I got the call last week from the local beekeeper I’d ordered nucs with; they were ready. I was at Johnny’s at the time and could not contain myself─everyone around me knew my enthusiam and excitement. Yay bees! That moment of elation was quickly followed by a moment of panic. The loan I had applied for had not yet come through and I wasn’t sure how I would pay for the new bees.
Funding for Runamuk
I’ve been so busy here on the farm that I feel as though I’ve been running. Running trying to get this little farm off the ground, and in some ways I am gaining, while in other ways I am not. I began back in January working on my business plan, putting together various spreadsheets and production analyses. I submitted the proposal to Farm Credit East, who rejected it due to the fact that my name is still on my ex-husband’s mortgage and in their eyes I am liable for that payment until he either refinances or my name is removed from that debt. Undaunted I immediately turned around and submitted my business plan and financing proposal to the Farm Service Agency to apply for their microloan program.
There I ran into another hiccup. I needed a long-term lease for at least 3 years.
The problem there was that my landlords have decided to sell the farm. I was initially alarmed, afraid that all I’d started here─rebuilding my life, my business, and this farm─was for nothing. With my name still on another mortgage and Runamuk still in it’s infancy there’s no way I can qualify for a mortgage at this point. But the Murphy family are committed to honoring their late-brother’s life, and his love for this old farm; they’ve sought out the Maine Farmland Trust.
The Maine Farmland Trust is a non-profit organization which preserves farmland by securing agricultural easements that protects the land so that it will forever be available at its value as farmland rather than its potential development value. This makes it possible for new farmers like me to purchase farms or farmlands that enable us to do what we do.
What’s more, the Trust will only take on the property if I am on board and have a plan in place to purchase the farm down the road─and of course I’m totally on board and I have my carefully crafted business plan ready to go to demonstrate how I will make it all happen.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be working with the folks at the Maine Farmland Trust!!!
The Murphys went above and beyond to provide me with a suitable lease-agreement for the interim; unfortunately the FSA turned down my loan request. They were able to overlook my ex-husband’s mortgage because our divorce agreement stipulates that he is responsible for that debt; however as a result of my divorce and the fact that I was without a farm for the first 6 months of last year, along with the fact that I lost all of my hives during the brutal 2014-2015 winter, I had a drop in production on the farm and my tax statement reflects that. No loan.
So what does all of this mean for Runamuk?
Well unfortunately no loan means I can’t invest in the electric-net fencing I need to move the chickens onto pasture, or to bring sheep to the farm. Yet.
But I have the bees, and the chickens are laying lots of eggs, I’m busy making lots of soap and great herbal salves, and I’m working to increase Runamuk’s distribution range. Recently I began marketing my products through The Pick-Up in Skowhegan, which has a broad reach and a great reputation as a supporter of local foods and products and I am thrilled to be working with them. Already orders are coming in.
I will continue to work on increasing product availability and distribution, and I will focus more on data-mining and recordkeeping, as this was one of my major failings in the loan process. Lesson learned.
A new way forward
The loan rejection is disappointing for sure, but ever the optimist I’m looking at the positives: a) no loan means less debt and no loan repayment, b) it was a valuable learning process, and c) I now have a well-polished business plan ready to hand over to the Maine Farmland Trust.
I sincerely believe that these things happen for a reason. Obviously that door was closed to me because it is not my path. I had originally thought that if this loan attempt were to fall through it would be the end of the road for me here. It’s a big place and the price tag that comes with it reflects that. But I can’t just walk away from it all without first exhausting all options. So I’ve found another way.
I’m so used to going it alone, farming on my own, that I’ve repeatedly turned down the offer for help from my new apprentice. But this man has been nothing but supportive, working alongside me, working for me and this farm, and so I have decided to take Paul Smith officially as my business partner. (Insert celebratory applause here.)
Farming is hard work, it’s stressful and exhausting, and it can be a thankless job. However it is also rewarding, and meaningful, and I am happy to be able to share the journey with this man. And as his investment in the company, Paul has put up the funds to cover this year’s new stock of bees. Some girls want jewelry…some just want thousands upon thousands of stinging insects, lmao!
I’ve also decided that for the next couple of years it will be necessary to share the farmhouse with a housemate or two. It’s an option I’d avoided until now. I’m a grown woman with kids and a business to run, not a twenty-something individual looking for companionship and parties. I outgrew the shared-living concept ages ago; however─if renting one or two of the 5 bedrooms in this big old farmhouse helps me to pay the rent and hang onto the place until Runamuk is able to pay those bills, then that is what I must do.
My sister is planning to move in once her current lease expires in December. And in the meanwhile I have 2 rooms I am looking to rent. One of them is not heated, so it is only available until about October when the weather turns cold; I’m offering this room at $300/mo. The other is larger and available for a longer-term lease for $400/mo. Both have their own entrances through the garage, and housemates will of course have access to the main house. We’re about a 20 minutes drive from Farmington and the University of Maine campus there, and 20 minutes from Skowhegan. If you or someone you know is looking for a place in the area, feel free to let them know or to contact me. Because I have children and this is my place of business, I will be strict about references, but I’m willing to knock some off the rent in exchange for help around the farm.
And so Paul and I fetched the first round of new bees last week, and I will bring a second round this week, for a total of 10 new colonies. I am elated. Joyous. Ecstatic. And so grateful to all of those who have stood by me during these last few months while I worked dauntlessly on my business plan, fretted over the sale of this farm, and struggled to find my path. In moments of weakness I wonder sometimes if it really is determination that keeps me going, or if it is more likely that I am stubborn and foolhardy. Thankfully I am blessed to have many wonderful friends, kindly supporters, and a caring family who lift me up when I am down. This journey is just beginning and I know my struggles are a long way from over, but it is my friends who give me strength to continue on. You’ll never know how much that truly means to me.
Stay tuned folks, things are getting interesting!