Runamuk’s Stewardship Initiative

Runamuk’s Stewardship Initiative

With a sadistic mental laugh, I remind myself that I am sinking deeper into stewardship this year with my “Stewardship Initiative”. The icy 17pmh winds tore my breath away, stinging my cheeks as I carried yet another bucket of water out to the sheep. During the recent polar vortex, when temperatures across the region plunged, most folks hunkered down in their homes, monitoring household systems throughout the deep-freeze. For homesteaders and farmers alike, there is no escaping the elements. Livestock need more care during extreme weather, not less, and yours truly manned her post with firm resolve here at the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm.

Sinking into Stewardship

I struggled with the chain that holds the gate for the ewe-pen, my fingers already going numb inside my knitted mittens. The thermometer on the side of the garage read -18°, but the windchill was much worse. The wind here comes down off Mount Abraham to the west of us. I could hear it picking up speed as it came across the field. It’s actually quite beautiful to see the way the air currents can pick up fine snow and ice crystals from the surface of the blanketed field, swirling it up into the air, collecting more snow and more ice as it sweeps closer to the farm and outbuildings.

Some other day, I promised myself, when the temperature was not so brutal, I would stop to watch it. Finally managing to open the gate, I stepped through with the 5 gallon pail of water, effectively turning my back on the wall of snow and ice as it slammed into the garage. Taking a fortifying breath, I turned into the wind and made my way around the side of the ewe-shed. Staggering, trying to keep my feet on the path as the force of the wind sought to bring me down, I made it into the shelter with the majority of the water.

The Ewe-Shed!

The winter ewe-shed is constructed off the backside of the garage here at Runamuk, roughly an 8×16 shed with a roof sheathed in greenhouse film. I’m pretty proud of that little shed, lol, having constructed it myself using a combination of new and repurposed materials, along with the 6mil greenhouse plastic. I was able to house the sheep even on my bootstrap budget. Inside the shed, tucked out of the wind, it’s really very snug and cozy─especially once the sun climbs above the treeline.

Not bad for a girl, even if I do say so myself. Leastwise, the sheep have never complained about it!

I was quite anxious as I rounded the side of the structure, upon my first trip out to the livestock sheds at 7am. Amid the howling winds, I couldn’t hear any sounds from the animals when I came outside. When I stepped inside the ewe-shed though, there they all were, standing or laying down there on a bedding of hay. In the dim, blue light of the early morn, their expiration had created a misty sort of fog. It hung above them, under the low, slanted roof, clinging to their woolly bodies, making the ewes look almost ethereal as they stood there looking at me, rather surprised to see their farmer quite so early.

My fears melted away, and my heart swelled as I looked upon my little flock. Breathing a sigh of relief, I cast a glance toward the heavens, giving thanks to the Universe for this life I live. I am grateful every day to be here, doing this work. Farming─working with nature─is what I feel called to do. This is my life’s purpose. Regardless of how hard or how easy the work is, how miserable or joyful the existence, for me─I know in my soul─that this is what I am meant to do in this world. I am meant to grow food, feed families, and protect wildlife.

That is what I am doing here at the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm. And that is why I am sinking deeper into stewardship this year, with my “Stewardship Initiative”.


This love for nature has always been inside me. Wanting to be outdoors, to work and play outdoors, is another motivating factor which has guided me along in my progression into farming. Something of a tomboy as a girl, catching frogs, and turning over logs, or rocks, to find salamanders was a favorite pastime. As a teenager and young woman, I loved day-hikes and camping trips amid these glorious Maine woods. Spending time in nature is still my favorite thing to do. Nature has long been a balm for my soul, providing healing. Now, in tandem with the unconditional love offered by my livestock, I have found peace, fulfillment, and, most importantly─purpose─in this life I live. That is why, in addition to my commitment to grow as much food as I can, feeding my family and families across the surrounding communities, I am investing time and energy into stewardship this 2023 season.

favorite critter to raise
Honeybees at Runamuk Acres!

If you’ve followed along with my journey over the years (thank you!!!), you know that it has long been my intention to create some sort of wildlife refuge here at Runamuk Acres. Initially, that ambition was geared specifically toward pollinators─I had intended to transform the back field into a series of pollinator gardens. However, my concepts have evolved since then. I’ve moved beyond bees to focus my efforts instead on ALL of the teeny-tinies. Yes bees, but also benefical insects─all insects─above and below ground: worms, centipedes, beetles, and so many more. As a group, insects are wholly underappreciated in the animal kingdom, I feel, for the importance of the services they render within the community. And then there’s fungi, mycelium, and the microbial life living within the soil.

These “teeny-tinies” provide integral services for the community, and that community includes the soils, waters, plants and animals─as well as people. In my own personal evolution as a farmer, I’ve come to learn how the tiniest organisms really play the biggest role in the health and well-being of our environment. The ironic thing is that, this crucial group is largely overlooked because of the ick-factor. Generally, the teeny-tinies tend to creep folks out. They’re slimy, have too many legs, sting or bite. They’re sticky, and icky. They proliferate on the sidelines of our world, where we can easily avoid and ignore them. Or they reside in the ground where we never have to see them. Yet, these creatures and organisms are the facilitators of life on this planet, and without them, we would not be here─none of us.

Next Level

This will be my 5th season on this scrappy patch of Earth. The house and barn were constructed in 1901, but in all those years, aside from a small vegetable garden kept by the former owners, this property had never been farmed before I came to it. The field was once used as an air strip, and the soils of the 53 acres are generally sandy and acidic, low in organic matter, and low in nutrients. Growing anything here has been a challenge.

So I started with the soil. Employing methods of conservation agriculture (also known as regenerative agriculture), to remediate the land. We practiced rotational grazing on the field with Runamuk’s chickens and sheep. Every year, we add more compost and manure to the gardens, feeding those organisms in the soil, adding organic matter to provide better habitat for those unseen lifeforms. Now, after 4 years, we’re beginning to see the results of those efforts.

After 4 years of careful grazing, the field last summer was just magnificent. Once plant life there was sparse and thin. Now it is a veritable jungle, with thick swaths of purple-flowering vetch, and grasses taller than this farmer! And all of that just teeming with insects.

During the summer, one of my favorite things to do at the end of a long day of farming, is to sit in the Bug Shack and just gaze out across that field. Illuminated by the late afternoon’s golden sunshine, the air is fairly swarming with flying insects: flies, blackflies, mosquitos and minges, sure─our minds always seem to veer to the annoyances first. But also, so many dragonflies, butterflies, and many other species, too.

With such an abundant food source, birds of all kinds were drawn to the field. The bluebird population abounds, as does the local turkey flock─and the deer. Looking out upon the farm and field like that, I realized that it’s time to take my conservation efforts to the next level. And, that’s why I’m launching Runamuk’s “Stewardship Initiative”.

Stewardship Initiative

The Stewardship Initiative is designed to inject time, money, and energy into the conservation side of Runamuk. In addition to my commitment to grow as much food as I possibly can─feeding my family, and families across the surrounding communities─I want to focus on stewardship. If the goal is to create a wildlife refuge and nature center where the public can come to connect with nature, then I still have a lot of work to do here. Check out my to-do list below to learn more about my plan!

1. Create a land stewardship property management plan.
Using this rural resource guideline provided by the Oregon State University Extension Service, I am already assembling a property management plan for Runamuk’s acreage. This will be an important tool in clarifying our goals, helping us to focus and prioritize projects. It will help me to communicate my intentions for this wildlife refuge to others. Most importantly, this document will demonstrate Runamuk’s commitment─my commitment─to stewardship. Our land stewardship property management plan will be assembled together in a binder, and available to anyone for review upon request.

2. Ecological Monitoring.
Watching for, and documenting the presence or absence of species in this local habitat will be a primary objective for Runamuk. Already, I’ve contracted more than 40 acres to the United States for conservation for the next 50 years. I can’t wait to see how this young forest grows up. I think it will be fascinating to keep records documenting the different flora and fauna, to see how the habitat changes in the years to come. As steward here, I take it upon myself to cultivate those records.

3. Citizen Science Programs
Big Night is back! With the intention of bringing local citizen scientists together with the objective of helping the resident amphibian population during their annual mass migration. Runamuk will also participate in Cornell’s nationwide nest monitoring program, Nest Watch. In the not-too-distant future, too, I aspire for Runamuk to collaborate with the Maine Forest Ecology Research Network, adding our data to theirs for public benefit. From long-term datasets, foresters model and predict future change to make informed decisions about how to manage forests for ecological health and economic productivity.

birdhouse in snowstorm
More birdhouses!

4. Building & Growing!
Birdhouses: The property actually came with a number of existing bluebird houses scattered about the edges of the field. My goal is to add more birdhouses, especially birdhouses for other species of birds. Using the plans and designs provided by the Audubon Society, my son, BraeTek, and I will build a number of prototype birdhouses as part of our homeschool program. I have plans for an owl house, chickadee house, and houses for robins, phoebes, and finches. Community members are invited to participate in Runamuk’s “Birdhouse Workshop” scheduled for April 22nd. Help us make birdhouses for our wildlife refuge, and learn more about how you can help birds and native wildlife in your own backyard. Contact the farm for more info, or to signup today!

Benches: Sometimes, when I go for a walk in the woods, I like to sit awhile in the thick of it, absorbing what I can of those peaceful and soothing natural energies. To encourage visitors to sit for a spell amidst nature, I would like to put together 2 or 3 simple benches, which will be distributed at the edge of the field, near the gurgling stream, and at my favorite crossing in the midst of the forest.

Info Kiosks: To help visitors find their way around, and to display information about the wildlife refuge, and it’s inhabitants, we will erect at least one information kiosk.

Perennial Gardens: Having a diversity of flowering plants growing about the farm not only makes the place more beautiful, but also provides food and habitat for wildlife. Since I came to this property, my focus has been on building the farm, feeding the soil, and growing the farm-business. The 3 perennial gardens have been sorely neglected. With this in mind, I’ve decided now is time to rectify that! I’m growing some new perennials─flowers and herbs─specifically for these gardens. On May 20th, we will host a work-party dedicated solely to the maintainance and cultivation of our perennial gardens. Local volunteers are invited to come learn more about using native perennials in the garden and landscape to promote wildlife where you live. Stay tuned for more info, or contact the farm today to sign up!

Trail Maintenance: With a network of trails running through the forest here, some annual maintenance is required. Once a year, we go out to prune the trees alongside the trails. This keeps them open for the public to continue to enjoy all year.

2nd Remote Campsite: Did you know we have a remote campsite available in the depths of our conservation lands? The campsite is set amid a grove of young Hackmatack trees, with a fire-ring and a picnic table, too. The site is listed with Hipcamp, and offers adventurers a quiet, out-of-the-way spot to connect with nature, while still being within range of myriad outdoor recreational attractions for daytime activities. This year, we will establish a second campsite, and give some time and energy to promoting this aspect of the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm.

Community Involvement: It is with the intention of creating a place where the public can come to connect with the natural world around them, that I have cultivated this little wildlife refuge of mine. To me, it only makes sense that the public should have the opportunity to participate in activities and going-ons at Runamuk. Through citizen science programs like the Maine Big Night Project, workshops and work-parties, and an upcoming fundraiser─I hope to inspire and engage the local community to join us at the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm to connect with nature. Check back soon for details on 2023 events!

Person to Person

It feels oh-so right, to me, to be sinking deeper into stewardship this year. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty to do on the farm-side of things. Growing, raising, making or baking food is something of a compulsion for me. I quite literally have to do it. I think that primal part of my brain is fairly strong─the instinctive side of me. I guess I’ve always felt that food is security, and so long as we have food to eat, we can survive just about anything. The storm outside can be raging, the wolves can be at the door, but with food, a warm home, and your family about you─all is not lost. Hope remains.

And so, I will continue to produce as much food as I possibly can, feeding my own family, along with families of surrounding communities─and I will simultaneously push my Stewardship Initiative, too. There’s a reason I call it the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm. I’m serious about protecting our planet from abuse. I’m serious about doing all that I can to promote the well-being of nature─the soils, waters, plants, and animals.

Long ago, I realized that simply making noise about environmental reform would get the individual citizen no where fast. What possible effect could one young woman have on the greed and corruption that runs our government? What could I do that would really make a difference? I cannot control the actions of the politicians in Washington. Nor can I control the minds of the masses. The only one I can control, is me.

Do not wait for leaders. Do it alone, person to person.

Mother Teresa

I firmly believe, that living in coexistence with the natural world around us is the right thing to do. The ethical, honorable, and noble thing for humanity to do, is to learn to live within our means─and our means is whatever our planet can feasibly support without causing harm or damage to the others within our communities. And the community is not limited only to people. The community is our soils and waters, and all of the plants, animals, insects, fungi, and microorganisms that depend upon it. We are all in this together, and the sooner we start showing some respect for the other lifeforms we share this planet with, the sooner we can start learning to co-habitate together in peace.

Taking a Stand

what can you do for your planet

If the only one I can control is me, and the only thing I have control over is this farm, then this is how I choose to make my stand. I will lead by example, working to improve the health and well-being of the community that resides upon my 53 acres. I will not wait for leaders. I will do it alone, person to person─connecting people with nature at the ground level. Even if half those people only come to Runamuk Acres for our fresh, local food, I will still be teaching those people more about how food is grown in collaboration with nature. That experience plants the seed for new ideas and concepts to bloom forth in seasons yet to come, and is worth cultivating, I think. In this way, the impact of the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm can be far reaching, and far more meaningful than anything that’s come out of our collective global governments in generations. #mytwocents

Thank you for following along with the story of this female-farmer! It truly is a privilege to live this life, serve my family and community, and protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!


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Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm