While my journey as a beginning farmer has been filled with many ups and downs, Runamuk has somehow persisted─at times this has been due to my own stubborn pride, but more often than not it can be attributed to the friendship and love of those who have supported my ambitions along the way. I cannot go any further into the story of Runamuk before acknowledging these people and sharing my gratitude for their continued encouragement.
A little backstory
When I was in my mid-twenties and my children were still babies, we lived in the woods with no neighbors to speak of─just acres and acres of unending Maine forest. I loved living there even though we had no plumbing, and conditions were less than ideal. I spent my days in the garden or exploring the forest toting my babies in a red radio flyer wagon─the kind with the fat all-terrain tires. After a traumatic childhood this was my healing time. I became close to the land, to the trees, and I came to know the Earth with her ebb and flow of the seasons in an intimate way. Nature has always been a balm to my soul.
At the time I was struggling in an unhappy marriage, raising and homeschooling my children largely on my own, with little support from family and far removed from the few friends I did have. When my eldest son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3 it seemed to seal my fate. For the next 10 years I would attempt to connect with other moms in hopes of sparking new friendships for me and my boys, but none seemed to take. Sometimes there would be incidents with my son and we would not be invited back. Sometimes the other moms and I were just too different─not everyone is passionate about recycling, boycotting Walmart, or making their own ketchup─go figure. Sometimes religious preferences got in the way.
My mother-in-law told me once that I was─as she called it─woods queer; from spending too much time in the woods by myself.
It wasn’t until I established Runamuk and began volunteering my time in my community that I finally began to connect with people like me. People who love being outdoors, who don’t want chemicals in their body products or preservatives in their bread─people who want locally produced foods and products, who care about their home-town communities, local agriculture, and saving the Earth from pollution. Through my work I have grown a diverse garden of friendships that fill me with joy.
Today I’m calling out a few of these friends and loved ones who have been instrumental in Runamuk’s progress, these are the people who lift me up when I am down, who offer sage advice as only a real friend will, friends who want to see me and Runamuk succeed and who have made a bigger impact on my life then they could ever know.
My Sister & Late Father
Not everyone is so fortunate as to have the love and support of their family when undertaking a career in beekeeping. I’m sure there have been many times when my ideas and ideals caused them to look twice, but my sister, Marie Richards, and our dear late father, Dana Richards, have always supported my pursuit of a life in farming.
When the boys were young, Marie was my go-to babysitter. She has been my moral support and partner in nerdiness for years. My father, would have given the shirt off his back if he thought it would make a difference in my life. Their unconditional love has gotten me through many tough times and I love them for it.
Friends at Market
Since establishing the Madison Farmers’ Market my circle of close friends has grown to include my fellow vendors. I know not all markets are so fortunate as we are in Madison, to have such a vibrant group of farmers and gardeners dedicated to local food and to community. People come to our market not only for the fresh, local foods and products we’re offering, but also to chat and check in.
Many in our group spend time together apart from market; we’ve become a close-knit group of friends. Together we’ve inspired this wonderful sense of community in Madison that I am incredibly proud of, but which wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for these other farmers joining me every Saturday morning rain or shine. We’re all of us committed to the market─to supporting each other─and that comes across to our customers in the best possible way.
Maria Reynolds of Yellow Place Bakehouse in Solon and Sonia Acevedo of Hide & Go Peep Farm in East Madison are 2 of my closest peeps. Crymson Sullivan of Sidehill Farm together with his partner Jessica Paul, Pete & Carol Vigneault and their son Luke (who is not a market vendor, but instead my mechanic and beekeeping buddy who makes it a point to stop by the market every Saturday)─these friends have been there through all my ups and downs. They were there with hugs and support when I was at my lowest, and they celebrate my successes with me.
There are also individuals from the community who make it a point to stop by the market to check in, even if they don’t necessarily need anything. Alice Arsenault, Marilyn from Skowhegan Savings, Mark the college professor, Lloyd Cowan, Chelsea Merry who is a deputy sherrif for Somerset County─people whose names I have not yet managed to retain─and so many more.
For these friendships I am so thankful.
Friends at Johnny’s
I began working at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in January of 2015, following my divorce. It was my first job off the farm since having kids─I was still reeling from the divorce, coming to terms with not having my kids with me 24/7 and the office environment was quite a shock to my system. Yet the people I met at Johnny’s and the connections I’ve made there have bolstered me─and Runamuk. When I am down these friends lift me up. When I am struggling they offer help, advice, wisdom, or even just a hug and words of encouragement.
Thank you to Kamala and Ken Hahn for being my friends─Kamala is the best kind of friend you could want: knowledgeable, worldly and sophisticated, opinionated and direct. She always tells it like it is and I know when I go to her she will tell me─not necessarily what I want to hear, but what I need to hear. Her husband Ken is much the same, and he’s teaching me to play the banjo! Yay!!!
Jason Albert, Rebecca Jude, and Erin Reardon have been so good to me too. Always ready to lend an ear, a smile or to offer up a story. Paul Gallione even gave me his old banjo, the one Ken is teaching me to play─and there are many more people at Johnny’s whom I work with and who have shown me only kindness and support. These people have given me the kind of warm friendship that I had longed for all those years alone in the woods. Words just can’t express what it means to me to have each and every one of these people in my life.
Even before my divorce, Ernie and Gwen Hilton of Hyl-Tun Farm in Starks have been Runamuk’s staunchest of allies. Ernie is a lawyer and civil engineer with his office located in Madison, while Gwen is a municipal planner and a grant writer; together they manage the farm where the bulk of Runamuk’s apiary is currently located. These folks have long been a source of inspiration to me: involved in their local community as well as a couple of county organizations, engaged in the political process, and concerned about the environment too.
Ernie and Gwen have provided space in one of their hay fields for my hives for the last 5 years, but they’ve also provided cement blocks and boards for my benches, legal counsel, financial guidance, farming advice. To top it all off they mow using agricultural conservation practices that not only benefit bees and pollinators, but preserves the Bobolink habitat in their pastures too.
When rumors of a local bear causing problems for homeowners in Starks reached Ernie and Gwen, they took it upon themselves to erect an electric fence to protect the apiary. Because the apiary is in a pasture across the road from their farmhouse and barns, that involved running high tensile fence-wire through a culvert that runs under Route 43. Ernie crawled through that pipe in the muck and spiderwebs, and who knows what else, to run the wire from one side of the road to the other. And he did this on Father’s Day of all days.
A couple of years ago I had a mean and nasty goose to slaughter, and wouldn’t you know─it was Ernie and Gwen who came to lend a hand (he was too big and mean for me to tackle alone!). I served that darned goose for Christmas dinner. Then, last year when I was in the throes of the Great Farm Move, the Hiltons came to my rescue once again when I was faced with downsizing my flock of laying hens. Not only did they pay me for 10 of the birds, but they helped me process them as well; we spent the better part of a day slaughtering chickens and processing them for our freezers. They even loaned me their horse trailer for moving, and then hauled the thing to Paul’s for me.
I could go on and on about Gwen and Ernie and all the ways they’ve helped Runamuk─how these two wonderful people have been there for me over the last decade, but it’s not what they’ve done that matters; it’s the fact that they’ve been there through it all.
This past Sunday evening I went to a Bruce Springsteen cover show at Hide & Go Peep Farm in East Madison. My friend Sonia was playing to raise funds for repairs to their fabulous old barn; once the barn had been used for dairy cows, now it houses a myriad of goats, rabbits, ducks and geese─and pigs too, in the winter.
The way the barn is laid out there’s an open expanse in the center, with the hay loft and the roof of the barn high above. This space is perfect for entertaining, and Sonia and her family periodically host events utilizing the barn. Holiday lights were strung up, with tapestries and quilts adorning the walls. There was a table with beverages and peanuts; and a motley assemblage of seating was set up for the audience.
Since this was a Bruce Springsteen cover-show guests were encouraged to dress as their favorite Bruce (I went in jeans and a white t-shirt with my denim jacket and won 2 costume awards!). The beer cooler was labeled “Bruce-skis”, and people really did dress up and get into it.
Sonia had canvased the surrounding towns with fliers, they told friends and family about the event, and spread the word at the farmers’ market too. She had a good turn out that evening, which included many of the vendors from our farmers’ market and even some of our dedicated patrons.
As I sat there watching my friend play─with her 3 year old son keeping time beside her─surrounded by so many friends and supporters, with the music of Bruce Springsteen filling me up inside, it truly felt as though everything I’ve worked for over the last 5 years had come to fruition. I have true friends in my life, and there is a sense of community that I have found which inspires me every day. These people─friends, family, acquaintances and patrons─have brought color to my life, light, love and purpose, and I feel that even if I never achieve my goal for a conservation farm─I have succeeded in every other way. I am truly blessed.
Thank you for following along with the story of one woman’s journey as a beginning farmer and beekeeper in Maine! Stay tuned for more great stories from Runamuk!