May is a Blur

These last 6 weeks are a blur. May is always crazy-busy for farmers and homesteaders across the northern hemisphere. How can it be June already? Here at Runamuk Acres, yours truly has struggled to find a balance between the farm-kitchen and the outside work, overwhelmed with all of the task clamoring for my attention. This is the time of year to get crops in the ground for vegetable production. It is also the time for cover cropping, pasture management, soil improvement, rotational grazing, honeybee production, and improvements to infrastructure. Take a moment now, to find out what we’ve been working on here at this small farm in the western mountains region of Maine.

May Lambs at Runamuk

When I look back over it, these last 6 weeks really are a bit of a blur. I’m always gung-ho to get outside in the spring, following winter’s long incarceration. Within me, there’s this very pressing need to feel the breath of wind on my skin, to touch and be a part of that world outside my door. A need to be at-one with this little patch of Earth that I call home, surrounded by countless other lifeforms─all simply existing here. It is a wondrous and magical thing which has me spellbound, caught in the grip of something bigger and more powerful than myself.

And so, I have doggedly forged ahead with my seasonal work. My mission: to grow food for my family and community, while simultaneously promoting the health and well-being of the habitat I share with the wildlife around me.

Fencing

The main focus, of course, has been the gardens. Yet, before I could give myself over completely to working the soil, I first had to ensure that the sheep and pigs could be secure on the field. That process required time dedicated to making seasonal repairs and improvements to the fencing system that both contains and protects Runamuk’s 23 finnsheep, along with the 6 pigs we are raising for CSA members.

One of last year’s big accomplishments was the long row of T-posts that runs through the middle of Runamuk’s 10-acre backfield. My solar chargers had become weak over time, and no longer contained our wiley flock. About the time I was startled awake at 4am one Saturday morning by an unmistakable “baaaaaaa”, I’d had enough of their shenanigans. When you have to bolt out of bed to wrangle sheep in your pajamas at 4 in the morning, something has to change!

Deron set up an outlet at the edge of the field for me, and now we use a electric fence charger to power the long line of electric fence. I attach electric net fences to that, rotating the sheep around the field. It’s a huge peace of mind, knowing that the sheep are safely contained inside a secure fence. I can leave the farm to make deliveries, do a supply run, or go out for an evening without worry that they might be roving the neighborhood─or standing in the middle of nearby route 16.

It was quite a checklist of projects that had to be seen to before I could move the flock from their winter accommodations up by the farmhouse, out onto the field for the summer. Broken insulators had to be replaced. The wires that make up the electric fencelines had to be mended and/or tightened. The grounding system needed to be beefed-up, and the sheep-tractor needed repairs, too, after a gusty storm had sent it rolling across the field last fall, causing damage to the roof of the structure. It was the first week of May before everything was ready.

Pig Date

May Piglets
The pigs are loving the spent grain sent to us by the Kennebec Brewery!

Deron and I drove over to Maple Lane Farms in Charleston on Mother’s Day weekend to pick up 6 piglets. We put the back seats down in my trusty Subaru Forester, laid out a heavy rubber floor mat from Deron’s mini-van, and put those pigs right in the back of my car. Do I even need to say that we made the hour and a half ride home with the windows open???

Deron called it our “Pig Date”, lol. I have to laugh at the irony of it all. Nothing says “farmer” like a Pig Date─and nothing makes a girl feel sexier than that (insert facepalm here)!

Athletic Sheep

You’d be surprised by how athletic sheep can suddenly become on Moving Day. I was down to my last few bales of hay, though, and moving the flock out onto the field couldn’t wait any longer. Putting the lambs in the back of the Subaru, we took that out first. Then, BraeTek and I managed to coerce the girls out onto the field with only some minor shenanigans.

For the boys, however, I put out an APB (all points bulletin) on facebook seeking volunteers to assist us. 5 locals come to the farm that evening, and I am super grateful for the help. Even with extra bodies, and extra fences set up to “guide” the 5 rams in the direction of the field, the foolish boys had to take the scenic route to get there. At one point, they were nearly in the road, followed by a parade through the garden. Eventually we managed to capture them inside the fencing on the field, and all was well.

Re-Grouping

Once the pigs and sheep were all blissfully settled out on the pasture, I was finally free to turn my attention to the gardens. This year has largely been about tackling some of the bigger projects that have been on my list for the last 3 or 4 years. It’s been about re-grouping, taking a step back in order to take a step forward, shifting gears, and making it all work for me. This has been a season for accepting my farm for what it is─and letting go of what it will never be.

The gardens here at Runamuk, have all─quite literally─“run-a-muck”. To varying degree, the 2 vegetable gardens, 3 perennial gardens, along with my little orchard, have all gotten out of hand here. That’s what happens when you take on too much, too soon. I’m just one person trying to make this farm work. I’ve been spread too thin these last few years─and it shows.

May Sheep at Runamuk Acres
Big thanks to the 5 volunteers who came to help us move the rams! You know who you are!

I’m not too proud to admit that I have some serious farmer-envy when I drive by other local farms… I see all of their beds laid out perfectly with crops growing along so lush and green. With their employees out weeding or harvesting product to sell. I see their high-tunnels, heated greenhouses, and their sexy tractors (yes, I think your tractor’s sexy, lol). I see their farm truck with their slick branding on the doors─and I want to be them.

I’ve had to accept that I’m just never going to be like Elliot Coleman, Jean Martin Fortier, or Conor Crickmore. I’ll never be the next Curtis Stone, or Joel Salatin.

This is partly because I lack the funds. Runamuk has been bootstrapped along since it’s conception, and finances continue to be an issue today. To be honest, though─I believe the fact that I am a single-mom and solo-farmer plays a big part, too.

Those guys all have wives, partners in life─even employees─to help them achieve that level of production on their farms. I am trying to do this largely by myself, while raising my 15 year old son. As a mom, I have to maintain some semblance of family life and routine. Since we homeschool, I also have a responsibility to my son’s education. Ultimately, I am responsible for molding my son into the kind of man I would want to see in the world. Having met some of the men out there, I take that very seriously.

I’m never going to be the next Elliot Coleman. So what? I’m really okay with that. I’m still feeding 40 households, plus a select portion of my surrounding community. That’s nothing to thumb your nose at. My focus now, is to embrace my farm-journey for what it is, let go of what it is not, and make it work for me─and my son.

Spring Projects

With that in mind, I’ve forged ahead with my spring projects. With an eye toward improving the soil through a succession of cover-crops, I’ve taken half of Garden 2 out of production, cover cropping it with peas and oats. That will get mowed at some point later in the season, tilled in, and another cover-crop planted for the fall. Stay tuned for more on that later.

I tilled up the lawn around the 9 apple trees that make up my front orchard, re-sowing it with New Zealand Dwarf White Clover. Clover has an extensive root system that gives structure to the soil, adding nitrogen, while offering a flowering food source for bees and other beneficial insects. Growing not more than 12-inches, this dwarf clover will make a low-maintenance ground cover that reduces the amount of lawn we will be mowing here.

Retreating to the much smaller, Garden 1, Deron helped me re-claim planting beds there, so that I might have a defensible growing space. I’ve had my hands in the soil every day since, a flurry of planting, as I try to utilize every square foot of that garden. I am eager to get into the bigger garden, to re-claim some of that space, and put it to work growing even more food.

The Farmstand

May Farmstand
Locals love our fresh bread and baked goods!

Since I’ve given up on housemates, finances have been especially tight this season. The income generated by those room rentals has been sorely missed. BUT─trying to accommodate strangers in the midst of my family and farm has not. Really, it has been pretty wonderful for BraeTek and I to have the house to ourselves.

That freedom has led to the growth of our farmstand, which is gaining traction, with more and more folks stopping in for our fresh-baked breads, and other delicious baked goods. It’s tricky, though, for this solo-farmer to keep bread coming out of the kitchen, while simultaneously trying to plant half an acre of vegetables. Throughout the month of May, I’ve had to take a couple weeks off from the kitchen, offering only the frozen loaves I’ve had in reserve. Mostly the community seems to be watching, waiting for those first fresh veggies of the season. We’re all craving it.

The biggest news, though, is my book announcement.

Wait─whaaaaaaaat?

Book Announcement!

That’s right, my friends! Just because I haven’t been publishing blog-posts, doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I am a writer, remember? I actually have a couple of different manuscripts that I’ve been working on. Yay me!

It’s been 4 years this month, since I closed on my forever-farm, and I am super excited to say that I am finally writing my book! “How to Buy a Farm With No Money Through the Farm Service Agency”or “How to Bootstrap Your Way to Farm Ownership” (Okay, so the title needs work, lol─leave your suggestions in the comments!). It’s totally possible to make farm-ownership a reality, even if you have no money. It’s a long road, and not for the feint of heart─but it is possible. I truly believe that if I can do it, so can you. So can anyone─if they want it bad enough.

My goal is to have the book finished and ready to launch by the end of September. It will come out first as an ebook available through Amazon’s direct publishing service, followed by availability on Audible and more! Sign up below to receive notifications about the book-launch!

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Person to Person

For this farmer, May came and went in a blur. Now here we are mid-way through June, and I still have a lot of planting to do. Along with 3 “Big-Fish” projects that I am determined to make happen before the end of 2022: 1) set up a pond-pump for a back-up water system. 2) repurpose our existing tunnel into a winter compost-hut. And─most importantly─#3) erect a caterpillar tunnel for season extension in Garden 2.

You know what? So what if my farm doesn’t look like 4 Seasons Farm, or Neversink Farm? Hell, I could never be the next Elliot Coleman even if I wanted to be, because I’m too busy being me! Samantha Burns! Even at this small scale, Runamuk is providing fresh and nutritious locally produced food for it’s community─just like those other farms are doing. I’m damned proud of that. We will grow, you’ll see. I doubt, however, that Runamuk will ever be as big as some of these other big-name farms. And I’m okay with that.

It was Mother Teresa who once said, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” Maybe I can make more of an impact by keeping my efforts condensed and focused on a smaller scale, than I otherwise might have done at the scale those other farms are running at. Perhaps, my work is meant to be conducted farmer to family, and person to person. I cannot say, but I am grateful for the opportunity to try.

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

CSA FLASHSALE!

For 3 days only, Runamuk is offering a flashsale on CSA shares! If you were bummed that we didn’t hold our annual membership drive earlier this year, here’s your chance to sign up and get local food delivered direct to your door.

csa flashsale

3 Days Only!

Today, tomorrow, and Friday (5.25.22 through 5.27.22) you can sign up to join Runamuk’s 2022 CSA program and get a 20% bonus credit! So, for example, if you sign up with $100, you’ll have a $120 credit with the farm. Those funds serve as a pre-paid account that you can draw from anytime you shop with Runamuk.

*****For more details about our CSA, what it is, and the special perks we offer our members, please check out our CSA Farm Shares page by clicking this link.*****

Sign Up Today!

Sign up today to start receiving Runamuk’s weekly farm-updates, along with our order form, and start getting local food delivered right to your door! Use the PayPal widget below, OR stop by the farm to pay with cash or check.

*****UPDATE: This sale has ended. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to catch our 2023 membership drive.*****

Hard Lessons

Your friendly neighborhood farmer has learned some hard lessons in animal husbandry over the past three weeks. Since I last posted, all of my ewes have delivered with varying degrees of success. Of the fifteen lambs born to Runamuk this season, two lambs perished, and I have two in the house at this very moment. All of the others are strong and healthy, growing just as they should, without care or concern. I invite you to join me on the farm now, as I share the story of this farm’s 2022 lambing season with all it’s highs and lows.

I Love My Finnsheep!

Let me start off by saying how much I love my Finnsheep! I thank my friend, Kamala Hahn at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, for indoctrinating me into the Finn fan-club. A hardy breed, originating from Finland, Finns are not the largest of sheep, making them easier to handle. Their wool is next-to-skin quality, oh-so-soft, in a wide variety of colors, and their meat is reknown for being some of the most flavorful lamb you can get. Finns are relatively easy keepers, friendly and personable, with lots of character. The ewes are generally good mothers, known for producing litters of multiple lambs without fuss. After two easy lambing seasons, I felt fairly confident as I came into my third year as flock-keeper.

Up til this year, my ewes had thrown only twins and single lambs. I was looking forward to a larger set, and hoped this would be the year. In that regard, I was not disappointed. On a Saturday night, two weeks back, one of my ewes by the name of Maleficent, gave me my first-ever set of triplets. An hour later, Fiona produced a whopping set of four lambs! The following morning upon waking, a visit to the Ewe-Shed found a third mum had produced a set of twins in the wee-hours of the morning. What a night! I was beside myself─overjoyed with the productivity of my flock.

Everyone looked good to this novice’s eyes. Mums all came through with flying colors. Babies were all in tact. Though the lambs of the litters of three and four were all very tiny, I’d had some smaller ewes produce very tiny lambs before, so I didn’t think much of it. I made sure each lamb got latched onto it’s mum’s teat for a good feed of the critically important colostrum, and checked on them frequently throughout the day.

This particular weekend happened to be the first in two years that my sweetheart, Deron, could not be with me for our regular visit due to a family crisis. Typically he spends Friday and Saturday nights at the farm. Then, on Sundays, I join him at his parent’s home for a family supper, then spend the night at his place in Solon. Since everyone seemed to be doing well, and with the lamb-cam to spy on any new deliveries, I caved to my longing to spend just one night with my huny. I left the farm late that Sunday afternoon.

Hard Lessons

Of course I checked the lamb-cam while I was off the farm that Sunday evening─repeatedly. I even woke periodically during the night, pulling the app up on my phone to make sure all was well. Unfortunately, with so many little lambs, it’s hard to see some of the finer details from a distance like that. It wasn’t until I was back on the farm the next morning that I realized one of Maleficent’s three babies was missing. I released the ewe from the confines of the lambing pen, and only two lambs tottered out after her. Where was the third???

I checked behind the water bucket, and under the hay-net, to see if the poor thing had gotten trapped there. No lamb. Panic welled in my throat─where could it be? What could have happened?

When I spied a telltale tuft of white fuzz peeking above the litter of the lambing pen, I felt sick to my stomach. What had I done?

The ewes will often kick up the bedding material in the shed, and in their lambing pens too, to make a sort of nest for themselves to lay in. This tiny, little lamb had gotten buried in the litter. Whether or not it was intentional on Maleficent’s part, I cannot say. Sometimes, ewes will reject a lamb if there is something wrong with it, or if they feel instinctively that they cannot provide for that mouth. Even if the lamb was destined to be rejected by her mum, I feel fairly certain that if I had been on the farm to check on the lambs in person, I could have at least saved it to be a bottle baby.

To make matters worse, another of Maleficent’s babies took a chill that night. Concerned, and not wanting to lose any more precious babies, I corralled the ewe back into a lambing pen with her two remaining lambs. Thanks to my two previous “easy seasons”, though I diligently monitored the situation, I did not recognize the danger the poor fellow was in. He was nursing periodically, but sleeping more and more. The following morning when I went out at sunrise, the lamb lay sprawled, all but lifeless, on the floor of the lambing pen.

Near to tears with the shame of my failures, I immediately took the lamb into the house. I made every attempt to rescue him, but it was already too late. He slipped away from us. It took a few days before Maleficent finally stopped crying for her lost babies, her eyes pleading with me to return her lambs to her.

Maleficent and her remaining baby are doing well now.

I know that it’s entirely possible those two lambs might have been doomed with or without me, yet the pain of those losses lingers in my heart. I blame myself. You can be sure, the hard lessons those two babies taught me will not be forgotten. Larger litters of multiple lambs are a wonderful thing, but just as triplets and quadruplets born to humans, multiples of sheep are so much smaller and frailer than a single baby, or even twins. They require much more diligence from the farmer. Finnsheep may be fantastic mothers, but that many mouths are harder for them to keep track of. Perhaps most importantly, newborns require my vigilance for the first forty-eight hours─minimum. I can’t be caving to the longings of my heart for the nearness of my boyfriend. No matter how sweet he is to me, nor how much I miss him. Farmers do not have that privilege.

Rejected

It was a little over a week following the loss of Maleficent’s two babies that my last ewe finally went into labor. “Baby” was last year’s bottle baby, whom I never really gave a name. Laughingly, I tell people that she was named after the main character from the movie Dirty Dancing (“nobody puts Baby in the corner”), but the truth is─she was my baby, and I’ve just always called her Baby, lol. She is a very small ewe, from a very small mother. I hadn’t intended for her to be bred, but I guess my ram had other ideas…

I worried about Baby’s birthing prospects, and stayed with her through the entire ordeal. Indeed, she did struggle to bring forth the single lamb she carried. It was a long labor, and the lamb’s legs were not in the right position. Once the little guy had emerged, Baby was less than impressed. It was hard to watch as she head-butted the tiny lamb, pawing at him with her front hooves, and attempting to cover him over with the litter at the bottom of the lambing pen. I toweled him off and tried to get Baby to allow the newborn to suckle at her teats. Unfortunately, Baby wanted no part of this creature that had caused her so much pain and difficulty. She was still very young, and not ready to be a mother.

The shenanigans start at an early age…

Fearing for the lamb’s life, I made the call to take the rejected lamb from the ewe. I refused to allow another lamb to perish on my watch. For the last week and a half, the little ram has been living inside the farmhouse. He eats from a bottle, and sleeps in a playpen I scored for $5 last year at the Embden Community Center’s thrift shop. After such an awful entrance into the world, I thought the little guy needed some kind of empowering name, so BraeTek dubbed him “Big Man”. Mercifully, this little lamb is thriving under the care of his farmer.

Perks of the Job

Our young CSA member, Saffron (in pink), shares her farm with her friends.

One of the perks of the job is being able to share bits and pieces of farm-life with the public. Initially, the lamb was eating every two hours, so when I left the farm last Friday to make my CSA deliveries, I couldn’t just leave the infant at home alone. I put him on a towel in a wooden apple crate and placed him on the passenger seat of my Subaru. He traveled that way, making the Madison-Solon loop with me, pausing at Deron’s long enough to feed him another bottle before we continued on to Harmony to make our final delivery. On our way back to New Portland, I stopped by the Solon Corner Store to pick up some weekend provisions. Reluctant to leave Big Man alone in the car, I tucked the four-day old lamb under an arm, and took him into the store with me.

My friend, Trin, finds spending time with the lambs to be very healing.

Since Deron’s home is located in Solon, I am frequently in and out of the Solon Corner Store when I go to visit my sweetie. The clerks there have come to recognize me, and know something of my farm. They all knew I’d been welcoming new lambs to the farm, yet these ladies fairly melted at the sight of Big Man! I wish I could have gotten it on video to share with you.

Heedless of the other customers waiting to check out, Gayle came around from behind the counter to get a closer look. I placed that bundle of legs and wool in her arms for a few moments, allowing the cashier to gush over the lamb. She brought him close for a handful of other shoppers to pet him, before relinquishing Big Man back to my care. Needless to say, there was quite a line behind me once I’d finally checked out with my things, lol. And then Gayle offered to carry my bags out for me hahaha!

No one complained though…it’s not every day you get to see a teeny tiny baby lamb in the grocery store.

Quasimodo

It was the day following the grocery store scene that I realized something was not right with one of Fiona’s quadruplets. Again, with so many mouths to feed, it’s harder for the ewes to care for their offspring appropriately. Concerned about the runt of the litter, who was all hunched over and pitiful looking, I’d taken to bottle feeding him in the Ewe-Shed. Over the course of the week, I was trucking out there several times a day with a bottle for the lamb I called Quasimodo, the hunchback of Runamuk Acres (I know─not funny, but funny. What can I say, lol, I have a perverse sense of humor.). I had hoped that the bottle feedings would bring an improvement in the little guy. Unfortunately, on that Saturday morning Quasi was looking particularly cold and pathetic, so I made the calldecided to bring him inside for some extra attention.

That’s when I realized just how much Quasimodo struggles to move around. I did some research and found that sometimes babies of large litters can be born with under-developed hind legs. This can be due to a nutrient deficiency, or because of the cramped quarters in-utero. I believe that is what is going on in Quasimodo’s case, and have given him a selenium/vitamin E supplement, as well as an injection of vitamin B. Though I have seen some improvement, and overall he is content enough to keep Big Man company here inside the farmhouse, it will take time and exercise for his muscles to develop properly─if at all. Another of Mother Nature’s hard lessons in animal husbandry this year.

New Donate Button!

Pan, the Lamb.

On a completely separate note, I would like to take this opportunity to point out to followers the new Donate button in my website’s sidebar. I’ve fielded a number of requests for a Wish List on Runamuk’s website. Folks want to know what it is we are needing here, so they can donate items if they have something they’re no longer using that might help our cause. I have had one listed, but it’s rather buried amid the other pages listed on the drop-down menu under the “About Us” tab. This Donate button will now take visitors directly to that page. Woot woot!

Donations have come to Runamuk in many forms─monetary donations, yes, but also donations of materials, equipment, and supplies. I’ve even had folks volunteer their time and energy to lend a hand on the farm for a day. I also barter for the things we need, trading farm-goods at a fair market value for the item being traded to the farm. There is a PayPal button on that page for those who are able and inclined to donate funds to this farm, but donations come in many forms, and cash is not the only means of greasing the wheels here. Every donation makes a big difference in this mother-and-son driven farm. I am always grateful for every gift or trade, small or large, because they allow me to keep doing what I do─nourishing and educating my family, and my community. That’s what it’s all about, my friends.

The Life of a Farmer

Mother Nature is a beautiful─but sometimes ruthless─mistress. With these hard lessons, She’s reminded me this year that it does not do to grow complacent in Her presence. As a farmer, I must always be vigilant for the lives I am responsible for: human, plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, fungal or microbial, wild or domesticated. This is the life I have chosen to live─the life of a farmer. While there are certainly a great many blessings to be thankful for, there are equally as many burdens associated with it, and I must bear them. Come hell or high water, this farm must thrive.

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

This Is It

It’s finally warming up here, in the western mountain region of Maine. The rains have come. The rivers are open. There are bare patches of earth in the yards and fields. The birds are in the tree branches singing their songs of Spring. Here at Runamuk Acres, our farmstand is open, and the first 2022 lamb was born Saturday night. This it it! The growing season starts now.

this is it
First lamb of 2022! It’s a girl!!!

Truth be told, spring is my most favorite time of the year. The Wheel turns, and I appreciate the unique beauty brought by every season─but oh Spring! Nothing stirs my soul quite like seeing Spring creeping across this mountainous landscape. To see the forests come alive after a long and grueling winter, is to see life breathed back into a dead world. Watching the green blush of tender new-leaves spread across the hills and mountains stirs a song in the hearts of every living thing. The whole world seems to sing a song of Spring. It truly is a beautiful planet we’ve been blessed to live upon.

With my renewed sense of determination, I’ve launched myself into the 2022 growing season. Runamuk’s farmstand is open, offering whatever it is I can provide from this scrappy, little farm. I’m fortunate to have a licensed kitchen, which allows me to generate income through baking. I use that to my advantage during the winter months, when I cannot be outside growing vegetables.

Season extension is a high-priority this year. It’s been on my list since establishing Runamuk here in New Portland, but this is the year I am going to make it happen. We do not have a high tunnel, or a heated greenhouse that would allow our farm to produce vegetables year-round. Realistically, I don’t see that kind of structure as being attainable for us this year, either. I do think I can pull off a caterpillar tunnel, however. At the very least, I can manage a handful of low-tunnels and cold-frames. Those simple structures will allow me to extend this farm’s growing capacity into the shoulder-seasons: early spring and late fall.

Reducing the farm’s reliance on the town water utility is a high-priority this year, too. Certainly there’s the issue of the expense, but more importantly, our local water utility has announced that they are considering restricting water usage. Officials cite recent drought conditions, and “higher than normal water usage” within the community. With a host of livestock, and 1-acre in vegetable production, you can imagine what water restrictions might mean for this farm. I can’t allow the farm to backslide now, not when we’ve come so far.

Fortunately, I have some options readily at hand: a 275 gallon caged tote-tank, and a spring-fed farm pond with an established water line. For the tote-tank, Deron is going to build a tall scaffold to create a gravity-fed water system. To be able to utilize the pond, I need to replace the pump which means the farm needs to generate the funds to do so. Stay tuned for more on those projects later in the season.

So determined am I, to make this farm stand on it’s own 2 feet, that I have been up at 3:30 most mornings to start my baking. I’ve been putting in long days, often working til 7 in the evening before calling it quits for the day. I’ve even given up some of my precious time with Deron to give more of myself to this farm. I am breathing myself into this place, pouring my heart and soul into the food I make, into the animals, the plants, and the landscape. It is a simple kind of magic, but one that I hope will return my investment by supporting this farmer and her endeavors. I am this farm, and this farm is me.

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

Time Will Tell

Only time will tell whether or not my daring scheme will pan out for me. It feels different here now that my housemates have departed, leaving this farmer alone with her farm. Truer, somehow…more authentic. It’s definitely more than a little terrifying having no safety net. Yet, as spring approaches and the landscape awakens from it’s long slumber, the farm, too, comes alive─and it all feels so right.

Bring it on!!

The farm has been a hive of activity lately, as we gear up for spring and the growing season ahead of us. Personally, I am looking forward to the change of pace, and especially to being outside once more. Even knowing that we have the grimy slog of mud-season to get through before those first bright green days of spring, does nothing to dampen the stirring of enthusiasm within me.

Farmstand is Open!

time will tell
Fresh from the farm, this week.

Our farmstand is open now, Tuesday through Saturday every week. I’ve been in the kitchen every day making wholesome, delicious food for my community. While fresh-baked bread is a staple available from this farm year-round, the list of additional offerings changes every week, and is largely seasonal. Right now I am baking muffins, putting together savory handpies, granola bars, and more. That will all change, though, once the growing season gets underway. You’ll see more vegetables on the list, and fewer baked goods.

In the propogation room, those summer veggies are just emerging from the soil. Onions, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower so far. Every week I am planting another round of seeds, with the intention of supplying both Runamuk’s CSA─and it’s farmstand. I just hope folks will stop in to stock their pantries with all of this food I am producing…you can grow all the food in the the world, but if you can’t get it to the customer, what’s the point?

Meanwhile, in the Ewe-Shed, the ladies are starting to bag-up. Their udders, previously undefined and inconspicuous, are beginning to swell and are decidedly more conspicuous. I expect in the next couple of weeks I will see my first lambs of the season. It makes me giddy with joy just to think of it. New lambs to the farm are such a blessing. They really are the epitome of all that I have worked for─in the most adorable form: all legs, ears, and wool.

What Makes Me Special…?

Recently, I saw a post on facebook by a former colleague from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, about how she and her husband had sold their farm and moved away from Maine because they could not provide a solid living for their household. He now works off the farm, while she manages their homestead.

When you read articles about farming, they typically cite that in many farming households, there is one farmer, and a spouse who works a regular full-time job off the farm. When I consider these things, I have to wonder what it is that I think makes me so special that I’ll be able to succeed at this on my own? How am I any different from that former colleague?

The odds are stacked against me, for sure. Already my bank account is crying for a deposit, my next mortgage payment is not far off, and the utility companies want their cut, too. I’ve eliminated all unnecessary spending, and am leading a fairly minimalist lifestyle, together with my son, BraeTek. I am thankful that he is a very pragmatic young man, willing to work alongside his mother for the things we need to exist. Yet, I feel guilty sometimes that I cannot give him more.

Maybe one of the things that will make a difference in my story is the fact that my monthly mortgage payment is so low─only $328 a month. That’s largely due to the fact that I bought my farm through the Farm Service Agency as a beginning farmer, taking advantage of government funds for disadvantaged individuals. I brought that figure even lower when I contracted 40 of my 53 acres into conservation for the next 50 years, taking $100,000 of my overall mortgage. Maybe the fact that I’m willing to do without cell-service, new clothes, take-out, and even time-off, will make the difference for me. Who can really say?

To learn more about our conservation contract, and how it came to pass, check out this article: Confession #2: Conservation Contract.

Time Will Tell

time will tell farmstand
Fresh baked goods on the farmstand.

All I know, is that I have to try. I’m here now, doing the work I feel I was meant to be doing─providing real food for my family and community. You can bet I am going to give it everything I’ve got. To that end, we’ve revamped the here porch into what I hope is a respectable-looking farmstand. I’d like to think I was no slouch before, but I’ve stepped it up this season. Up at 3am some mornings to bake, working late into the evening most nights, til I am sore and spent. I am prepared to work overtime all summer, too─in hopes of making a success-story of my scrappy little farm.

I’ve had a few customers, too, this first week. So, who knows─maybe it will all work out. Time will tell…

Thank you so much for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

Training Wheels Are Coming Off!

The training wheels are coming off at Runamuk Acres! For the last 3 years, I’ve generated some part of the farm’s income from the rental of 2 of the bedrooms in my big old farmhouse. However, when my current housemate gave her 30-day notice recently, I knew those days were behind me. I just can’t do it anymore. It’s time for Runamuk to stand on it’s own. To that end, I am gearing up for a Big Year on the farm.

No more training wheels at Runamuk!

When I first bought the farm, 3 years ago, I was still working part-time at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It quickly became apparent that I was going to need to be here full-time if I were going to make any headway. Though the Farm Service Agency tried to discourage me from giving up that dependable income, I forged ahead resolutely. To offset the loss of my income from Johnny’s, I opted to rent 2 of the 6 bedrooms in my house.

Room Rentals

At first I tried renting through AirBnB, offering a bed-and-breakfast to skiers and hikers of Maine’s Western Mountains. That worked okay for a while, but I found it difficult to manage the farm and maintain my common spaces (kitchen, dinning room, and bathroom) to meet AirBnB’s standards. When covid hit, I decided to take on long-term housemates instead, to reduce the potential risk of spreading the virus to my customers.

Room-rentals worked okay for a while. The rooms here are laid out in such a way that I could keep the guests at one end, while maintaining some semblense of privacy at the other end of the house.

Guest room #2, during our AirBnB phase.

Sifting through prospective candidates to find housemates I could tolerate sharing space with was always a pain. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t actually read the details before reaching out. There were seemingly endless inquiries from people who thought that “New Portland” was some sub-set of the city of Portland, some 2 hours south. People who wanted to bring their entire family to live in a single room. There were people who would ask if they could have their menagerie of pets, even though my advertisement clearly said “No Pets”. This is a working farm and I’m not willing to risk the well-being of my livestock, or add additional stressors to my own pets for the sake of a few hundred dollars.

I always insisted on meeting potential new housemates before agreeing to allow them space in my home. That seemed to weed out a good many candidates from ever setting foot on my property. The odds were against even those who were actually willing to interview for the space. With my teenaged son in the house, Deron’s teenagers occasionally at the farm, and my business to protect, I was super critical of who I brought into our lives. Unfortunately, even that didn’t save us from a couple of bad apples.

Most of the individuals I allowed to rent my rooms, were good and honest, hardworking young people just trying to get ahead in life. They liked the novelty of living on a farm, but none of them were really here to be a part of anything Runamuk-related. Most of them, I doubt, ever looked us up online to learn more about what we do or what we’re about. Certainly none of them tried to get involved, and I can only think of one that tried to lend a hand. They went to work, came home and slept, then did it all over again. That suited me just fine.

Trouble With Housemates

The trouble with housemates, it that it’s hard to really know the quality of someone’s character from one 20-minute encounter. There were at least a couple of housemates that caused significant disruption here. One came between my sister and I, seriously damaging a most precious relationship in my life. Another was prone to some unsettling mood-swings, that made me uneasy with his presence in the house. Something wasn’t right about him…

Eventually, he put me in the position of having to ask him─in no uncertain terms─to find somewhere else to live. It takes quite a lot to push me to that point, but after having worked so hard for this farm, I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow anyone to threaten it─in any way, shape, or form. After he’d departed, we found evidence of cocaine-use in his room. My gut instinct about the guy had been 100% correct.

This baby gate did not hold Beebe back once she realized she could jump…

Beebe brought a whole new source of anxiety to the situation, when she arrived on the farm. Slow to warm up to strangers, I was forever rushing to restrain her whenever one of my housemates needed to access to the bathroom. For her own protection, I asked Deron to build a half-door off the dinning room to keep Beebe out of the common spaces. She does eventually warm to new people, and once she does she is the biggest baby, wanting only love and tummy-rubs.

Incidentally, she never warmed up to the crack-head. She made it unmistakably clear that she viewed him as a threat, and I will never discount Beebe’s judge of character ever again.

Mainly, it’s just awkward trying to farm and share space with strangers. The first-floor guest room is right off the main entrance to the house, so I am forever anxious about making too much noise when we are doing our twice-daily critter-chores. That same room is directly on the other side of the kitchen, which means I worry about banging cupboards too loudly, or playing my music too loudly on Baking Days.

Those days will very soon be over, though. I’ve had my fill of trying to share this sanctuary of mine. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to move on.

The Training Wheels are Coming Off!

The scary part is that I am still very much dependent upon the income from those room-rentals. While the CSA generally pays for the farm, the income I’ve generated through renting those 2 rooms has been paying for the house. They cover the electric, water, and phone utilities, along with household supplies like toilet paper and laundry detergent. To make up the difference, I’ve decided to re-invest in Runamuk’s “Farmstand-on-the-Porch”. The time has come for Runamuk to stand on it’s own. The training wheels are coming off!

Beginning Monday, March 14th, the farmstand will be open 6 days a week. I’ll stock it with my own handmade bread baked daily in Runamuk’s licensed kitchen. There will also be an assortment of delectable goodies: muffins, cookies, my “Fantabulous Granola Bars”. Our fresh microgreens and eggs will stock the shelves, too. Then, later this season, local patrons will have access to a full gamut of vegetables. Customers should check in with us for seasonally available products like our raw honey, pork, and lamb.

Previsouly, when I tried to keep a farmstand going here, there was some confusion about where it was located, and how it worked. One of the many projects I am currently working on are some new signs to eliminate confusion for customers. Our farmstand is located inside our enclosed porch, and is self-service. Usually, BraeTek or I are kicking about the farm somewhere, but with just the 2 of us to manage things, we cannot drop what we are doing to wait on customers, else nothing would never get done, lol. That being said, I never discourage visitors from seeking us out if they have questions or need help.

Fantastically Foolhardy?

At the moment, I’m not sure if giving up the room rentals is a fantastic idea, or a foolhardy one. Likely, it’s both: “fantastically foolhardy“.

I admit that when I stop to dwell on the matter, the idea of trying to get by without that income twists my gut with fear. The electric bill is already past-due, and the water is in arrears─if I could get off those public utilities, that would be a game-changer! The car needs work to take a sticker, and the truck needs parts just to be useful. Doing this kind of work, I’ve worn through every pair of jeans I own─I’m down to my last pair, which I keep washing and re-washing. I did splurge recently on a package of underwear, lol, but I have just 1 bra left─which is missing 1 of it’s 3 hooks to hold the thing on my body (insert facepalm here)! I could go on, but I think you catch my drift…

It’s downright terrifying to be letting go of that dependable income. Yet, I am just so damned burnt out on trying to accommodate strangers in my house, that I need to do something different. I make money with my hands. I literally grow it in the ground! Whoever said that money doesn’t grow on trees, definitely wasn’t a farmer…just sayin’. And since when have you ever known me to shrink from a challenge? If I wanted to do things the easy way, I would not be here today, doing this work that I love. No─I think this is the right move, at the right time. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, and hope like hell that it works.

Thank you so much for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

What Have I Been Doing All This Time?

Faithful readers to the Runamuk blog are probably wondering where I’ve been, and what have I been doing all this time, lol. Since I bought the farm, my writing has tapered off, gradually becoming non-existent. Even my presence on social media had significantly diminished. Now that I’m back, I invite you to get yourself a cuppa coffee or tea. Come join me on the farm for a few, to find out what’s been going on at Runamuk Acres.

As promised in last week’s post: “Back in the Saddle”, I am writing my weekly farm-update. As I vowed to you, and more importantly─to me─I have spent time writing every day. I religiously dragging myself out of bed at 4am to do so. Truthfully, though, I’ve been writing off and on all along. I even took part in National Novel Writing Month─or “NaNoWriMo” back in November, making a good start on a full-length novel that I’ve been wanting to write. It’s only the blog, and social media that I’ve largely avoided, keeping to myself for the last year or so. I’ve been hyper focused on my farm, my family, and living in the moment. I am all-consumed with cherishing the beauty and wonder of this life I am living. And counting my blessings, every day.

21st Century Relationship

I admit that I’ve coveted the farm and my newfound farm-life. Much like a toddler might covet a new toy, I did not want to share it with anyone. I also admit, I’ve been more than a little self-conscious of my relationship with Deron. More than one partner has made an appearance in my story, and to say “this one is different” is just too cliche. I am not willing to belittle the good thing this man and I have going on.

It took some time for me to wrap my head around this 21st Century relationship. It took even longer to let go of the vision I’d had in my head for what love and life “should” look like. To accept it for what it truly is. For someone like me, who fairly burns with her desire to achieve the innate, intangible vision of her dreams─to let go of that stubborn, steadfast mental picture of life, love, and hopes for the future, allowing it to transform and morph into something else─you know it would take something profound to compel me to allow those changes. That’s the love I’ve found with Deron. It’s full and rich, sweet and tender─it’s something special.

Yet, because we each have teenage children, we will continue to live separately til the last of our kids graduate high school and have flown the coop. That’s a few years down the road…

Farmer Mom

I cannot deny that it has been a challenge for me to accept this new version of Happily Ever After. Deron and I spend our weekends together at one house or the other. On Tuesdays, BraeTek and I join the Whittemores for supper. The rest of the week, it’s all about being “Farmer Mom”. A pretty overwhelming endeavor by yourself…

Surprisingly, I am doing okay. This has been an amazing opportunity for personal growth. I believe I have risen to the challenge. It was tough for a while, but Deron is definitely worth it. I think, I’ve finally adjusted. And, I am okay with it all. Go figure.

Deron helps out when he can─we make a great team, working well together. However, it is BraeTek, now 15 and taller than his mum, who has become my right-hand man on the farm. Taking him out of public school in favor of homeschooling was the best thing that could have happened to us both. To think, I might never have realized the opportunity I have with my son, if it weren’t for this path that Deron and I have chosen in our relationship.

If I hadn’t been willing to allow my own perceptions of what Happily Ever After should look like to change─if I had refused to grow and evolve─I would surely have given up the best love I’ve ever known, missed out on the opportunity for a better relationship with my son, and forfeited the chance to make a partner out of BraeTek. Thanks to that willingness to change, I’ve found a new purpose in life. I am now focused on building this farm up so I might someday turn it over to my son, in hopes that he might reap the benefit of my life’s labors.

What Have I Been Doing…?

To that end I have been working diligently this last year, growing this farm to increase our income from agriculture, building bridges between my family and Deron’s, always working toward a brighter future for us all. Check out this slideshow I put together featuring some of the highlights!

2021 Highlights

Wheels – 2020 was a year of car-troubles for Runamuk, which ultimately ended with this farmer stranded on the side of the road, even resorting to hitchhiking. I managed to barter a deal for an old pickup truck to get me by, but at the tail end of the year the farm received a generous $5000 donation to aid in the purchase of reliable transportation. If you haven’t heard that story, definitely check out “The Perfect Solstice Gift“. On January 4th of 2021, I was able to go to North Anson Auto, and paid cash for a used vehicle. With that, Runamuk welcomed yet another─slightly newer─Subaru Forester to the farm. A truck in disguise, lol.

Bolens Lawn Tractor – My dear, late Aunt Lucy was a steadfast supporter of my strange farming ambitions. It was she, who arranged for the transfer of a big, red Farmall tractor from her father in-law to myself. I dubbed the agricultural machine, Walter, after my late father, Dana Walter Richards, and clung to that piece of equipment like life-raft while I was l landless. Once I’d landed upon my forever-farm, we tried and tried to get the old thing to run─to no avail. That failing, coupled with the realization that the tractor really was just too big for the kind of work I’m doing, and Walter became more of a lawn-ornament. I couldn’t bring myself to even consider letting him go. It wasn’t until Deron’s father, David, pointed out that my Aunt would have wanted me to have something that worked for me rather than clinging to the Farmall out of some misguided sense of sentimentality. Parting with Walter was incredibly difficult, but it allowed Runamuk to invest in a smaller, yet equally rugged, Bolens lawn tractor─with a rototiller attachment. This machine is just the right size for my small farm, and for me. I think Aunt Lucy would be proud to see me sitting upon it, doing the work that I am meant to do.

Beebe the Brave, livestock guardian in-training.

Training Beebe – I knew going into it that bringing a livestock guardian to the farm was a big commitment on my part. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for the challenges associated with one of these dogs. “Beebe the Brave” is a Central Asian Shepherd. Not only is she a beautiful animal─she is also highly intelligent, super territorial, incredibly sweet and affectionate, and hands-down the most difficult dog I have ever had the privilege of training. This is a post all on it’s own, and I will put it on my list of topics to cover in the not-too-distant future. For now, suffice it to say that last year was quite an ordeal. Things didn’t go exactly the way I’d imagined, but I wouldn’t trade Beebe for any other.

Note: “Beebe” is the name she came to us with at 5 months of age. We contemplated changing it, but when I looked it up, I found that it’s a french name, pronounced “Bee-Bee”, and is derived from a word that means: “the place where bees are kept”. Seemed all too fitting for the dog destined to guard Runamuk, founded on beekeeping.

Lambing Season – What’s not to love about adorable lambs? This is one of the farm’s most beautiful blessings, and I am utterly grateful to be able to experience it. New lambs to the farm mean prosperity. They mean that my farm is growing, it means I’ve done something right. Perversely, I appreciate the validation. All those years longing and yearning to farm, promising “I can do it! Just give me a chance!”, to finally be here doing the work and actually succeeding, is both a comfort and relief. We had 8 lambs born to Runamuk, last year. Mothers and babies all were healthy and strong, and though we did end up with 1 bottle baby, even that experience was a joy.

Maine Big Night – Last spring, Runamuk served as a host location for local citizen scientists for the Maine Big Night project. Amphibians are some of the most endangered groups on the planet. This project seeks to evaluate the impact roads are having on populations, so that recommendations can be made for more wildlife-friendly road designs. We also participated in the project, adopting a local vernal pool to observe for amphibian activity on the first potential Big Night of the season. Deron and I took our combined tribe of teenagers, even recruiting a handful of local volunteers to the cause, and went out on the first warm, rainy night of the season to survey amphibian migration. It is my intention that this will be an annual event for the farm.

Family Perennials – It has become a tradition since coming to this place, to honor my family with perennial food-plants (fruit trees, berry bushes, artichokes, etc.). I planted berry bushes for each of my boys, apple trees in memory of loved ones departed, and it was my pleasure last spring to plant fruits trees for each of Deron’s 3 younger children here on the farm. We put in 2 different varieties of apples for Chantel and Drake, and Ciarrah, Deron’s youngest, wanted a pear tree, which needed a friend for cross-pollination, so she got 2 trees lol. This year we will plant 3 more perennials─2 for Deron’s older 2 sons, grown with families of their own, and 1 for the new grandbaby in the family. I can’t wait!

Old Steve Rogers.

1st Ever Pigs! – To secure the pickup truck from old Steve Rogers, I bartered the use of a patch of earth for Steve to raise a few pigs, and a small section of the garden to grow a some vegetables for himself. I’d never had pigs before, and devoutly believed I never wanted them. Now that I’ve experienced it, I am converted, lol. I can see doing a few pigs every year, just to supply my farm-family with a higher quality pork. This year, Runamuk is offering Half and Whole-Hog pig shares to it’s CSA members.

Work Parties – Always loathe to ask for help, I’ve come to realize how imperative that big push of energy brought by a group of people all working together really is to the farm. Sometimes I put out a call for help to my community, other times it’s just the combined forces of mine and Deron’s families working together here for the sake of the farm that feeds us. It’s amazing the amount of work that can get done in a short amount of time. Last year, we did a Trail Maintenance work-party early in the spring, and an Irrigation Clean-Up party late in the fall.

One of our CSA members hard at work on Runamuk’s barn quilt!

Barn Quilt Workshop – Runamuk hosted Saskia Reinholt, and one of her many Barn Quilt Workshops last June. Some of our very own CSA members participated, painting a bee-themed quilt to adorn our own barn. The Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm is now listed on the Maine High Peak’s “Barn Quilt Trail”, a community-made public art trail celebrating rural traditions, and linking into the national American Barn Quilt Trail.

Irrigation Upgrade – While he was here on the farm, old Steve Rogers, a retired heating and plumbing specialist, tapped into the farmhouse’s main water line to establish irrigation to the field. Before, it was quite an ordeal to run that many hoses and maintain water pressure to irrigate the massive garden I am managing at Runamuk. Now, I have a series of spigots spaced out along the side of the garden, and a spigot at the end of the field for watering the livestock on pasture. What a huge difference it made in the efficacy of the drip tape-and-sprinker system I am using!

Firefly Festival – Runamuk hosted it’s 2nd annual Firefly Festival last July. The weather cooperated, and locals came to the farm to celebrate fireflies. We walked through Runamuk’s 10-acre hay field, learning more about fireflies, and watching for the flashing beetles. The kids managed to catch a few, and we made sure to releasing them when we were done. Afterwards, folks gathered around the campfire to discuss how the firefly came to be such an iconic part of childhood pasttimes, why they are now a species under threat, and what we can do to help this beneficial insect.

My brain-child.

The Fenceline – It got to the point where my solar chargers for the electric net fencing I use was no where near strong enough to contain my flock of sheep. I also had one very troublesome ewe, who insisted on sticking her head through the nets to eat the grass outside their pen─even when I’d literally just moved them to a fresh patch. It was maddening. No matter what I tried, I could not get that fence strong enough. Even after culling the problem ewe, I still woke up at 4:30 one morning to a “Maaaaaa” outside my window (several hundred yards from where the sheep were supposed to be constrained on the field). That was the last straw. In one Saturday, Deron and I erected a 600-foot long line of electric fencing down the middle of my 10-acre pasture. We pounded 60 fence-posts, attached 3 insulators to each post, and ran the wire til late into the night. It was a sudden stroke of genius that came to me in that moment of desperation─to run a line of electric wire fencing down the length of the field, and run my electric nets off of that. Now the sheep stay where I put them, and I am a much happier farmer, lol.

Hay Mission 2021 – With 10 sheep last winter, and 12 this year, Deron and I have taken to buying Runamuk’s hay right out of the field in the summer, saving both time and money. Thanks to my days as a landless farmer with honeybee apiaries strung out across the area, I’ve forged a longstanding relationship with Hyl-Tun Farm, who produces some very good quality hay. The tricky part is moving it from Hyl-Tun Farm, nearly 16 miles southeastwards in Starks, to Runamuk, in New Portland. Once on-site, the hay must then be hoisted up into the barn and stowed out of the elements for safe-keeping. Last summer we recruited our gaggle of teenagers to help, and they, in turn, roped a few extra friends into helping too. Deron and I shuttled the hay from one farm to the other, while the teenagers worked together to get the hay into the loft for me. We bought pizza, they played music too loudly, and had themselves a boisterous good time getting the work done on the farm.

Harvest Dinner – This was the 2nd annual Harvest Dinner put on for Runamuk’s CSA members. Deron and I may have gotten a little carried away with our menu. We’re both avid foodies with some skill in the kitchen, so when we set our minds to it, we really turn out some fantastic meals. We had twice as many guests this year as we did in our first year. I’m hoping that number doubles again in 2022.

Deron’s 1st-Ever Home!

Deron Bought a House! (and I helped!) – Like me, Deron had long burned with the dream of home-ownership. He had that same soulful need to have a place of his own, where he can be master of his own domain. Before he and I can move forward with a joint-venture, Deron needed to see that dream come to life. I put him in touch with the realtor I’d worked with to buy my farm, Leah J. Watkins, and she took it from there. I was by his side in September, when Deron closed on a beautiful home in Solon. I couldn’t be prouder to support this good, hardworking man as he continues to grow and evolve.

Community Compost – It’s become painfully apparent that the soil here is incredibly poor. Even with a robust flock of chickens, and a flock of sheep, Runamuk is not producing enough of it’s own manure to meet the demands of our gardens. Sourcing amendments in can be pricey, and we have few options in this part of the state for organic materials. On impulse, I decided to establish a community compost program, collecting compostable materials from local households and restaurants that I can compost into fertilizer to feed my gardens. Check out “Soils to Spoils” on our website to learn more about that program.

1st Lamb Harvest – With winter was on the doorstep, this farmer was painfully conscious of the fact that 350 bales for an entire Maine winter is only going to feed so many mouths. I had 16 sheep, and my ideal number to overwinter is about 10, give or take 1 or 2. After 3 years spent growing my sheep flock, it was finally time to take a harvest. This was a hard day on the farm, but a necessary part of farm-life. All of the meat went to feed the households of Runamuk’s CSA members, a ms well as my own family, which brought a depth of meaning to the sacrifice that soothes my aching heart. It’s not easy to say goodbye to beautiful, spunky animals you’ve raised and cared for, grown attached to, loved and worried over.

1st Grandbaby! – Deron’s oldest son, Spencer, together with his wife, Casey, welcomed their first child to the family in early November. New Grampie, Deron, is just a proud as a peacock. You can be sure we will be plating a tree here on the farm for that baby boy later this spring, and I can’t wait to introduce him to the sheep!

Christmas Gift – We rounded out the year with yet another generous donation to the farm. From a local benefactor who wished to remain anonymous to the public, came not one─but 2 Christmas gifts. The first was $400 to put toward Runamuk’s CSA program, and the second was a brand new Stihl chainsaw. All we had to do was drive over to Aubuchon Hardware in Farmington to pick it up, along with a few miscellaneous items for upkeep of the new tool. We put the chainsaw to the test by using it to cut down our Christmas and Solstice trees for each of our houses. She works beautifully!

That’s What I’ve Been Doing

There you have it in a nut-shell, my friends! Since I last updated the farm-blog last June, that’s what I’ve been doing with my time. Of course, let’s not forget the hours and hours spent toiling in the garden, mucking livestock pens, moving sheep around the field, morning and afternoon critter-chores, and all of the lovely Friday and Sunday suppers I joined Deron for at his father’s home. Oh─did I mention the countless times the sheep escaped and this farmer chased them back and forth across the property before we finally got a handle on the situation??? Did I mention that!?

Lol, I think I did.

It feels good to be sharing my story again. Thank YOU for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love, my friends!

Back in the Saddle

After a long hiatus, I am ready to get back in the proverbial saddle. I am ready to come back to blogging─ready to share my farm’s story with the world once more. I took some time away to focus on the farm, but the writer in me will not be ignored. The words must flow, just as the waters of the mighty Kennebec River must flow southwards to the sea.

I am a Writer

Farmer Sam with her sheep.

“What good is a farm without land?” I was in a dark place 7 years ago, following my initial separation from my husband of 15 years. Uncertain about my future and the future of Runamuk, I was landless, homeless, apart from my children for the first time, and the callous words of an acquaintance sent me into a dark depression. I found myself questioning everything I was, and everything I had ever been.

It was a good friend who took me aside to correct the situation, and I’ll never forget those sincere words. She told me, “Yes, Samantha, you are a farmer.” This friend went on to say, that, other people may have more land and more money to be able to play at farming with–but my heart holds the truest spirit of farming. She believed that it is that spirit and dedication, passion and love that make a real farmer. She said, I have that spirit, and I am more farmer than many who claim the title.

Tears pricked my eyes, and I had to fight to maintain my composure. I felt as though the editor of the New York Times had just said to me: “Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus.” Thanks to that friend’s kind words of support, and thanks to so many others who supported my ambitions, I went on to pursue my dream of owning my own farm and making my living by working with nature to feed my family and community.

Note: To read that story in full, click this link: “Yes, Samantha, you are a farmer.”

Yet, just as much as I am a farmer─so, too, am I a writer. The truth is…I just do not feel whole when writing is not a consistent part of my life. I love being a farmer, but something inside me compels this outpouring of words to page. It will not be denied, ignored, or left behind.

Farm First

Runamuk currently serves 40 local households through it’s CSA program, maintains a farmstand, and collaborates with 2 local restaurants.

Since buying my forever-farm 3 years ago, I’ve largely put the farm first. Establishing Runamuk at this new location, building infrastraucture, gardens, and a clientèle, has been a monumental and all-consuming project. Add to that BraeTek’s return to homeschooling, and a new relationship with my Mr. Right, and you can see why I might need to put writing on the back-burner.

But it didn’t feel right. The urge to create and express myself literally is always there, sometimes fairly choking me with it’s desire to be expressed. Snippets of stories that want to be told come to me on the wind when I am working in the garden. Bits of inspiration hit while I am driving along my delivery routes. Conversations between characters play out in my head when I am mucking livestock sheds. Just as that desire to farm and feed people burns inside me, so too does the need to write.

I know in my heart, if I were to give up on writing─if I were to continue ignoring that side of myself for the rest of my life─when I am old and frail, lying there on my death bed, I would regret it. And I am just not willing to go to the Great Beyond with regrets. I am not willing to live the unlived life, or even a half-life. For, that is what life is for me─without writing─a half-life.

Committed to Writing

I am committed to writing, just as I am committed to farming, to my family─to breathing air! I vow to you here and now, to post─at the very least─an update from the farm on a weekly basis. To myself, I promise to spend time every day─writing. Whether that writing is done in my journal, on the blog, or working on some other literary project─I will write. For, I am a writer, and the words will not be denied.

I write about what I love and hold most dear─farming, self-sufficiency, feeding my family and community, family dynamics, connecting with nature, and environmental conservation. They say to write what you know…well, that’s what I know─because it’s who I am. I am a farmer─and a writer!

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It truly is my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love, my friend!!

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!!

Real Food and Real Community for Real People

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

True Mountain Maple

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

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

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

The Salem Economic Ministry

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

Salem United Economic Ministry
The Salem United Methodist Economic Ministry.

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

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

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

Enter the Runamuk CSA

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

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

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

How the Runamuk CSA Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farming is a Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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