And just like that September is here; summer is winding down, the kids are back in school, and all focus is shifting to winter preparations. Runamuk’s first growing season upon our forever-farm home has certainly had it’s share of ups and downs. Yet, even though finances are stupid-tight and I’m facing another winter here without a snowblower, I’m feeling good about the state of things at Runamuk. Like─really good.
The growing season’s not quite over yet. I still have a lot of veggies in the garden that I’ll be harvesting well into the fall, but my attention (like so many other folks in these parts) has shifted to winter preparations. I have a lot of animals and beehives to make ready, a garden to put to bed, and a big house to secure before the first snows come.
In the past, the personal deadline I’ve set for completion of Runamuk’s winter prep was Thanksgiving. Last year, however, our first snow storm came 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. From that point on I was unable to get fencing up for the livestock, and I ended up with my precious electric-net fencing burried under 5 feet of snow and animals that completely disregarded it come March. So the revised deadline is now Halloween; which means I have less time and more work than ever before to make my farm ready for winter.
It’s a huge advantage for Runamuk to have it’s farmer 100% of the time─and we’ve made some great strides this season because of it. I won’t lie to you and say that it hasn’t been a tough adjustment, though…
A Big Jump
To go from being a landless farmer, to finally having a piece of ground to work with, was a big jump. I admit it’s taken a while for me to come up to speed. Giving up part-time work came earlier than I’d initially planned for, so add that financial weight to your pack when making the leap and you might struggle too. There’s so much to do; everywhere I look I see chores and projects that need doing, and I’m the one responsible for doing them.
I was overwhelmed, and worried maybe the naysayers were right…maybe I really did bite off more than I can chew. Maybe I really am just a deluded young woman who should get a real job, and do like everyone else and just garden or beekeep as a hobby. Why can’t I be happy just living inside the fence like everybody else?
A Solitary Existence
Honestly, I think I wasn’t entirely prepared for the level of isolation that comes with being a single farmer; living alone is still as new to me as this house is. I think, though, that anyone─man or woman─would struggle to some degree with such a solitary existence as this. There are days on end when I don’t venture off this property; someone might stop in for eggs or veggies, but that interaction is short-lived and infrequent. It’s not so bad when the kids are on the farm, but on the weekends when they’re away at their father’s the house feels as big as it really is, and the absence of companionship is more pronounced.
I balked at it in the beginning, and tried to fill the void through dating─searching for my BFF and partner in life. That, however, only succeeded in further defining the distance between myself and the rest of society.
It hurt more than you might think it would…to realize that one’s lifestyle─especially the values and principles you’ve built a rich and meaningful life around─is so far outside the realm of the ordinary that most people can’t even comprehend it. For most people, it’s too much work, too much sacrifice, and not enough money.
People ask me fairly frequently: “Are you doing this all on your own?”
The answer is: “Yes, it’s just me.” They’re not lining up to be the next Mr. Runamuk, and, truthfully, I won’t share it with just anyone.
First Sign of Fall
“Look,” said John, bagel-baker at West Branch Bakery. He was pointing to something in the sky outside the little barn at Rolling Fatties. We─the producers who vend there, together with the local patronage─were congregated for the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, with glasses of local craft beer in hand as we enjoyed the live music on that Friday evening in late summer.
My gaze followed his, searching, til I spotted the distinctive orange blush to the crown of the tall oak outside the Rolling Fatties farmhouse.
“The first sign of fall!” I exclaimed, suddenly giddy with excitement.
Despite the work of winter preparations, and the impending cold and snow that will follow on it’s heels, Autumn is one of my favorite seasons. It’s the harvest season, a season of plenty, and the season for dry, crunchy, fragrant fall leaves. Autumn marks the start of a season for tradition and family, for drawing together and celebrating. It’s also a season for self-reflection, and when I saw those fiery orange leaves on the oak outside Rolling Fatties, I suddenly knew what I had to do.
I leaned in.
Like I’ve done so many times before. I leaned into the storm, put my weight into it, and embraced the work and the isolation. Time alone is actually really good for creative types; and it’s not like there isn’t enough to keep me busy and occupied in my sequestration.
A Rogue Chicken
Somewhat belatedly, I realized that I’m rather like my rogue chickens─who are happier risking their lives outside the protection of the fence, than living with the rest of the flock inside it. That’s why I’m not happy with a regular job and regular hobbies like the vast majority of society; I’m a damned rogue chicken!!!
At length, it dawned on me that I’m actually fairly content being here and doing this on my own. It allows me the freedom to be me without restraint. What’s more, doing this alone allows me to build my farm up the way I’ve always envisioned─without having to make compromises to satisfy a partner. Maybe that’s a little selfish, but after 10 years working toward this goal─researching agriculture and planning every minute detail of the Runamuk farm─it’s hard to make concessions.
I remembered, too, that it’s not the critic who counts. It doesn’t matter what they say. I’m here now. Against all odds, this girl from the backwoods of Maine, who comes from a dysfunctional, blue-collar family, without a penny to her name, and no agricultural lineage to speak of─managed to buy herself a farm. I did that.
Going through the FSA was probably the smartest thing I could have done, too. The government doesn’t want the farm back; the $180K this property cost is just a drop in the bucket to them! Hell─there are probably politicians with toilet seats that cost more than that! And there are certainly politicians who spend more than that on golf-trips…
The FSA, with the programs and resources they offer farmers, has really allowed me the flexibility I need during this phase of the farm, and I wouldn’t be doing even half so well if it weren’t for that support. If you’re reading this blog trying to figure out how to emulate my success, I would urge any beginning farmer to reach out to their local USDA branch to begin exploring the options available to you.
We came to do our grocery shopping for the week with you.
These are probably the sweetest words any farmer can ever hear, and something I take as a huge compliment.
It was Friday night and Runamuk was set up at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market once again. I recognized the couple─they’ve come through the farmers’ market before, I think…or maybe they stopped by the farm? I couldn’t remember their names, but they remembered me enough that they made it a point to bring their reusable cloth shopping bags.
Later in the weekend, on Sunday, I bartered $150 worth of Runamuk’s finest produce for a set of bunkbeds to expand the farmstay. I was brave enough to ask if they’d consider a trade, and these folks were happy to have the fresh, locally produced food, so it worked out well for all of us.
And on Monday, when the guests Runamuk had hosted over the holiday weekend made ready to depart, they bought their groceries for the week to take home with them.
What a rewarding feeling to know that I am feeding these households this week!!!
I am Woman; Hear me Roar
I remember feeling rather as though I was standing on a precipice last year as I counted the days to Closing. Buying a farm requires a leap of faith. You hurl yourself off that cliff hoping against hope that your belief is strong enough to carry you through to success and safety. For me, with no formal education, no agricultural legacy, and no partner─it was a huge leap.
Picture me, if you will, with the comically overburdened ruck-sack that is my farm. My 2 kids are clinging to me like baby sloths─or opossums? No─my boys would be something akin to baby orangutans who are fighting at each other with their long-ass arms as I attempt to bridge the gap. My own arms and legs are flailing as I sail through the air, reaching for that ladder across the way, trying not to look down at the Gorge of Doom far below us. Somehow I managed to grasp the very last rung of that rickety old ladder, and now I’m fighting to pull us all to safety.
Summoning every last ounce of strength, she reached for the next rung on the ladder; she would not give up. Sheer grit and determination fueled her climb. Straining she pulled for all she was worth, muscles bulging, gaining first one rung and then another. Under the heavy burden of farm and family, the Earth’s mighty warrior priestess climbed slowly, pulling herself one rung at a time out of the Gorge of Doom….
They say mentality is your biggest asset, right? 😉
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