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.

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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.

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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!

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!

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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!

madison-farmers-market-kids-club-passport-book
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’s Artisan Bread Fair

hootenanny bread

This past weekend was the 10th anniversary of the Maine Grain Alliance’s Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair. I’ve always admired the local food movement that has been created in Skowhegan and have longed to attend the bread fair, but in previous years I had not been able to make it to the event. This year I had Saturday open so I invited my sister Marie, and we took ourselves over to the Skowhegan Fair Grounds where the Bread Fair was being held.

maine artisan bread fair
I love chalkboards! Here are the Bread Fair’s map and event-listings.

The Maine Artisan Bread Fair follows on the heels of the Kneading Conference and is sponsored by the Maine Grain Alliance. The fair is free, but there is a $3 fee to park inside the fair grounds. To save my funds, I parked in Wal-Mart’s parking lot, which is adjacent to the fair grounds, and Marie and I simply walked over.

There were a slew of vendors offering everything from pottery, paintings, hand-woven linens, beautiful wood products, cheeses, breads (of course), olive oils and balsamic vinegars, honey and more. Many of the food vendors offered free samples, yay!

We stopped first to chat with my friends Carol and Pete Vigneault of P&C Pottery who also vend at the Madison Farmers’ Market. Pete makes all of the pottery and Carol paints it; they do beautiful work and were running a raffle with proceeds to benefit the Madison Farmers’ Markets’ general fund, which helps our market pay for promotional events, market fees and such.

Venturing further into the fair, Marie and I were attracted to the fine weavings in the next tent. Anne Brooks of “Handweavings” was friendly and gracious, allowing us to touch and gush over her beautifully crafted scarves, linens, placemats and more. We chatted a little about the bread fair and I expressed my desire to participate in the actual conference, but have been deterred by the $325 price tag. Anne mentioned that the conference offers volunteers a break on the price and that there’s also scholarships available that I may qualify for thanks to my association with the Madison Farmers’ Market. You can contact Anne via albweaves@hotmail.com to learn more about her fabulous hand woven linens.

From there we met Regina of ReginaSpices, who had several different spice-blends for folks to try. I really loved her “Maine-Sweet Pepper” blend─ a blend of Maine maple sugar and peppers, and her dill dip, which I don’t see listed on her website, but it was a blend of herbs mixed with sour cream that she spread on crackers for us to try. Soooo yummy!

I ran into a number of friends and acquaintences at the bread fair: Albie Barden of Madison who was there making johnny-cakes and talking about flint corn, Billie Barker of the Enchanted Kitchen at Fire Fly Farm in St. Albans selling her fish tacos, and Jen from North Star Orchards offering samples of their delicious jams.

fiore oils
Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars display and sampling.

 

We partook of samples from Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars─high quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a variety of infused flavors. I didn’t catch their representative’s name, but she was knowledgeable and pleasant. And naturally I had to stop to sample honey from the Clearwater Honey Company of Farmington.

hootenanny bread
Hootenanny Bread─look at those amazing loaves! And their soft pretzels were delicious!

 

I bought 3 large soft pretzels for $5 from Hootenanny Bread and stopped by the USDA stand to speak with Andrew Francis whom I had met previously while going through my ill-fated attempt to get a microloan with the Farm Service Agency.

While most of the vendors at the bread fair were pleasant and sociable, there was one vendor who completely shut down on my sister and I when she learned that we were not there to spend money. As a vendor myself, and one who likes to learn from others, I found this person’s behavior extremely rude and a bit insulting. I would never think of treating my own customers this way. If folks want to gush over the quality of my work, I’m going to accept their praise; if someone has questions on how I make my products I’m going to answer them. It shouldn’t matter if I’m there to spend money or not─just because I’m not spending money today doesn’t mean I won’t come back as a customer some day down the road, but this woman lost a customer forever because of her bad first impression. And I was so affronted by her behavior that I didn’t even get her name or the name of her business to tell you who she was!

music at the bread fair
Music by the “Reel People”─at the time they were playing some light-hearted bluegrassy-type tunes; my favorite!

Undeterred, Marie and I took our pretzels off to sit at a picnic table to listen to the live music of the band “Reel People” before we ventured off towards home once more.

The atmosphere at the Bread Fair was fun and light-hearted, but after years of longing to go, wanting to learn more about bread-making─specifically making sour-dough bread─and finally taking the time out of my incredibly busy schedule to go (I’m crazy-swamped with projects at Runamuk right now!)─I was a bit disappointed to find that it was more of a farmers’ market and craft fair without the veggies and meats.

I guess I was picturing something akin to the Common Ground Fair which offers more educational opportunities; I really enjoy workshops and conferences and hands-on learning. But having never been to the Bread Fair I didn’t know what to expect.

There were a few talks offered over the course of the day, as well as bread and pasta-making demonstrations geared towards kids, but all of the actual learning apparently happens during the conference itself, which takes place on Thursday and Friday and comes with a hefty registration price.

at the bread fair
Here we are! Two sisters spending a little quality time together!

However I wouldn’t discourage folks from taking in the event. My sister and I had a good time despite my own misconceptions. We met lots of local farmers and crafters. Each of us came home with a few good eats and trinkets even with just a small amount of spending money; and we gained some good stories to share and memories to savor.

If other folks are looking to learn more about bread-making and want to participate in the Kneading Conference, but─like me─are on tight budgets, they can apply for a scholarship to help with the cost, or offer their time as a volunteer in exchange for the opportunity to participate.

Check out these links if you’d like to learn more about the Maine Grain Alliance’s annual Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair.

Maine Grain Alliances’ Kneading Conference

Maine Artisan Bread Fair brings 2,500 to Skowhegan on Saturday – News posting via the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel at centralmaine.com.

The Kneading Conference Celebrates it’s 10th Anniversary -via Food Solutions New England.

Learning to make oven from clay highlights Maine Kneading Conference – from the Bangor Daily News.

Somerset’s 2014 Bee-School

beekeeping clipart

It’s that time of year again–no, I’m not talking about the holidays–it’s time to start thinking about Bee-School!  This year is the 3rd annual Bee-School offered by the Somerset Beekeepers, hosted by the University of Maine’s Somerset County Cooperative Extension.

I’m excited to be able to teach this course yet again.  Last year we had over 30 people sign up for the course and we were a bit crowded in the classroom at the extension office–so this year I’m limiting the number to 30.  I’ve already had a few folks pre-register, so if you’re interested, don’t wait–sign up now before I run out of space.  However–if we do run out of space, and there are very many folks still looking to participate in a local bee-school–I may consider offering a second course.

beekeeping clipartI’ve made a few changes to our course this year–the biggest difference being that it will be 4 classes rather than 5.  In the past, it seemed like my 4th and 5th classes were short, with the 5th being the shortest–only taking 30-45 minutes to get through the material.  And with some of our students coming from quite a distance it seemed an awful shame to have them drive all that way for such a short time in class.  So this year I’ve decided to cram all of the material into 4 sessions.

Somerset’s bee-school is–effectively–a crash course in beekeeping.  We will cover such topics as when and where to order bees, how to establish new hives, equipment and gear needed, pests and pathogens afflicting honeybees, sustainable beekeeping methods, honey production, over-wintering hives, and more.  I hope to be able to impart enough knowledge on prospective new beekeepers to give them a good shot at being successful in their first year of beekeeping.  I strive to answer their questions, alleviate confusion, and psyche them up enough to overcome any fears they might harbor about working with these stinging insects.

By no means would I ever claim to have all the answers–but in my own rabid pursuit for knowledge of bees and beekeeping, I feel I’ve learned enough at this point that I can–at the very least–give our local beekeepers a better chance at successfully maintaining thriving colonies as they learn the art of beekeeping.

As for my own education–2014 marks my 5th year in beekeeping, which means I am finally eligible to take the exams for Master Beekeeper certification.  The state of Maine currently has 12 master beekeepers–only 2 of which are women–and none of whom reside in the central Maine area.  I’ve already begun studying the materials for the course, which is offered annually by the Eastern Apicultural Society, but I will have to wait to take the exams until the EAS conference returns closer to home.  The 2014 EAS conference is to be held in Richmond, Kentucky–and with our prospective 2014 farm expansions–I know already that traveling out of state is going to be out of the question.

Still, I will continue to study so that I can be ready when that time comes, and in the meantime I will continue my work educating others about bees and beekeeping.  If you–or someone you know–is interested in participating in the Somerset Bee-School feel free to download this info-sheet and get in touch with me to sign up.  Remember space is limited, so don’t wait!

Maine promotes native pollinators

somerset beekeepers

somerset beekeepersTuesday night the Somerset Beekeepers met for their monthly meeting, and were joined by a number of the county’s master gardeners in welcoming Dr. Sam Hanes and Eric Venturini, a masters degree student, both of whom came over from the University of Maine at Orono to speak with us.

I’ve mentioned before the good work Maine’s academics are doing in the field of apiculture and agriculture (check out pollinator conservation at MOFGA, post from last year), with scientists like Frank Drummond, Alison Dibble, and many more, all working to better understand Maine’s native pollinators and the role they play in our ecosystems.  In fact, Maine is a leading player in a USDA funded research project entitled “Pollination security for fruit and vegetables in the northeast”.  The project was funded by a 6.6 million dollar grant, and includes 5 different institutions across the northeast.

Read more about the project here and here.

As president of the Somerset Beekeepers, I’m always looking for interesting speakers to visit us at our monthly meetings, and I was elated when Eric agreed to come, with Dr. Hanes in tow.

dr hanes & eric venturini
Dr. Sam Hanes on the left, and Eric Venturini stands to the right.

Dr. Hanes’ presentation was titled “Maine Blueberry Growers’ Pollination Strategies and Perceptions of Native Pollinators”.  It’s a thought-provoking concept to include an anthropologist in these studies, since anthropology is the study of man-kind, and covers a broad range of study areas from social and biological sciences.

In his studies, Dr. Hanes is exploring the reasons why growers do or don’t adopt early innovations related to native pollinators.  He’s been looking closely at growers of blueberries and cranberries in Maine and Massachusetts, since these are two large industries in this region which both import honeybees for pollination.

With the decline of commercial honeybee populations across the United States, concern over pollination of these large-scale agricultural industries is increasing, and growers and farmers are looking at alternative means of pollination–either to reduce expenses as the cost of hive rentals increase, or to provide supplemental pollination when hive rentals are unable to meet the demands.

Currently, 75% of Maine’s blueberry growers rent honeybees for pollination, compared to the 94% of growers who are renting hives for cranberry production.  The average number of hives per acre for blueberry pollination is 3-4, versus 1-2 hives per acre for cranberries.  It was interesting to note that more hives per acre did not necessarily transfer into higher yields, basically once the area has been saturated with honeybee pollinators, there’s not much more a grower can do to increase their crop’s production.

According to his research so far, Dr. Hanes has been able to discern that approximately 15-20% of the grower population are “early innovators” who are adopting new or experimental practices for promoting pollination by native pollinators.

Dr. Hanes is looking at growers’ perceptions of native pollinators and their strategies for incorporating them into their operations.  Thanks to Frank Drummond’s work over the last decade promoting native pollinators through extension outreach, it’s more common in Maine for growers to go out of their way to help native bees than it is in the cranberry fields of Massachusetts.  Through polls taken at grower conventions, Dr. Hanes has been able to discern how farmers are helping native bees.

growers helping native bees statistics
BB stands for “blueberry”, while CB represents “cranberry”.

Another poll helps Dr. Hanes understand growers’ perceptions of how effective native pollinators are.

pollination from native bees
Again, BB represents “blueberry” and CB is short for “cranberry”.

Dr. Hanes has discovered that overall, growers seem to feel that native bees fill a critical gap in their agricultural systems.  Since native bees are more active in cool or inclement weather than the imported honeybees, they are especially important here in Maine where the seasons can be unpredictable.

To me these numbers indicate a growing awareness of the importance and benefits of native pollinators, which are a crucial aspect of a healthy ecosystem.  It’s inspirational to me, a 4-year beekeeper, and aspiring pollinator conservationist, to see my beloved home-state trending in this field, but it looks as though there’s still plenty of room for improvement.  I know that there are many more growers and farmers who can utilize these beneficial insects, and I will continue to work to do my own part for the cause.

Stay tuned for the up-coming post about Eric Venturini’s presentation, which was entitled: “Enhancing Native Pollinators in Maine; What to plant and how to plant it”!

Splits & nuc-making workshop at the Runamuk Apiary

I am excited to announce that Runamuk will be hosting it’s first-ever workshop!

kennebec open-hive

Sunday, May 19th

11am – 3pm

Splits & Nuc-Making Workshop

This Sunday I will be leading local beekeepers to the Runamuk apiary at Medicine Hill for a workshop on how to make splits and nucleus colonies (otherwise known as “Nucs”).  My only regret is that the workshop cannot be held at the Runamuk farm, but there’s always next year.

The workshop is free and open to the public.  It is designed to teach beekeepers more about how to manage their colonies for swarm-prevention, and also how to make apiary increases through splits and nuc-making.

At the Somerset Beekeepers, we like to leave our meetings open to the public so that anyone who is curious about beekeeping has the opportunity to watch and learn.  That’s what we’re all about–education.  Education of area beekeepers, and education of the public about the benefits of bees and other pollinators.

We will be meeting at my home in Anson, and from there I will lead the way to Medicine Hill.  If you’re at all interested in participating feel free to shoot me off an email (runamuk acres at gmail dot com –all one word) to pre-register.

Luce’s saphouse preserves Maine’s heritage

Every year many of the locals from this area venture out to Pease Hill here in Anson to visit Luce’s Saphouse.  This year, the 30th annual Maine Maple Sunday was no different.

luce's saphouse from the road Read more

Maine Maple Sunday!

Keith and I are taking the boys off to the local sugarhouse today in honor of the 30th annual Maine Maple Sunday. We’re excited to see one of Maine’s most traditional agricultural industries at work, to support local farmers, and to introduce the kids to the heritage they were born to. Read more