Farmer Talent Show a Success

fts sonia and wren

What a great time we had at the Farmer Talent Show Sunday night! It was a hugely successful event, and thanks to those who participated and came out to see the show, we were able to raise the funds needed to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

farmer talent show signageIf you’re a regular reader of the Runamuk blog, you might recall the post from a couple months ago announcing the Farmer Talent Show as a means for raising funds to support the Maine Harvest Bucks (MHB) program at the Madison Farmers’ Market. MHB increases access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP/EBT shoppers at local farmers’ markets and is made possible by government funding and various grants procured by the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. However there was a gap in the funding this year that meant farmers’ markets across the state either had to temporarily suspend the program, or step up to cover the funding shortfall themselves.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market we were adamant that the community we serve, located in Somerset County─an economically depressed region of central Maine─should continue to have access to the benefits the MHB program offers, and so we devised a fundraising strategy that included reaching out to local businesses, as well as hosting this Farmer Talent Show.

I really can’t take much credit for the event that happened last night. The Open Mics at the Madison and East Madison Granges were a concept breathed to life by my friend Sonia Acevedo from Hide & Go Peep Farm in East Madison. Sonia is a dedicated member of the East Madison Grange and last fall she initiated the monthly Open Mic events, which have since been taking place on the last Sunday of the month.

When the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets notified us of the funding gap for the Maine Harvest Bucks program that our market participates in, Sonia proposed the idea of using the regularly scheduled Open Mic as a Farmer Talent Show to help raise funds for that program. I fell in love with the idea and ran with it, coming up with the singing goat graphic to promote the event, and with the help of some of the other vendors at the Madison Farmers’ Market, Sonia and I actively promoted the event and hoped for a good turn-out.

tomato tattoos
Epic tomato temporary tattoos donated by Backyard Farms!

There were refreshments in the form of cookies, brownies, chips and salsa, and even fiddlehead cake! Given that this was a farm-themed event, it was totally appropriate to have a baby goat on site, and my cousin Josh Richards, who owns and operates “Leaping Lizards” a rescue center for exotic lizards, brought a few specimens to show off to the crowd. We even had “I Love Farmers’ Markets” and epic tomato temporary tattoos to offer in exchange for donations.

Not only did we have a good turn-out, but we managed to fill the meeting room at the East Madison Grange and we had a long list of performers in a wide range of ages and skill levels that made for a really great show. There were guitar-players, a trumpet-player, an accordion and a dulcimer, a fiddle and banjos, even a story-teller.

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ellen and dog special guest judges
Our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog!


It was especially fitting that our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog, 2 of our market’s most devout patrons. They did a great job awarding recognition to the various talents who entered our show, designating “Best Trumpet Player” and “Best Story-Teller”, “Crowd Favorite” and “Best Performance by a Band”, were among some of the winning categories.

Winning performers had their pick from a table laden with various gifts, trinkets and prizes our market-members had assembled, including a gift basket of soaps and body rubs from S&S Kid Farm, a big beautiful potted petunia and a basket of fresh eggs from Hide & Go Peep, and a pair of wooden book-ends depicting a horse to name a few.

Here’s my group below: “The Appalachian Sheep Dawgs”, including Alyssa (all but hidden behind the curtain from this angle─sorry Alyssa!), Ken Hahn (my banjo instructor), myself (in red) and the daughters of Ken and his wife Kamala: on guitar is Victoria , and Amelie on the fiddle.

Note: Don’t laugh at me when you watch this!!! I’m still a novice when it comes to playing the banjo, with only a year’s experience on the instrument under my belt. It takes utter concentration for me to not drop the ball in front of a room filled with 70+/- people!

At the very end of the evening we raffled off the tub-trug gift basket donated by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, containing an assortment of seeds, garden gloves, a Johnny’s beanie, a trowel and a hand-held seed-sower.

jss gift tub trub
Gift tub-trub donated by Johnny’s filled with misc. garden supplies!

Thanks to everyone who participated and came out for this show, our market was able to raise nearly $300 between the raffle and the tickets-by-donation. These funds, in addition to a $500 donation from Backyard Farms and a $200 donation by Paine’s Dairy Farm (both of Madison, Maine), means we have surpassed our fundraising goals and we will be able to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market! Yaaaaay!

No…I can’t take credit for what happened at the East Madison Grange on the night of Sunday, May 27th, but as I sat there amid the crowd gathered together to watch this wide-ranging display of talents in the name of local food, local farms, and community support, I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of love and affection, and I knew that I had contributed to something really special. In rural central Maine, a small, wayward band of grassroots activists─also known as farmers─collaborated to bring the public out in direct support of the community they serve. Life doesn’t get much more beautiful than that, if you ask me, and I am grateful every day to be able to call myself a farmer.

Thanks for reading and following along with my story! Feel free to leave a comment below if you are inspired to share with us. And be sure to subscribe to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly to your in-box!

Surprise Hurdle in FSA Loan Process

tips for aspiring farmers

When we left off, I’d been waiting for the appraisal to come back on the Swinging Bridge Farm before the FSA would proceed to the final stage of their loan process for Direct Farm Ownership. Everything hinged on that figure, so it was a fairly monumental milestone. I’d expected to hear from Nathan over at the FSA regarding the report, but I hadn’t expected the surprise hurdle I am now faced with as a result of the Appraisal.

surprise hurdle
Photo credit: Lacey Byrd via Instagram.

The Appraisal was significant because the FSA (Farm Service Agency) can only pay the value of the property and not a penny more─as their programs are funded by tax payer monies. If the property appraised at less than what I’d agreed to pay for it I would have had to either renegotiate with the Seller, try to come up with the difference, or walk away. Thankfully the Swinging Bridge Farm appraised at $175K, so the value of the property supports the loan. Barely.

However this appraiser sited the house as “Currently Unlivable” due to a lack of insulation, windows that need replacing, and water damage that may or may not have caused structural damage or possible mold. When we started the process the FSA had informed me they don’t require Home Inspections, but in light of the Appraisal the FSA is now requesting a Home Inspection be performed before we can proceed.

One of the provisions of the FSA’s farm loans stipulates that real estate investments must provide housing for the farmer, so this was a red flag for them and it makes good financial sense to investigate this further to find out if it really is a problem. I understand and accept where the Farm Service Agency is coming from.

At the same time, I am beyond frustrated with the man who did the appraisal. Leah and I met Jarret Goold at the Swinging Bridge Farm that day, and I was not impressed with him. It didn’t seem like he had done his homework before arriving there with his clipboard. Leah had sent him all of the information we had collected regarding the updates that have been done to the old farmhouse over the last 2 decades, but he hadn’t even looked at it. He deferred to my knowledge on the status of various conditions in the house, and he asked for information that is readily available in the public tax record.

What’s more, I specifically recall having a conversation with him about the condition of the house and it’s livability. He thought I’d have to wait til the summer to move in, when I could make some “improvements” to the house. I feel like a life of hardship growing up in central Maine has prepared me for this─I am confident that I can put plastic on the windows, put a new hearth pad and woodstove in the place, and move over in March or April to tough it out til the May/June warm up and still do the improvements to be better set up for next winter. And I told him as much.

Obviously we disagreed.

new portland wire bridge
The historic Wire Bridge in New Portland, Maine lies just 2 miles downhill from the Swinging Bridge Farm.                          Photo credit: Mainely Casey via Instagram

It’s disappointing and frustrating at the same time. I believe that Mr. Goold and I are coming from 2 different walks of life on this one: it’s the old “one man’s shack is another man’s palace” syndrome. Compared to where I’m coming from, SBF is a palace and I know that she just needs someone there who can fix her up and show the old house some TLC. Which I’m gung-ho to do.

I know though, that when you’re at the Bottom you’re accustomed to a standard of living that most people would never consider enduring─so much so that some folks can’t even contemplate what it is to scrape by and go without. At the Bottom you have to learn to endure because that’s the only way you’re ever going to get ahead in life. I have been at the Bottom for 37 years; I’ve learned to accept my station and even embrace it. It’s become an art-form for me and for people like me who are also at the Bottom, but who still have hope and dreams and ambitions.

Within 2 hours of learning of this surprise hurdle from the FSA, my realtor (Leah Watkins) had lined up a Home Inspector for me. With the mold test it will cost me an additional $575 dollars to appease the FSA and to prove that the house is indeed livable if you have the wherewithal to do so. The inspection is scheduled for Monday, February 5th.

I am very confident in the structural integrity of the old farmhouse. My family built─not 1, but 2─houses when I was growing up, and my mother was just another member of the crew. She taught me how to use tools, how to build stuff, and how to fix things─it’s one of the few good things that woman ever did for me. I’m pretty comfortable with construction and I have a good grasp on architecture. I know how to recognize when a building is failing and that is not the case at SBF.

Yes, she definitely has some water damage from a leak in the roof that has since been repaired. But I believe that’s only aesthetic damage. I doubt there’s much risk of mold since the old house is not insulated, and also because it’s the depths of winter and the house is currently not being heated. I’ve seen black mold before─lived with it─and I saw none of that at SBF to concern me.

What I am concerned about is the well-being of my family.

My 2 sons: BraeTek and William.

I have 2 children who desperately need a home that offers the family atmosphere required to create routines and stability in their lives. With a 15 year old on the autism spectrum who is struggling to cope with the challenges of adolescence, I am desperate to cultivate that situation. As a single mom I cannot afford to rent anything either; I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. My kids need the Swinging Bridge Farm.

The idea that SBF might not be livable never once crossed my mind. Now though, there’s a sliver of doubt. What if I’m wrong…. Perhaps I’ve been at the Bottom so long─spent so long reaching for this impossible dream that my perception is the one askew.

And with that thought comes the question: What will I do if this all falls through? What will I tell my boys?

The thought strikes a cord of fear that runs clean through me like a hot knife. I don’t know what I will do. Wait for another property to turn up I guess, and start again.

The FSA’s loan process is long and grueling. At this point I am just tired; I’m emotionally exhausted from the whole ordeal. To have come so far─to be so close to attaining a home for my farm, a home for my kids, and security for myself─and to have it all threatened like this is terrifying.

Nathan fully admitted that the appraisor isn’t really trained to make those kinds of determinations. Hence the Home Inspector.

Well I will gladly shell out the $600 to prove the appraisal wrong, and when this is all over─after we’ve Closed the sale and I am able to move my boys over there─it’s going to be ON. Roller-derby style. No holds barred. Just you watch what I will do with the place!

I know it’s not going to be easy. I have not asked the Universe for easy. I know better. It costs more to take the easy road lol, and I’m at the Bottom with no desire to be at the Top. I have principles that prohibit me from living that life. So I will take the 137 year old farmhouse with her original windows and doors, her lack of insulation, and her run-down appearance and I will build something amazing and beautiful. And the world a better place as a result. Just you wait n see.

I could use some good ju-ju! Leave a comment below and send me some positive vibes to help me get over this last hurdle. Subscribe by email to make sure you don’t miss the latest updates from Runamuk! Who knows what will happen next!