and Emily Buswell as an administrative assistant. These ladies have been instrumental in establishing a farmers’ market in Madison; the MFFM website is a wealth of information─stuff like how to operate a market, legal regulations, safety and sanitation, and even market promotion. The MFFM and all who serve the organization are dedicated to Maine’s local food network.

There were more than 130 people in attendance, representing markets from all across the state, with 3 different sessions over the course of the day and a total of 13 presentations. With so many issues important to my market and to me, it was hard to choose just 3 to sit in on!

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Trisha Smith of the Piscataquis County Cooperative Extension demonstrates how costumes like this carrot-suit can be used to engage kids.

One of the presentations I enjoyed most was titled: “Bringing the whole family: integrating youth and family programming at the farmers’ market”. I like to think that the Madison Farmers’ Market is a family-oriented market. We set up at the town park where families can play at the playground before or after their visit to the market. We also have a number of little ones that join our vendors at the Madison Farmers’ Market and the farmers and I have talked about ways we can incorporate more family-oriented activities over the course of the market season. There were 4 presenters for this topic: Deb Barnett of the Kennebec Cooperative Extension, Trisha Smith of the Piscataquis Cooperative Extension, Nancy Wood of the Knox County Community Health Coalition, and Elizabeth Siegel of the Union Farmers’ Market.

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Nancy Wood of the Knox County Community Health Coalition is very enthusiastic about the work she does with the Gardener Farmers’ Market.

These ladies shared with us their experiences engaging families in their communities through the local farmers’ market, including activity ideas, market-themes, and concepts like a “Kids’ Club” and a “Passport Program”. They talked about how they’d funded those projects and how they’d raised community support for their farmers’ markets. These women were all passionate about their markets, and about including children so that families can come and participate. It was really inspiring; I brought home lots of great ideas for the upcoming season at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

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Dr. Alfonso Morales of the University of Wisconsin in Madison gave a motivating keynote speech.

The keynote speaker at the convention was Dr. Alfonso Morales of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning. Dr. Morales also has a passion for farmers’ markets. He reminded us that historically, market places have been the root of social and economic life, and explained that markets have played a central role in forming society. Great markets of the past inspired trade, infrastructure, even modern law and policies. Dr. Morales pointed out that markets offer the opportunity for various government and non-profit groups to work together to achieve mutual goals.

During the annual meeting, MFFM unveiled their 1st Maine Farmers’ Market Annual Report, which they’d assembled using information collected during Snapshot Week back in August. If you’re not familiar with it, Snapshot Week was held during National Farmers’ Market Week, with more than 50 markets participating, including the Madison Farmers’ Market. The MFFM provided market managers with “tool-kits” that included shopper surveys and “I Love Farmers’ Markets” temporary tattoos. The information gathered during this week-long celebration enabled MFFM to gather data and put together this report which tells the story of the impact Maine’s farmers’ markets have on the state’s economy and their local communities.

I think Dr. Morales was inspired by the convention, he pointed out that not every state has an association like MFFM, or the strength. He went on to say,

This is a huge resource. You are that resource─the information you share with each other.

We really are blessed in Maine to have this strong and vibrant community of farmers and gardeners, and people who are dedicated to local food. That community isn’t confined to the halls of the conference center, I’ve found those kinds of people are everywhere in Maine if only you look for them, reach out to them, ask questions and participate. In general, Maine’s farmers are willing to share with you their knowledge, their experiences─stories of mishaps or success─and that’s what continues to grow Maine’s local food movement. That’s what makes it so inspiring and keeps people like me going even when the going is rocky. That is the heart of Maine and of our local food movement.

It’s a new year with new opportunities! Stay tuned folks!