Runamuk’s new 1-acre garden is both exhilarating and terrifying for this farmer. I am immensely proud of the progress we’ve made since gaining a permanent location 2 years ago. In spite of the challenges, Runamuk continues to grow at a steady pace, and for that I am grateful.
With 25 households participating in my CSA program, and the farmstand to supply, Runamuk needed to expand it’s garden in a big way this year. I’d initially intended to use my own tractor and disk harrow, but ran into a snag with Walter, my old ’51 Farmall tractor (named for my late father, Dana Walter Richards). I wound up hiring Walker Flemming, a local acquaintance made last year at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, to rototill the new 1-acre garden plot. It was money well spent, too; he did a fantastic job.
Once the tilling was done, we ran an electric fence around the whole thing─more to keep out our own dogs and the rogue chickens than anything else lol. With Murphy on patrol, and so much activity around the farm, the deer and other wildlife haven’t come very close. It’s an impressive thing─that new fence says “this is serious business”.
That feels like the theme this year─with the newly expanded sheep flock, a new 1-acre garden, a refrigerator for the farmstand, the CSA program, on-farm festivities, and (finally!) a farm-sign. It all says: “this is serious business”. NOT just another hobby farm.
Yet it is not without challenges.
Til a couple of weeks ago, when we finally received 2.5 inches of rain, we hadn’t seen any measurable precipitation since the 15th of May. According to the National Drought Monitor, Maine─like the rest of the northeast─is experiencing “moderate drought conditions”. That’s pretty usual for a region that typically has plenty of rainfall, though July does tend to be dry.
My soil is sandy and poor here, lacking in organic matter. Before the rains, walking through the new garden was like walking through a silty powder. I could watch a strong gust of wind carry the newly tilled soil away in a brown cloud.
After the rains, I saw a number of local gardens portrayed on Instagram that were under water. We’d gotten so much rain all at once, that the parched earth could not absorb it all. The water had no where to go. In my gardens however, the soil was thoroughly saturated, but there was no standing water. One of the perks of having sandy soil is superior drainage.
Working upon the earth following the rain, it felt rather like a sauna. Yet after such a long, dry spell, I dared not complain. Kneeling in the pathway pulling tedious weeds away from my precious carrots, I was covered in a sheen of sweat, with a steady drip off the end of my nose into the garden soil. Several maddening horseflies swarmed around me, landing on my shoulders and back to bite at me. A sense of urgency compels me to work harder and longer, and I am forever criticizing myself for not being able to do it all at once.
Sometimes when I look around the farm all I can see is an endless list of tasks that need my attention and projects that need funding. It’s terrifying to look at that new 1-acre garden already blushing green with weeds, knowing that it’s going to be overrun and impossible for one woman to control without better equipment.
That’s what keeps you humble, I think lol─as a farmer…. Knowing that no matter how hard you work, you will never be completely caught up. Then, just when you think it’s safe to breathe, Mother Nature throws a new curve ball at you. Like covid-19. Or a droughty growing season.
Regardless, Runamuk will continue to grow year by year, and I will continue to improve the systems in place here so that my work gets easier, and the farm becomes increasingly more productive. Now that I’ve been here a couple of years, I can see clearly the sort of infrastructure I need to have in place in order for Runamuk to be successful long-term, and already I have the investments for the next 2 years picked out to meet that goal.
Looking at it that way─with an eye on the bigger picture─I can tamp down that sense of panic that threatens to engulf me. So what if the garden is weedy in 2020?
I stand to stretch my back and legs, inhaling deeply as I close my eyes to just stand there. For a minute I allow myself to be one with the world around me. The sun is hot on my face, yellow behind my eyelids as an oh-so-subtle breeze toys with my fly-away hair. Birds in the trees around the garden call to one another, singing their sweet songs. A frog’s low croaking comes from the pond just down over the gully behind me: ba-room, ba-roooom. From the field out back a rooster crows and one of the young lambs maaa’s for my attention.
I am a farmer, and this is my farm. I am a facilitator of life─working to improve the soil, improve habitat, and cultivate a more prolific ecosystem on these scrappy 53-acres. My very being is now intertwined with all of these creatures, and all of these plants. For the next 40 years I will be working to make conditions more favorable for plant and animal life here. In return the land will feed and sustain myself and my family, as well as the community we are a part of. Soon enough I will have bigger and better harvests for the people this farm supports. That is my goal. This is my life now, and the legacy I will leave behind. Weeds and all.
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