Deliveries on the Back-Roads of Maine

deliveries on the backroads of maine

I have to admit that deliveries on the back roads of Maine have long been a favored pastime for this farmer. Countless little roads thread their way across the landscape, beckoning the traveler off the 2-lane highways and deeper into the heart of the state. Here are the places where Maine’s legacy still exists─a hold-over from days gone by. Steeped in history and tradition, these back-roads fascinate me. Delivering Runamuk’s farm-goods to households in these rural and wild parts of Maine is never a chore, but a privilege I am grateful for.

deliveries on the backroads of maine
One of Maine’s many backroads.

Roaming the Backroads

When I was a girl, my mother would occasionally load her 3 children─myself, my younger brother and my baby sister─into the beat-up yellow station wagon our family owned. She drove the car out of town, stopping along the way at Casey’s Market in Anson to buy ham Italian sandwiches (another Maine tradition) and other picnic provisions. Then she drove northward, away from the cities and towns, into the depths of the Maine wilderness. Sometimes we went swimming at Embden Pond. Sometimes we were fishing little streams off an unknown bridge on a dirt road somewhere in Moscow or Rangeley. Other times we picked blueberries behind an abandoned farmhouse in Phillips, or blackberries under the powerlines in New Vineyard. These are treasured memories for me, and probably my favorite memories of my mother.

Roaming the backroads became a habit when my eldest son, William, was a baby. Sometimes a ride in the car was the only way to get him to nap. The backroad drives became a means of escape when life became rocky for me, and I spent countless hours rolling down one dirt road or another, searching for my forever farmhouse.

While progress comes to southern and central Maine, creeping ever northward into rural areas, off the beaten path old Maine still exists. Forgotten farmhouses in varying conditions are scattered in unknown river valleys. Above them on a high hill or mountainside, little log cabins complete with outhouse are hidden in the dense forests.

stonewall on the backroads of maine
The stonewalls criss-crossing the landscape were constructed by hand by early farmers to Maine!

Maine’s Legacy

Stone walls running along the roadside speak of a legacy almost forgotten, while massive maples act as sentries, lining the roads. Gnarled branches spread out overhead as you pass beneath the trees. Sometimes that legacy has been maintained, the fields preserved, the old farmhouse in-tact. Other times the forest has reclaimed the fields where livestock once grazed, and all that remains of the farmhouse is a stone foundation in the earth only visible during spring or fall, when the forest vegetation has died back, allowing the secrets of the landscape to be seen.

In these parts there still exists many family homesteads with backyard gardens and a coop full of chickens. Here people still go smelting and eat fiddleheads in the spring. They make strawberry-rhubarb pies and can jars of raspberry jam. In the fall they hunt to put meat in their freezer and during the winter they go ice fishing. People in these parts are still connected to the land and Maine’s rich agricultural legacy thrives even in this modern society. These are my people. This is where I belong.

backroad adventures
Where in Maine?

Committed to Local Food

When they were younger, egg-deliveries were the perfect excuse to get out of the house without the kids and take a drive down a backroad. As Runamuk grew, I gave up the deliveries in favor of setting up at the local farmers’ market. Getting back to delivery over the course of this winter has been wonderful. Ironically, it prepared my farm in advance for the coronavirus pandemic. I was offering delivery before delivery became a necessity, and I really haven’t had to change much about how I do business.

In fact, more than 20 households have enrolled to participate in Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Share program. These people have committed to local food─they’ve committed to Runamuk─and they have such faith in my abilities that they’ve even pre-paid to have dibs on the food I am producing. That is a huge compliment to this humble farmer, and something that is not taken lightly. It is now my responsibility to ensure that those families have access to high-quality, fresh foods every week. This is serious business.

I’ve been preparing for this all winter, though─ramping up production and putting different pieces in place. I am ready and eager to do the work. Shelves upon shelves of seedlings sit under lights inside the farmhouse waiting for the ground to warm up. This past weekend I was finally able to get the hoop-house closed in to allow for expanded seedling production. These plants will fill my expanded gardens, and will eventually fill bellies within my local community.

farmer sam card
This is a card from one of the families I serve.      3yo Rory loves my blueverry muffins!

To me, there is no higher honor than to be someone’s farmer. It truly is my privilege to be able to stock the shelves at the Runamuk farmstand, to make these deliveries on the backroads of Maine, and to feed and nurture the people and places I hold most dear. Who’s your farmer?

Note: The deadline to enroll in Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Share program is Thursday, April 30th.
Click here for details and to read about the special perks I’m offering members. Those who are interested in participating, but are either waiting for tax returns, stimulus checks, or are simply strapped for cash, please don’t hesitate to contact the farm to ask about late-payments, payment arrangements, potential bartering opportunities, or work-shares. I really want to make high-quality, fresh foods accessible to as many households as possible. That is my commitment to my local community.

Thanks for following along with the story of the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm! Subscribe by email to receive the latest blog-posts directly to your inbox. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

Stepping Down as Manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market

friends at market

After 6 long years, the time has finally come: I am stepping down as manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market. This was a difficult decision for me, but with Runamuk’s new #foreverfarm home, I feel confident that I am making the right move for me. I’m looking forward to devoting all of my time and energy to Runamuk, and to bringing my vision for a pollinator conservation center to life.

Why Volunteer?

For the last 10 years I’ve given my time and energy to a number of local organizations, trying to do my part to support my community, striving to be the change I want to see in the world. I truly believe community involvement is important─not just for the community, but also for ourselves. Volunteering your time and energy for a cause helps you grow as a person, you learn new things, meet new people, and are intrinsically rewarded for the service you do. I really think everyone should be involved somehow in something that matters to them.

Volunteer-work is also a good way for someone to establish credibility in their community, build a reputation and network with new people. For me, it was a powerful tool in growing Runamuk; people in this region of Maine have come to associate me with Runamuk, and Runamuk with bees and bee-conservation. I strongly encourage beginning farmers wanting to break into the market (or any person looking to make a name for themselves) to seek out ways to get involved with the community you will be serving─get to know the people and learn what gaps exist that you could fill, or seize unexpected opportunities that might present themselves through associations with the locals.

Serving the Madison Farmers’ Market

For me, it all started with the Master Gardeners’ program at my local cooperative extension. From there I went on to establish the Somerset Beekeepers and served as president of that group for 6 years. I served as a 4H leader for a time, and of course, there’s my service to the Madison Farmers’ Market. I know that many of the opportunities I have had, would not have been presented to me had I not put myself out there, given of my time and energies to these programs and my community.

Of all of those programs and services, the Madison Farmers’ Market is the one that is nearest and dearest my heart. Facilitating local food in my hometown, supporting local agriculture in this region where I grew up, and just getting to know my community on a very personal level─has had a profound impact on my life.

maine regions map
Madison on the Maine map.

For those who are not from the area, Madison is a fairly rural town, located along the banks of the Kennebec River, in what is known as the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine. Even with fewer than 5 thousand inhabitants, Madison is a mecca for the many outlying villages that are scattered throughout the Foothills and the closest access to a grocery store, banks and gas stations.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market, not only have we cultivated meaningful friendships between fellow farmers, we’ve also developed some strong relationships with the locals of Madison, and it’s “sister-city”, Anson, just on the other side of the river. We’ve met people from the villages of Starks, Embden, and North Anson. One woman comes from as far north as Salem (an unincorporated Maine township located 10 or so miles north-westerly from Kingfield) to visit the market. These relationships, and getting to know the people of the area where I was born and raised, where I have chosen to stay and raise my own children─these are what I treasure most about being a part of the Madison Farmers’ Market.

I’ve learned so much about farming and growing food just by spending my Saturdays peddling my wares in the parking lot at the Main Street Park in Madison, Maine. Sitting there in all types of weather, with my comrades in arms (just figuratively, lol!), discussing all manner of topics, learning from each other as we offer locally produced foods and goods to the people.

Though I am stepping down as market-manager, Runamuk will continue as a member of the market, and dedicated patrons will still be able to find me at the Madison Farmers’ Market every Saturday selling my wares.

Some Highlights From My Career as Market-Manager

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ISO Volunteers

So who will step up to fill my shoes? What will happen to the Madison Farmers’ Market now that Sam is stepping down?

That I can’t say….

Currently the Madison Farmers’ Market is in search of a volunteer─or better yet: a group of volunteers─who can take on the responsibilities of the market duties. There is the possibility of a stipend for a “market-manager”, though I do not know yet how much that stipend might be. What we’d really like to see is a committee, made up of at least 3 volunteers: a treasurer, secretary/marketing person, and an EBT-point person who will spearhead the Maine Harvest Bucks program for the community (the program that allows the market to offer EBT/SNAP shoppers bonus-dollars for purchase of fruits and vegetables).

Without help the Madison Farmers’ Market will no longer be able to accept credit, debit, or EBT cards at the market, and we will surely have to relinquish the Maine Harvest Bucks program.

Serve Your Community!

If you’re reading this from the Madison-Anson area and are interested in supporting local agriculture─consider giving of yourself to the Madison Farmers’ Market. If you have a passion for increasing local food access, serve your community by serving it’s farmers’ market. And most definitely, if you’re a beginning farmer in the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine, think about building your reputation by getting involved the Madison Farmers’ Market.

Even if you’re located elsewhere, I still encourage you to participate somehow in your local community. Many wonderful services and programs exist only because of the people who freely give of their time and of themselves to facilitate them. What’s more, you’ll be enriching your own life at the same time. But (in the words of Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow) “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Get involved today and find out for yourself!

Please share this post to help the Madison Farmers’ Market find new volunteers so that we can keep our special services going for the people of Madison-Anson and the surrounding rural areas. Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer!

Big news at Madison Farmers’ Market!

fun-and-games-at-market

This will be the Madison Farmers’ Market’s 5th season and what a season it is shaping up to be! I’m so excited and so proud that I’m fairly bursting! We have some big changes planned and despite the snow in our local forecast, the days are getting longer and I have faith that spring will soon be here and I will be in the dirt once more.

big-news-at-the-mfm_fiNew Vendors!

Our little market has grown from just two lonely farmers along the side of the road on Main Street in Madison to twelve farmers this year, with the recent addition of two new vendors. At our annual New Applicant Meeting we met with potential vendors and unanimously voted to bring Steelbow Farm and S&S Kid Farm into the fold. Coincidentally, both these farms are located on the Father Rasle Rd on the Norridgewock side.

Finnegan and Jason are transplants to the area, working with a local land-owner to establish their farm here in Maine. They’re offering mixed vegetables and a CSA program─both with the Madison market and also in Bangor.

Shana Brown is a local whom I’ve been acquainted with for years. She raises goats and makes fabulous goat cheeses, as well as goats’ milk soap and different body butters. Shana also grows vegetables and raises rabbits, so you may see some of that from her too.

Switching to Saturday!

maple-products-at-market
Haulk’s Maple of Madison with a wide variety of Maine maple products.

When we first started the Madison Farmers’ Market, we worried about having to compete with the larger and well-established Skowhegan Farmers’ Market. We went with Sunday and have actually developed a select following of customers who like that we’re available on Sunday. However, while the market has seen some growth, the rate is not at the level our local farmers require in order to meet their income needs. What’s more, it has become apparent that in-town Madison is much busier on Saturday than it is on Sunday. After several years observing our community, our farmers have concluded that─in general─the people of Madison-Anson seem to like to do their running around on Saturday so that they can stay at home or go to church on Sunday. With that in mind (and after much debate), our farmers have voted democratically to take this big and bold step in order to better meet the needs of both the community and it’s farmers.

Madison Farmers’ Market
is switching to Saturdays!

The market will continue to be held in the parking lot at the Main Street Park in Madison, directly across the street from Skowhegan Savings Bank from 9am to 2pm. We will host all of the same vendors with the same great, locally produced foods and products, but we’ll be there on Saturdays rather than Sunday. We will continue our participation in the Harvest Bucks program in order to be able to offer bonus-bucks to EBT-shoppers too. Hopefully this means more local folks will be encouraged to shop and eat local foods, but just in case that wasn’t enough incentive to come to the Madison Farmers’ Market this summer─there’s more!

Introducing our new Kid’s Club!

annual-farmers-market-convention-maine
Trisha Smith at MFFM’s recent convention.

Regular readers of the Runamuk blog may recall that I recently attended my second-ever farmers’ market convention back in January. After sitting through a presentation entitled “Bringing the whole family: integrating youth and family programming at the farmers’ market”, I was inspired to begin our very own Kid’s Club program at the Madison Farmers’ Market. It is my hope that with this program we will not only inspire enthusiasm for fresh, local foods in the next generation of market-shoppers, but also build relationships between the community and it’s farmers.

Our market in Madison is already super family-friendly. Several of us bring children with us to market and we’ve gotten pretty creative with our shenanigans there. Check it out:

changes-at-farmers-market
Here is my son with fellow-farmer Crym Sullivan of Sidehill Farm in Madison: squash-bowling at market is a competitive sport!
fun-for-kids-at-farmers-market
We don’t just paint faces at market, Jessica Paul creates beautiful works of art on each child!
kids-club-at-farmers-market
We love little ones at the Madison Farmers’ Market!
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Who says you shouldn’t play with your food?!
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More fun and games at market.

How does the Kids’ Club work?

madison-farmers-market-kids-clubTheme-Days: For each week of the program I’ve planned some really fun themes like “Shoots & Sprouts Day” and “Decomposers Day” in observance of National Gardening Month, and “Birds & Bees Day” in honor of National Pollinators Week. Other fun themes include “Alien Day” as part of World UFO Day, “Mid-Summer’s Day” to celebrate the Summer Solstice, and “Adventure Day”─think Indiana Jones, Star Wars, LOTR and every fairy tale or fantasy you’ve ever read or watched.

Special Events: As part of the Kid’s Club program, on July 9th the market will host “Every Day Heroes Day” to show appreciation for our local firefighters, law enforcement, paramedics, nurses and other such every-day heroes. I hope to have the local fire department come with a firetruck, as well as our local sheriff (who actually has been an occasional patron to the market–yay!) and maybe even a local game warden. Then on August 20th, to observe International Homeless Animals Day, we’ve scheduled “Man’s Best Friend Day” with a pet food and supply drive to benefit the Somerset County Humane Society. Our annual Harvest Celebration will conclude the program on Saturday, September 9th.

Sponsored by Backyard Farms!

madison-farmers-market-kids-club-passport-book
Prototype of the Kids’ Club Passport.

In order to pay for this program, I had to seek local sponsorship to cover the cost of the $2 tokens for the kids (I set a goal of 100 kids for the first year of this new program), along with the supplies needed for the crafts and activities planned over the course of the season. After meeting with Tim Curtis (Madison’s town manager) with a host of materials–including a prototype of the Kid’s Club Passport, a program overview, and some initial ideas for market-themes–Tim took my prepared materials and approached Backyard Farms on the market’s behalf. As you probably know, Backyard Farms is a huge greenhouse right here in Madison where over 200 employees grow tomatoes all year-round. In fact, believe it or not – this is their 10th anniversary!

Within days, I had a response from Jim Darroch, Director of Marketing at Backyard Farms, who said:

Teaching children to develop healthy eating habits can be challenging for busy parents. Especially if their kids are picky eaters or reluctant to try new things. Not only does this passport idea make it fun for kids to try different fruits and vegetables, it makes it easier for Mom or Dad too.

How amazing is that!?

Getting the word out

groundswell-seed-farm
Marafax beans─an heirloom variety─available from Groundswell Seed Farm of Embden.

Now that I’ve got the details and funding of the Kid’s Club squared away, all that remains is to get the word out to the community about this great new─and free─program. As luck would have it, when I went to that annual farmers’ market convention I was able to reconnect with Cheryl Curtis, who has been a friend of the Madison Farmers’ Market since it’s inception.

Cheryl is now working for Somerset Public Health visiting local schools teaching nutrition, and I am going to be allowed to accompany her to introduce the Kid’s Club to my target audience. In May I will visit children in grades K through 6 at Madison Elementary, Garret Schenck Elementary in Anson, and the Carrabec Community School in North Anson. Flyers will also be sent home with students to inform parents, and even more flyers will be distributed across the communities by myself and my “army of farmers”.

Come see us at market!

madison-maine-farmers-marketMarket season for the Madison Farmers’ Market begins on May 13th this year─that’s the second Saturday of the month. If you’ve been a devoted patron to our market, then we hope you’ll be able to come see us on our new day; for locals who have been considering giving the market a try but haven’t made it because of scheduling conflicts, we hope these big and bold changes encourage you to come see us.

I’m so proud of the community we’ve been able to build through our farmers’ market. Over the last few years, we’ve seen slow but steady growth and we’ve developed some great relationships with customers and friends to the market. Our local farmers are an eclectic bunch─all kind, friendly and knowledgeable people. Each and every one of them are dedicated to farming and to bringing fresh, local foods to the people of Madison and Anson.  It truly is a wonderful feeling to be a part of something so vibrant, honest and inspiring, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Be sure to follow the Madison Farmers’ Market on facebook for market-reminders, special event listings, and up-to-date information from your local farmers.

The great farm move

great farm move

Well we made it. Runamuk has arrived at Paul’s place in Norridgewock. These beginning farmers are now “trailersteading”. The official address is 26 Goodine Way, which is off of Ward Hill and still close to Madison and Anson where I vend and manage the farmers’ market, and where my kids attend school. It’s been one hell of an emotional roller coaster over the last couple of months, with the stress and anxiety only intensifying as moving day at Runamuk drew closer and closer.

building-supplies
Building materials for the new hoop-coop that I constructed for the laying flock.

It’s an overwhelming prospect to move a whole farm; not only does the farmer have an entire household and family to pack up and move, but also a myriad of tools and equipment between garage and barn, storage sheds and outbuildings. To make matters even more sticky, there’s equipment in use and  spread out across the acreage that needs to be pulled off, cleaned and packed up. Then there’s the pets and livestock who need accommodations at the new location to be in place before they can be moved, and who need careful planning and consideration for a transition that’s as smooth and stress-free to the animal as possible.

I have been out straight with packing and preparations, harvesting the garden, culling chickens to downsize the flock and constructing a new coop to house the rest of the birds. Meanwhile, Paul’s been working himself ragged to prepare his trailer for my arrival─staying alone in Norridgewock several nights a week, burning both ends of the candle so that he could get the electricity and plumbing installed before my entourage and I descended upon the place.

It’s really impressive the amount of work he’s put into this old trailer. Paul bought the 12×50 mobile home and the 40-something acres it sits on from his aunt about 6 years ago and proceeded to gut the old trailer. He’s reinforced the entire structure with 2×4 framing and a new floor. He replaced the insulation, rewired and replumbed the whole thing. He’s removed the oil-burning forced hot-air heating system and put in a new woodstove.

Even with all of these improvements and modifications it’s still little more than a well-insulated camper. None of it is pretty. It’s all purely functional, but Paul’s ugly-duckling property provides the long-term stability Runamuk and I need to gain ground and grow until I can find a piece of property that meets my vision for Runamuk’s forever-farm setting.

great farm move
No critter left behind; not even a lazy farm cat!

We moved the bulk of the household things on Friday, September 30th, and then made the official leap on Wednesday with Murphy, the 3 lazy farm cats and my 2 boys. The laying flock I moved over the course of Friday and Saturday nights, and the bunnies I’ll relocate tonight and tomorrow. There are still a few pieces of large equipment to move, some clean up to take care of in Starks and next week we’ll move the beehives.

It was barely 5am on Saturday morning when Phillip the rooster’s crowing pierced the still dark of early morning there at Goodine Way. I imagined him disturbing the neighbors who live close by and I smiled as I said to myself, “Runamuk is here.” The hardest part is over. The critters and I are settling into familiar routines at Paul’s place; soon I’ll have my feet under me and I’ll be off and running once more.

Stay tuned folks!

Gaining perspective

Murphy and I, along with a good friend of mine, climbed Pleasant Pond Mountain in Caratunk on Friday, reconnecting with another passion of mine: hiking and climbing mountains.

hiking the at
The AT trail up Pleasant Pond Mountain.

Not the scaling rock kind of mountain-climbing where you need harnesses and specialty rope─noooo, I’m not that coordinated, lol. But the Appalachian-Trail kind of hiking and mountain climbing for sure. I’ve even toyed with the idea of hiking the AT, but so far I’ve just climbed a few random mountains across Maine and New Hampshire.

I admit I’ve been pretty down and broken-hearted about losing Jim’s farm─going through the whole gamut of emotions one would typically expect when they lose a loved one: grief, sadness, anger, self-doubt…more sadness. And just when I think I have a handle on it all, there comes a rain shower falling so beautifully upon the meadow, or a glorious sunset over the mountain view, and it puts me to tears all over again.

Despite the emotional roller coaster I am picking myself up. I know these are the challenges beginning farmers face. I know I am not the only one going through this kind of upheaval; at least 2 other farming-friends of mine are experiencing farm-displacement this season. I did everything I could to try to make it work at Jim’s place. Believe me when I say I’ve exhausted all options and I am exhausted. Their brother is long gone and the Murphy family want to sell the place and be done with it. At this point in time there is nothing that I can do to bridge the gap to secure this farm for Runamuk. I have to accept that, and so do my supporters.

This is not the end for Runamuk or for me, but it has made me question who I am, what I’m doing, and what’s actually important to me. I can make a living on less land for sure. I don’t need the big house and the big mortgage only holds me back.

It’s the dream that tears me up the most I suppose. My grand dream for a pollinator conservation center here in this region of Maine. Picture a park-like setting akin to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, with varying types of gardens and meadows geared toward different types of pollinators. There would be walking paths through the gardens, meadows and forest, will plaques identifying the habitat and informing visitors about the flowers planted there and the pollinators who visit them. There would be bird houses for a variety of species, a bat house, and an education center where visitors of all ages could come to play and learn. Picture a shaded area with picnic tables, and imagine rustic wooden benches in secluded sections of the trail where visitors could stop and sit awhile to admire the sound of insects pollinating, to bird watch, or to meditate. And there would be a view of the western Maine mountains to top it off.

maine mtns
Personal note: I have a mountain fetish.

Imagine the kind of tourism that such a park might bring to the economically depressed region that is Somerset County. With papermills closing and much of our manufacturing jobs outsourced overseas this region needs more businesses and more people coming to the area to spend their money.

Madison-Anson is along the route between the coast and the mountains and Canada. There is a lot of traffic moving through our area heading in one direction or the other, but we see very little business from that traffic. This conservation center could entice more travelers to stop for a visit on their way north or south, and I hoped it would bring some tourists away from the coast to visit inland Maine.

That’s the dream I have.

view from pleasant pond mountain
Maine’s coast is beautiful too, but the state’s western mountain ranges are glorious too.

But that dream is out of reach at the moment. I’m putting it aside; tabling it for the time being, while I focus my attention on the apiary and building an income. I need stability and security after all this, and I know I can generate an income with the bees, and─hopefully─with my writing.

Atop Pleasant Pond Mtn_Selfie
Murphy and I at the top of Pleasant Pond Mountain.

I’m choosing to focus on the things that are most important to me. Breaking away from the industrialized and commercialized mainstream, growing food to feed my kids and myself, moving toward a more sustainable existence, being close to nature, spending time with the people in my life, and sharing my experiences and knowledge with others in hopes of inspiring more to do the same.

Those are the things most important to me. Sometimes I need to climb a mountain to regain that perspective, to connect with the Earth and remember why I started all of this. Through all of this I have had friends and family, and many of my followers and supporters─lifting me up, listening to me as I work things out, encouraging me to not give up, and just being there to offer a hug or a laugh. I am so grateful to each and every one of you, and I want you to know that I am O.K. Runamuk will persevere, and I will continue to be a part of the Madison-Anson area communities in some form or fashion.

Stay tuned folks!

 

Bring your leaves to Runamuk!

 

Mulching is a key aspect of our organic gardening practices here at Runamuk.

Mulch helps to keep the weeds at bay, maintain moisture within the soil, which reduces the need to water, and can contribute valuable organic matter and nutrients, too.

Inspired by Maine farming legend Tom Roberts over at Snakeroot Farm in Pittsfield, Keith and I have decided to offer a drop-off site for locals to bring their leaves, pine-needles, and grass clippings.  Roberts saves the community of Pittsfield more than $3000 annually, while at the same time increasing the viability of his own organic farm.

Runamuk can do the same–and since we serve the sister towns of Madison and Anson, we can save our communities twice as much money, right? We’re located not quite five miles out of town, and that’s less than half the distance our towns are hauling yard wastes to the dump.

leaves & compostThe only stipulation we impose is that the leaves, needles and grass clippings not be treated with any sort of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Our mulch needs to be kept au-naturale!

If you live in the towns of Anson or Madison, or close by, instead of taking those leaves to the dump–bring them over to Runamuk Acres and let us put them to good use for you! You’ll not only be reducing waste at the local waste management facility, but also supporting a local farmer.

Licensed to process

honey at farmers' market

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!

Fallen Knight

fallen farm dog

fallen farm dogIt is with a heavy heart that I share this news with you.

In the wee-hours of the morning on Sunday, July 20th, our brave little dog Ava ferociously faced off with one of the forest’s wild creatures, and lost her battle.  We did not see the animal that took her life, so we cannot say for sure what it was, but we suspect that it was either a fox or a fisher.  Since Keith saw the very large fox that made off with all but one of our five guinea fowl (the last one was dead, and we had her for dinner, lest her sacrifice be in vain) earlier in the season, we suspect the fox.

We adopted Ava from the Somerset Humane Society in February of 2012, a cross between a beagle and a jack russel terrier, she had the nose, mouth and bark of the beagle, and the energy of the terrier–we often joked about the combination of traits.

ava on the prowl
Ava would follow her nose anywhere–she often got wrapped up in tracking whatever fabulous scent she’d discovered.

She wasn’t at all what we went into the shelter for–neither Keith nor I are big fans of small dogs–but the kids fell in love with her, and we knew she would make a great family dog, so we acquiesced.  Ava has been a beloved member of our family ever since.

When we lived in-town, Ava liked to sit on the back of the couch so that she could look out the window and bark at passersby on the street.  She got so accustomed to the back of the couch that it became her favorite place to sleep–right behind your head while you sat watching TV.

Ava’s death has hit Keith hardest of all–the kids may have picked the dog, but the dog picked her owner, and she chose Keith from the moment she arrived home.  She was an anxious little dog, always wanting to be with her people, loathing being left alone, and she relished Keith’s calm, steadfast nature.  He always denied it–but she was his dog, and I think she grew on him.

She had this peculiar habit of sleeping under covers–whether it was on the couch, or in her doggie bed–Ava liked to snuggle under a blanket.  And when Keith slept, she would worm her way under the blankets to sleep beside him.

Since moving our farm into the woods, Ava has been our main line of defense against the wilderness critters.  I often joked that she might not even know what she was barking at–it could have been a mouse rustling the leaves on the forest floor for all she knew, but she barked at it anyway.  I know for a fact that her incessant barking has kept the deer out of the garden, and I am certain, that if it weren’t for Ava’s tenacity we would have lost many more of our chickens to that monster fox than we have.

ava the farm dogI do not regret the life we gave her, that we saved her from the shelter, drew her into our home and hearts–but I do regret the horrible end that came to her.  Keith tracked her into the forest, found the site where she was killed, still wet with Ava’s blood, only her collar left behind, and the distinctive path of her body having been dragged away.  I can only hope that it was a quick death, but I do not know, and my mind and heart fears that she suffered cruelly.

Poor Ava.  Alone in the forest in the dark of night, a gruesome death met this sweet, gentle little dog, and that is a burden I will carry with me forever.  She loved this land–being free to run and roam, following her keen beagle-nose wherever the scent took her, she loved this farm and this family, and she died protecting it.  She will always be a hero to us, she gave her life for Runamuk, for our farm and my dreams, and she will be missed.

Rest in peace Ava.  You will always have a piece of our hearts.  We love you.

Major storm hits Runamuk and surrounding areas

runamuk logo
2014 summer storm in madison maine
Main Street Madison–in front of Nappa Auto Parts. Photo credit: Marie Hawkins.

It was the first thunderstorm we’d had since moving back onto the property–and what a doozy of a storm it was!  Howling winds and torrential rains, hail, and deafening thunder berated the area.  Pease Hill, where the Runamuk farm is settled near the peak of the hill (one of the highest hills in this area), is in a corridor of sorts that funnels weather from the western part of the state into central Maine and eastward.  And because we are at an increased elevation, we sometimes sit in the midst of low-lying clouds and storm-systems.  We typically receive more snow than the folks in the Kennebec river valley where the communities of Anson and Madison lie, and I’ve noticed too–that our season seems to run about two-weeks behind that of the valley’s–thanks to our elevation.

We were having dinner at the time, Keith and I with the two boys, and we reveled in the storm–personally I love a good thunderstorm, any weather really–nature is beautiful and wondrous–an ordinary miracle to behold each and every day.

Sitting so high on the hill we were directly under the storm, and a number of the lightning strikes were right over our head.  One struck just behind the homestead with an ear-splitting crack that startled even me, let alone the two dogs, who came cowering at my feet and side.

2014 summer storm
Water flooded streets and roads, including the gully on Main Street in Madison–right in front of Nappa Auto Parts. Photo credit: Marie Hawkins.

 

water run-off from 2014 summer storm in central maine
We received several inches of water in a very short amount of time. Here you can see the water running off the hill down in-town Anson. Photo credit: Brenda Taylor Irwin.
2014 summer storm in anson maine
Main Street in Anson–in front of Amy Lynn’s Restaurant. Photo credit: Brenda Taylor Irwin.

When the storm had passed we had lost access to the internet and satellite, the end of Burns Road had been washed away by the torrential rains, and later, we learned that there had been significant damage throughout the area.  You can read more about the storm from the local paper’s account of it by clicking here. What’s more, according to the National Weather Service–their radar detected what looked like a tornado sweeping through southern Franklin and Somerset counties–including Farmington, Mercer, and Norridgewock, and by the time the storm reached St. Albans on the other side of the county, it had enough power to do some significant damage, with winds reaching speeds of 80 and 90 miles per hour.

And so we’ve been without internet since.

I love my farm, and I am typically loathe to leave it, but I like having that connection to the outside world through the internet.  I like being able to share updates, stories, and connect with friends and family.  There’s also a level of necessity–since we are running a business, small as it may be at this point, and need to be able to contact or be contacted by customers.

I had a blog post nearly ready to publish last week–another “From the Farm Update”, but all of that seems irrelevant now.

In the spring rush to get the garden in, and to get things underway here at Runamuk’s new location, there hasn’t been much time for writing, and I have sorely missed it.  Farming can be hectic, and I know that to some degree the spring and early-summer season will always be busy, but I hope that as we become better established here, that will leave me more time to share our stories with our readers and followers.

I have been out straight from early morning to late evening, always working on one project or another.  If I am not in the garden, I am working with the bees, or collecting and drying the herbs that I use to make my beeswax salves, making and preparing soap for market, tending my family (ie–household chores, cooking meals, etc.), caring for my ailing father who lives in Madison, or just at-market with the other farmers on Sundays.  It has been an incredibly busy spring and summer, and I have been loving every minute of it.  I feel so grateful to be able to be here, doing the work that gives purpose and meaning to my life, living so closely attuned to nature, making a statement to society through my labors and efforts.

It is hard work, but it is work I love, and so it is a joy.  Stay tuned folks; this story is just beginning!

 

Market garden in progress

My farmers’ tan is a testament to the amount of time I’ve been spending in the market garden lately, working long hours in the sun and in drizzling rain to get crops in the ground.  It’s an on-going process, and there’s also successive sowings to think about–and the fall crops to keep in mind.

So far I’ve managed to get onions in, 3 types of peas, leaf lettuce mix, spinach, 2 types of carrots, 2 varieties of beets, rutabaga, 5 varieties of potatoes, 2 different kinds of snap beans, 12 varieties of tomatoes and 2 of peppers, and some heading lettuce.  And so far things are growing well.

Onions 2014
We have Ailsa Craig for fresh-eating, and Patterson onions for storing.
peas 2014
I’m growing Sugar Ann and Sugar Snap peas–they have the edible pods which are fabulous for snacking or sauteing (so good!), and Little Marvel for shelling peas.

The next two days are dedicated to planting cucumbers with sunflowers, pole beans, and radishes.  Then on to the squashes, followed by broccoli, cabbages, and collards.  And don’t forget all of the allies and friends–the herbs and flowers that either protect the crops, or attract beneficial insects to combat pest problems.

We’re hard at work here at Runamuk–so stay tuned for more updates!