Licensed to process

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honey at farmers' marketA week ago today I was in a frantic frenzy to get the Runamuk homestead de-cluttered, cleaned, and scoured in preparation for an inspection by Maine’s Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations.  Marshall Piper, the Consumer Protection Inspector who manages inspection and licensing of home-processing and commercial kitchen licensing for our area was due to arrive on Thursday, and the state of our home closely aligned with the name of our farm–it was very literally “run-amuck”.

It’s partly because we are living in a single-wide mobile home with too much stuff–I think most farmers and homesteaders have a bit of pack-rat in them; you just never know when something will come in handy, so you save just about everything.  The problem for us is that we have no storage for anything right now–no garage to hold tools, bee-equipment, or the bin of holiday decorations.  Anything that cannot withstand the weather is stored either inside the trailer, or under it.

But it’s also partly due to the fact that I just don’t like to clean; I’d rather be outside playing in the dirt, than inside cleaning it.

Keith and I have adopted traditional roles in our relationship–that is to say–he does tasks traditionally performed by men–such as construction, mechanic work, repairs around the house, digging post-holes for the fences, cutting down trees with the chainsaw, etc. While all of the tasks traditionally reserved for women have fallen to me–the cooking, cleaning, and childcare–and sometimes the feminist in me resents that, but that is another post, lol.

goatThis year–in the face of our farm’s expansion and the rush to establish some sort of infrastructure before the Maine winter is once again upon us–I’ve spent more time in the garden than ever before.  And there are also the new livestock critters to tend.

To top it all off, my father is not well and it falls to me to make sure he is comfortable and has everything that he needs, so I am running to town two and three times a week to take care of Daddy.

So, while the house was far from what you might see on an episode of “Hoarders”, it was far from capable of passing an inspection.

Thankfully we had some advanced warning.  I had called the office of the Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations to find out when we might expect our inspection, and I learned that they’re usually performed about a week before the “open-date” listed on your application.  I’d listed my open date as July 31st, with the expectation that the spring honey crop would be ready by then, so that gave me some idea of when to expect Marshall Piper, and I started prepping the house about two weeks before, moving tools and equipment outside, under the trailer or into the hoop-house for temporary storage.  And then on Monday he called to schedule our inspection for Thursday, so I knuckled down and got the house de-cluttered, scrubbed, and sparkling clean.

I cleaned the fridge inside and out, wiped and polished the exterior of the stove and dishwasher, cleared every last little thing off the kitchen counter and out of the sink, then bleached both and wiped them dry so they shone, scrubbed children’s hand and fingerprints off of wall, scoured bathrooms, and washed windows.  Keith joked that the placed looked almost as good as it had when we moved into it back in December–with the added bonus that the horrible factory chemical smell was replaced by the scent of mint (I use spearmint essential oil in my scrubbing water).

Thursday morning Keith came home from working a sixteen-hour shift overnight, and set about cleaning up the front yard as best he could–we still have a pile of debris left over from cleaning up the old trailer that we have not had time this year to sort and move–which sits off to one side of the yard.

By 10am we’d done all we could for the place.  It seemed like a long-shot to both Keith and I, that this humble homestead would pass the inspection for the license that we so desperately were counting on, but we’d given it all we could, and that’s all anyone can do.

Everything we’ve worked for up to this point hinges on that license.  We cannot hope to expand our apiary and sell honey without a kitchen licensed to process food.  I would not be able to sell honey at the farmers’ market where I’ve been a vendor all season, I could not distribute my honey to local stores without the documentation that we’ve been authorized by the state to bottle it. Sure, I could probably sell the honey, I have plenty of friends and family, locals who have come to ask for the stuff–but in order to grow our business–having a licensed kitchen is paramount.

This inspection was the key reason I was so adamant last year that we move from the house we lived in in-town, which would never have passed any sort of inspection. With so much riding on this one event, I was a bundle of nerves.  I scarcely slept in the nights leading up to the day of the inspection.

And then Marshall Piper arrived, flashed his shiny silver badge at the door, and I held my breath–waiting and hoping.  Hoping against hope.

He was a really nice guy!  Tall, with the oaky build of a carpenter–and we talked about living in the wilderness and how wonderful it is.  He told me about a house he’d built for himself years ago that sat in the middle of 25 acres of peace and tranquility, and I explained how we came to be here, on our own little slice of heaven.

Marshall began talking about what I could do with my home-processing license–and I interjected, “If I pass the inspection…”

He just glanced around, “I don’t see anything that would disqualify you–everything looks in order.”

And he went on to fill out an amendment form, adding jams and jellies, baked goods, eggs, and vegetables to my application for home-processing.  He printed out a temporary license on the spot, gave me some literature about what I can and can’t process in my licensed kitchen, gave me his card and told me to email him if I thought of any questions after he left, and then he packed his computer back up and was on his way.

I was so relieved!

What a momentous accomplishment.  A huge victory for Runamuk.  I was elated–ecstatic! And I still am!

I went that very afternoon and pulled the honey off the hives–it had been capped and ready for over a week, but the bees can store and preserve it better than I can, so I’d left it on until the inspection was over.  I pulled 22 frames–4 honey-supers–off the hives.

extracting honey

 

Friday I dove eagerly into extracting the honey from the honeycombs, filtered the wax and bee-bits out of it, then left it to settle.

Saturday night I poured the syrupy golden liquid into sterilized pint and quart jars for market the following morning.

It was a labor of love.

It was a little bittersweet–knowing that if all 12 of my hives had survived the winter I would have had much more honey, but these 5 colonies have rebounded from a winter that tried even the most experienced of beekeepers, recovered and created a crop of delectably sweet honey that brings me to ecstasy, fills me with joy and pride.

 

farmers market signhoney at marketTo me–this honey represents my journey–every step I have taken, every trial, every triumph, is evident in this honey.

Standing at market, my truck bearing Runamuk signage, my booth sporting the sign I painstakingly painted the Runamuk logo upon. On the table before me–the assortment of herbal salves and beeswax soaps I’ve taught myself to make and which people seem to rave about; and on Sunday I set out beside them neat jars of golden honey that shone in the morning sunlight.

We’ve come so far, to get where we are today–and the journey to create our farm and conservation center is just beginning, with a lifetime of work ahead of us to bring my vision to life.  But we will take it one step at a time, and celebrate each small accomplishment as a spectacular victory, made so much sweeter by their hard-won nature.

Thanks for following along with us! And stay tuned folks!