It’s both exhilarating and terrifying to say that I am now farming full-time─with no off-farm income. No safety net. Nothing. It’s sink or swim; do or die trying. For better or worse, my income is now generated exclusively by this property. My life (and my finances) are in my own hands.
Parting Ways With Johnny’s
These last 4 years I’ve made the best of my situation as a single mom, working part-time off the farm in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, while still farming full-time. I gained many advantages working at Johnny’s, but it wasn’t easy trying to do both, and in some ways it really hindered Runamuk’s progress. Even still, I’d intended to continue working part-time for another couple of years to supplement the farm’s income. However, over the course of the last winter, it became increasingly apparent that after 4 years, Johnny’s and I had outgrown each other, and in May we parted ways.
I thought I might find something closer to home, and take a housemate to help cover the monthly bills. However, with a special needs son who requires my supervision 3 days each week, a farmers’ market on Friday night, and the Runamuk farm-stand on Saturdays─my schedule is fairly limited.
What’s more, with a large garden, 150 chickens and 4 sheep to rotate around the pasture, 20 beehives, new apple trees and perennial food plants in the ground this year, plus the household and my children to manage─Runamuk has reached the point where it really needs it’s farmer every. single. day. The time has come for me to be fully committed to the farm. Right here. Right now.
Not having that safety net, though, is pretty terrifying. To make matters more difficult, Runamuk has been suffering an egg-shortage. Production from last year’s flock is going downhill, and we’re still waiting for the new flock to start laying. It’s a little painful having to tell people I don’t have eggs for them.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to cover the financial shortfall with produce from the garden, allowing Runamuk to cover the cost of all the animals here. I sold a few hives this Spring, and a couple of Queens, and mercifully, was able to take a honey harvest last week. Runamuk is treading water and I’m keeping my head above the surface─but it’s a good thing I’m a strong swimmer!
Our presence in the community is growing; it’s really happening. Folks stop by, saying they saw the signs on Route 16─or they saw my post on Facebook and wanted to check us out. Runamuk has gained a number of regular patrons, and I’ve gained some new relationships with locals here. Like Steve─the kindly, white haired retiree who always has 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5!) peanut butter dog biscuits in his pocket when he comes for eggs.
Okay, maybe that’s Murphy’s relationship, lol, but there are plenty for me!
It is happening; Runamuk is cultivating those relationships, nourishing it’s community, and growing into the farm it was always meant to be. Yet with winter coming on, I know the household still needs some kind of supplemental income─you know-if we want to be warm. I wasn’t having much luck finding a housemate, and I refuse to take a boyfriend for the financial support alone, so a friend suggested I try listing my spare room with AirBnB.
AirBnB has been mentioned before, but in the past I’d always resisted the idea. I didn’t like it─partly because of William’s difficulties with new people, but largely because I was uncomfortable with the idea of having strangers stay overnight in my house. I’m friendly and sociable enough, but I’m also an introvert with reclusive tendencies─and, like many farmers, I relate better to animals than people.
Over the course of the summer, though, I’ve become rather accustomed to strangers dropping by. Sometimes it’s just to buy eggs or swiss chard. Other times they’re interested in a tour of the property. And sometimes folks are hoping for a peek at this old farmhouse. I am always grateful for a visit, and happy to oblige; afterall, I would not have this farm without the support of the people. So this time when it came up, I didn’t have that same guttural reaction to AirBnB that I’ve had in the past, and I gave it more serious consideration.
Note: For those who aren’t familiar with it, Airbnb is an online marketplace for arranging or offering lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences. The company does not own any of the real estate listings, nor does it host events; it acts as a broker, receiving commissions from each booking.
Locals don’t really want to live in New Portland, Maine (except me, apparently!). It’s kind of in the middle of no where. You really have to commit to the idea of driving to get anywhere from here, and most rural Mainers do not want to have a long commute. Hence the difficulties finding a suitable housemate.
For outdoor enthusiasts, however─tourists enjoying Maine’s rugged wilderness─or travelers journeying to or from Canada, New Portland is a plausible destination. The tourism industry drives this region of Maine; I could see how I might tap into that and use it to my advantage. I did some research, and when I found several articles indicating a popular trend toward farmstays, I made up my mind. I listed Runamuk’s spare room, and, almost as proof of concept, I had 3 reservations within the first 48 hours!
The Guest Room @ Runamuk
I didn’t give it a fancy name, just “The Guest Room”, but it’s a pretty sweet space, I think.
A newer, first-floor bedroom rather separate from the main house, but still readily accessible to the bathroom and other common areas. The room has been repainted to brighten the space, and decorated in what I hope comes across as “farm-like”, with an old quilt, handmade quilted pillows, and original Common Ground Fair posters given to me by a former colleague at Johnny’s (thank you, Tom!).
The Guest Room is sparsely furnished, but there’s a desk and upon it I’ve organized a few of my favorite books related to food and agriculture. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and “In Defense of Food”, by Michael Pollan, “Food Not Lawns”, “Locally Laid”, and a copy of “The Maine Birding Trail”. Included in a stay at Runamuk is a complimentary farm-breakfast made with our own eggs, which seems to be a popular selling point so far.
At the foot of the Bigelow Mountain Range in western Maine─Runamuk is just 10 minutes to the historic Wire Bridge in West New Portland, 10 minutes to Kingfield, 20 minutes to Carrabasset Valley, Sugarloaf, and the Maine Huts & Trails. And the farm has direct access to the ITS 84 snowmobile trail. So in addition to the farm and Runamuk’s own events, workshops and classes, this area offers plenty of other activities: hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing (cross-country or downhill), snowshoeing and ice skating, golfing, and snowmobiling. It’s basically a four-season playground.
Here’s the listing on AirBnB: Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm-Guest Room, feel free to share with friends and family who might be visiting the area, or who are interested in an up-close and personal farmstay at an authentic working Maine farm!
And just like that, I’m farming full-time!
Leaving Johnny’s to be a full-time farmer wasn’t the plan for 2019, but over the course of the summer I’ve come to realize that this is exactly what needed to happen. Runamuk has reached the point where I just cannot do any more if I’m giving my time and energy to another company. I’m one person, farming alone, and I’m needed here. AirBnB is going to allow me to be on the farm full-time, working to grow Runamuk, while still earning that supplemental income we require at this early stage. I decided that William and I are just going to have to get used to hosting guests here─and who knows? maybe it’ll be good for us.
When the Fates Decide…
It’s a wonder to me, how sometimes we can make very deliberate choices for our lives, while other times it seems as though the Fates decide for us. Looking back at some of the doors that have opened and closed for me along the way, steering me further along my journey into farming and wildlife conservation, I can’t help but marvel at how many of my choices were made for me─by circumstance.
When I look at it that way, how can I not feel as though this is where I was always meant to be? that this work is what I was put here to do? And how lucky am I that the Fates ordained to make my dreams come true, when there are so many out there still waiting for theirs to be made reality?
Every day in this beautiful, marvelous place is a precious gift. Even on the worst of days, I am grateful to be here and to have this opportunity. You can be sure that I will not squander what I have been given. I am giving everything of myself to make it work. Pouring my time, money, energy─my very soul─into this property, growing my farm and feeding my community.
I am a farmer, and this is my story. Thank you for following along.
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