May is a Blur

These last 6 weeks are a blur. May is always crazy-busy for farmers and homesteaders across the northern hemisphere. How can it be June already? Here at Runamuk Acres, yours truly has struggled to find a balance between the farm-kitchen and the outside work, overwhelmed with all of the task clamoring for my attention. This is the time of year to get crops in the ground for vegetable production. It is also the time for cover cropping, pasture management, soil improvement, rotational grazing, honeybee production, and improvements to infrastructure. Take a moment now, to find out what we’ve been working on here at this small farm in the western mountains region of Maine.

May Lambs at Runamuk

When I look back over it, these last 6 weeks really are a bit of a blur. I’m always gung-ho to get outside in the spring, following winter’s long incarceration. Within me, there’s this very pressing need to feel the breath of wind on my skin, to touch and be a part of that world outside my door. A need to be at-one with this little patch of Earth that I call home, surrounded by countless other lifeforms─all simply existing here. It is a wondrous and magical thing which has me spellbound, caught in the grip of something bigger and more powerful than myself.

And so, I have doggedly forged ahead with my seasonal work. My mission: to grow food for my family and community, while simultaneously promoting the health and well-being of the habitat I share with the wildlife around me.

Fencing

The main focus, of course, has been the gardens. Yet, before I could give myself over completely to working the soil, I first had to ensure that the sheep and pigs could be secure on the field. That process required time dedicated to making seasonal repairs and improvements to the fencing system that both contains and protects Runamuk’s 23 finnsheep, along with the 6 pigs we are raising for CSA members.

One of last year’s big accomplishments was the long row of T-posts that runs through the middle of Runamuk’s 10-acre backfield. My solar chargers had become weak over time, and no longer contained our wiley flock. About the time I was startled awake at 4am one Saturday morning by an unmistakable “baaaaaaa”, I’d had enough of their shenanigans. When you have to bolt out of bed to wrangle sheep in your pajamas at 4 in the morning, something has to change!

Deron set up an outlet at the edge of the field for me, and now we use a electric fence charger to power the long line of electric fence. I attach electric net fences to that, rotating the sheep around the field. It’s a huge peace of mind, knowing that the sheep are safely contained inside a secure fence. I can leave the farm to make deliveries, do a supply run, or go out for an evening without worry that they might be roving the neighborhood─or standing in the middle of nearby route 16.

It was quite a checklist of projects that had to be seen to before I could move the flock from their winter accommodations up by the farmhouse, out onto the field for the summer. Broken insulators had to be replaced. The wires that make up the electric fencelines had to be mended and/or tightened. The grounding system needed to be beefed-up, and the sheep-tractor needed repairs, too, after a gusty storm had sent it rolling across the field last fall, causing damage to the roof of the structure. It was the first week of May before everything was ready.

Pig Date

May Piglets
The pigs are loving the spent grain sent to us by the Kennebec Brewery!

Deron and I drove over to Maple Lane Farms in Charleston on Mother’s Day weekend to pick up 6 piglets. We put the back seats down in my trusty Subaru Forester, laid out a heavy rubber floor mat from Deron’s mini-van, and put those pigs right in the back of my car. Do I even need to say that we made the hour and a half ride home with the windows open???

Deron called it our “Pig Date”, lol. I have to laugh at the irony of it all. Nothing says “farmer” like a Pig Date─and nothing makes a girl feel sexier than that (insert facepalm here)!

Athletic Sheep

You’d be surprised by how athletic sheep can suddenly become on Moving Day. I was down to my last few bales of hay, though, and moving the flock out onto the field couldn’t wait any longer. Putting the lambs in the back of the Subaru, we took that out first. Then, BraeTek and I managed to coerce the girls out onto the field with only some minor shenanigans.

For the boys, however, I put out an APB (all points bulletin) on facebook seeking volunteers to assist us. 5 locals come to the farm that evening, and I am super grateful for the help. Even with extra bodies, and extra fences set up to “guide” the 5 rams in the direction of the field, the foolish boys had to take the scenic route to get there. At one point, they were nearly in the road, followed by a parade through the garden. Eventually we managed to capture them inside the fencing on the field, and all was well.

Re-Grouping

Once the pigs and sheep were all blissfully settled out on the pasture, I was finally free to turn my attention to the gardens. This year has largely been about tackling some of the bigger projects that have been on my list for the last 3 or 4 years. It’s been about re-grouping, taking a step back in order to take a step forward, shifting gears, and making it all work for me. This has been a season for accepting my farm for what it is─and letting go of what it will never be.

The gardens here at Runamuk, have all─quite literally─“run-a-muck”. To varying degree, the 2 vegetable gardens, 3 perennial gardens, along with my little orchard, have all gotten out of hand here. That’s what happens when you take on too much, too soon. I’m just one person trying to make this farm work. I’ve been spread too thin these last few years─and it shows.

May Sheep at Runamuk Acres
Big thanks to the 5 volunteers who came to help us move the rams! You know who you are!

I’m not too proud to admit that I have some serious farmer-envy when I drive by other local farms… I see all of their beds laid out perfectly with crops growing along so lush and green. With their employees out weeding or harvesting product to sell. I see their high-tunnels, heated greenhouses, and their sexy tractors (yes, I think your tractor’s sexy, lol). I see their farm truck with their slick branding on the doors─and I want to be them.

I’ve had to accept that I’m just never going to be like Elliot Coleman, Jean Martin Fortier, or Conor Crickmore. I’ll never be the next Curtis Stone, or Joel Salatin.

This is partly because I lack the funds. Runamuk has been bootstrapped along since it’s conception, and finances continue to be an issue today. To be honest, though─I believe the fact that I am a single-mom and solo-farmer plays a big part, too.

Those guys all have wives, partners in life─even employees─to help them achieve that level of production on their farms. I am trying to do this largely by myself, while raising my 15 year old son. As a mom, I have to maintain some semblance of family life and routine. Since we homeschool, I also have a responsibility to my son’s education. Ultimately, I am responsible for molding my son into the kind of man I would want to see in the world. Having met some of the men out there, I take that very seriously.

I’m never going to be the next Elliot Coleman. So what? I’m really okay with that. I’m still feeding 40 households, plus a select portion of my surrounding community. That’s nothing to thumb your nose at. My focus now, is to embrace my farm-journey for what it is, let go of what it is not, and make it work for me─and my son.

Spring Projects

With that in mind, I’ve forged ahead with my spring projects. With an eye toward improving the soil through a succession of cover-crops, I’ve taken half of Garden 2 out of production, cover cropping it with peas and oats. That will get mowed at some point later in the season, tilled in, and another cover-crop planted for the fall. Stay tuned for more on that later.

I tilled up the lawn around the 9 apple trees that make up my front orchard, re-sowing it with New Zealand Dwarf White Clover. Clover has an extensive root system that gives structure to the soil, adding nitrogen, while offering a flowering food source for bees and other beneficial insects. Growing not more than 12-inches, this dwarf clover will make a low-maintenance ground cover that reduces the amount of lawn we will be mowing here.

Retreating to the much smaller, Garden 1, Deron helped me re-claim planting beds there, so that I might have a defensible growing space. I’ve had my hands in the soil every day since, a flurry of planting, as I try to utilize every square foot of that garden. I am eager to get into the bigger garden, to re-claim some of that space, and put it to work growing even more food.

The Farmstand

May Farmstand
Locals love our fresh bread and baked goods!

Since I’ve given up on housemates, finances have been especially tight this season. The income generated by those room rentals has been sorely missed. BUT─trying to accommodate strangers in the midst of my family and farm has not. Really, it has been pretty wonderful for BraeTek and I to have the house to ourselves.

That freedom has led to the growth of our farmstand, which is gaining traction, with more and more folks stopping in for our fresh-baked breads, and other delicious baked goods. It’s tricky, though, for this solo-farmer to keep bread coming out of the kitchen, while simultaneously trying to plant half an acre of vegetables. Throughout the month of May, I’ve had to take a couple weeks off from the kitchen, offering only the frozen loaves I’ve had in reserve. Mostly the community seems to be watching, waiting for those first fresh veggies of the season. We’re all craving it.

The biggest news, though, is my book announcement.

Wait─whaaaaaaaat?

Book Announcement!

That’s right, my friends! Just because I haven’t been publishing blog-posts, doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I am a writer, remember? I actually have a couple of different manuscripts that I’ve been working on. Yay me!

It’s been 4 years this month, since I closed on my forever-farm, and I am super excited to say that I am finally writing my book! “How to Buy a Farm With No Money Through the Farm Service Agency”or “How to Bootstrap Your Way to Farm Ownership” (Okay, so the title needs work, lol─leave your suggestions in the comments!). It’s totally possible to make farm-ownership a reality, even if you have no money. It’s a long road, and not for the feint of heart─but it is possible. I truly believe that if I can do it, so can you. So can anyone─if they want it bad enough.

My goal is to have the book finished and ready to launch by the end of September. It will come out first as an ebook available through Amazon’s direct publishing service, followed by availability on Audible and more! Sign up below to receive notifications about the book-launch!

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Person to Person

For this farmer, May came and went in a blur. Now here we are mid-way through June, and I still have a lot of planting to do. Along with 3 “Big-Fish” projects that I am determined to make happen before the end of 2022: 1) set up a pond-pump for a back-up water system. 2) repurpose our existing tunnel into a winter compost-hut. And─most importantly─#3) erect a caterpillar tunnel for season extension in Garden 2.

You know what? So what if my farm doesn’t look like 4 Seasons Farm, or Neversink Farm? Hell, I could never be the next Elliot Coleman even if I wanted to be, because I’m too busy being me! Samantha Burns! Even at this small scale, Runamuk is providing fresh and nutritious locally produced food for it’s community─just like those other farms are doing. I’m damned proud of that. We will grow, you’ll see. I doubt, however, that Runamuk will ever be as big as some of these other big-name farms. And I’m okay with that.

It was Mother Teresa who once said, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” Maybe I can make more of an impact by keeping my efforts condensed and focused on a smaller scale, than I otherwise might have done at the scale those other farms are running at. Perhaps, my work is meant to be conducted farmer to family, and person to person. I cannot say, but I am grateful for the opportunity to try.

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to 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!

CSA FLASHSALE!

For 3 days only, Runamuk is offering a flashsale on CSA shares! If you were bummed that we didn’t hold our annual membership drive earlier this year, here’s your chance to sign up and get local food delivered direct to your door.

csa flashsale

3 Days Only!

Today, tomorrow, and Friday (5.25.22 through 5.27.22) you can sign up to join Runamuk’s 2022 CSA program and get a 20% bonus credit! So, for example, if you sign up with $100, you’ll have a $120 credit with the farm. Those funds serve as a pre-paid account that you can draw from anytime you shop with Runamuk.

*****For more details about our CSA, what it is, and the special perks we offer our members, please check out our CSA Farm Shares page by clicking this link.*****

Sign Up Today!

Sign up today to start receiving Runamuk’s weekly farm-updates, along with our order form, and start getting local food delivered right to your door! Use the PayPal widget below, OR stop by the farm to pay with cash or check.

*****UPDATE: This sale has ended. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to catch our 2023 membership drive.*****

What Have I Been Doing All This Time?

Faithful readers to the Runamuk blog are probably wondering where I’ve been, and what have I been doing all this time, lol. Since I bought the farm, my writing has tapered off, gradually becoming non-existent. Even my presence on social media had significantly diminished. Now that I’m back, I invite you to get yourself a cuppa coffee or tea. Come join me on the farm for a few, to find out what’s been going on at Runamuk Acres.

As promised in last week’s post: “Back in the Saddle”, I am writing my weekly farm-update. As I vowed to you, and more importantly─to me─I have spent time writing every day. I religiously dragging myself out of bed at 4am to do so. Truthfully, though, I’ve been writing off and on all along. I even took part in National Novel Writing Month─or “NaNoWriMo” back in November, making a good start on a full-length novel that I’ve been wanting to write. It’s only the blog, and social media that I’ve largely avoided, keeping to myself for the last year or so. I’ve been hyper focused on my farm, my family, and living in the moment. I am all-consumed with cherishing the beauty and wonder of this life I am living. And counting my blessings, every day.

21st Century Relationship

I admit that I’ve coveted the farm and my newfound farm-life. Much like a toddler might covet a new toy, I did not want to share it with anyone. I also admit, I’ve been more than a little self-conscious of my relationship with Deron. More than one partner has made an appearance in my story, and to say “this one is different” is just too cliche. I am not willing to belittle the good thing this man and I have going on.

It took some time for me to wrap my head around this 21st Century relationship. It took even longer to let go of the vision I’d had in my head for what love and life “should” look like. To accept it for what it truly is. For someone like me, who fairly burns with her desire to achieve the innate, intangible vision of her dreams─to let go of that stubborn, steadfast mental picture of life, love, and hopes for the future, allowing it to transform and morph into something else─you know it would take something profound to compel me to allow those changes. That’s the love I’ve found with Deron. It’s full and rich, sweet and tender─it’s something special.

Yet, because we each have teenage children, we will continue to live separately til the last of our kids graduate high school and have flown the coop. That’s a few years down the road…

Farmer Mom

I cannot deny that it has been a challenge for me to accept this new version of Happily Ever After. Deron and I spend our weekends together at one house or the other. On Tuesdays, BraeTek and I join the Whittemores for supper. The rest of the week, it’s all about being “Farmer Mom”. A pretty overwhelming endeavor by yourself…

Surprisingly, I am doing okay. This has been an amazing opportunity for personal growth. I believe I have risen to the challenge. It was tough for a while, but Deron is definitely worth it. I think, I’ve finally adjusted. And, I am okay with it all. Go figure.

Deron helps out when he can─we make a great team, working well together. However, it is BraeTek, now 15 and taller than his mum, who has become my right-hand man on the farm. Taking him out of public school in favor of homeschooling was the best thing that could have happened to us both. To think, I might never have realized the opportunity I have with my son, if it weren’t for this path that Deron and I have chosen in our relationship.

If I hadn’t been willing to allow my own perceptions of what Happily Ever After should look like to change─if I had refused to grow and evolve─I would surely have given up the best love I’ve ever known, missed out on the opportunity for a better relationship with my son, and forfeited the chance to make a partner out of BraeTek. Thanks to that willingness to change, I’ve found a new purpose in life. I am now focused on building this farm up so I might someday turn it over to my son, in hopes that he might reap the benefit of my life’s labors.

What Have I Been Doing…?

To that end I have been working diligently this last year, growing this farm to increase our income from agriculture, building bridges between my family and Deron’s, always working toward a brighter future for us all. Check out this slideshow I put together featuring some of the highlights!

2021 Highlights

Wheels – 2020 was a year of car-troubles for Runamuk, which ultimately ended with this farmer stranded on the side of the road, even resorting to hitchhiking. I managed to barter a deal for an old pickup truck to get me by, but at the tail end of the year the farm received a generous $5000 donation to aid in the purchase of reliable transportation. If you haven’t heard that story, definitely check out “The Perfect Solstice Gift“. On January 4th of 2021, I was able to go to North Anson Auto, and paid cash for a used vehicle. With that, Runamuk welcomed yet another─slightly newer─Subaru Forester to the farm. A truck in disguise, lol.

Bolens Lawn Tractor – My dear, late Aunt Lucy was a steadfast supporter of my strange farming ambitions. It was she, who arranged for the transfer of a big, red Farmall tractor from her father in-law to myself. I dubbed the agricultural machine, Walter, after my late father, Dana Walter Richards, and clung to that piece of equipment like life-raft while I was l landless. Once I’d landed upon my forever-farm, we tried and tried to get the old thing to run─to no avail. That failing, coupled with the realization that the tractor really was just too big for the kind of work I’m doing, and Walter became more of a lawn-ornament. I couldn’t bring myself to even consider letting him go. It wasn’t until Deron’s father, David, pointed out that my Aunt would have wanted me to have something that worked for me rather than clinging to the Farmall out of some misguided sense of sentimentality. Parting with Walter was incredibly difficult, but it allowed Runamuk to invest in a smaller, yet equally rugged, Bolens lawn tractor─with a rototiller attachment. This machine is just the right size for my small farm, and for me. I think Aunt Lucy would be proud to see me sitting upon it, doing the work that I am meant to do.

Beebe the Brave, livestock guardian in-training.

Training Beebe – I knew going into it that bringing a livestock guardian to the farm was a big commitment on my part. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for the challenges associated with one of these dogs. “Beebe the Brave” is a Central Asian Shepherd. Not only is she a beautiful animal─she is also highly intelligent, super territorial, incredibly sweet and affectionate, and hands-down the most difficult dog I have ever had the privilege of training. This is a post all on it’s own, and I will put it on my list of topics to cover in the not-too-distant future. For now, suffice it to say that last year was quite an ordeal. Things didn’t go exactly the way I’d imagined, but I wouldn’t trade Beebe for any other.

Note: “Beebe” is the name she came to us with at 5 months of age. We contemplated changing it, but when I looked it up, I found that it’s a french name, pronounced “Bee-Bee”, and is derived from a word that means: “the place where bees are kept”. Seemed all too fitting for the dog destined to guard Runamuk, founded on beekeeping.

Lambing Season – What’s not to love about adorable lambs? This is one of the farm’s most beautiful blessings, and I am utterly grateful to be able to experience it. New lambs to the farm mean prosperity. They mean that my farm is growing, it means I’ve done something right. Perversely, I appreciate the validation. All those years longing and yearning to farm, promising “I can do it! Just give me a chance!”, to finally be here doing the work and actually succeeding, is both a comfort and relief. We had 8 lambs born to Runamuk, last year. Mothers and babies all were healthy and strong, and though we did end up with 1 bottle baby, even that experience was a joy.

Maine Big Night – Last spring, Runamuk served as a host location for local citizen scientists for the Maine Big Night project. Amphibians are some of the most endangered groups on the planet. This project seeks to evaluate the impact roads are having on populations, so that recommendations can be made for more wildlife-friendly road designs. We also participated in the project, adopting a local vernal pool to observe for amphibian activity on the first potential Big Night of the season. Deron and I took our combined tribe of teenagers, even recruiting a handful of local volunteers to the cause, and went out on the first warm, rainy night of the season to survey amphibian migration. It is my intention that this will be an annual event for the farm.

Family Perennials – It has become a tradition since coming to this place, to honor my family with perennial food-plants (fruit trees, berry bushes, artichokes, etc.). I planted berry bushes for each of my boys, apple trees in memory of loved ones departed, and it was my pleasure last spring to plant fruits trees for each of Deron’s 3 younger children here on the farm. We put in 2 different varieties of apples for Chantel and Drake, and Ciarrah, Deron’s youngest, wanted a pear tree, which needed a friend for cross-pollination, so she got 2 trees lol. This year we will plant 3 more perennials─2 for Deron’s older 2 sons, grown with families of their own, and 1 for the new grandbaby in the family. I can’t wait!

Old Steve Rogers.

1st Ever Pigs! – To secure the pickup truck from old Steve Rogers, I bartered the use of a patch of earth for Steve to raise a few pigs, and a small section of the garden to grow a some vegetables for himself. I’d never had pigs before, and devoutly believed I never wanted them. Now that I’ve experienced it, I am converted, lol. I can see doing a few pigs every year, just to supply my farm-family with a higher quality pork. This year, Runamuk is offering Half and Whole-Hog pig shares to it’s CSA members.

Work Parties – Always loathe to ask for help, I’ve come to realize how imperative that big push of energy brought by a group of people all working together really is to the farm. Sometimes I put out a call for help to my community, other times it’s just the combined forces of mine and Deron’s families working together here for the sake of the farm that feeds us. It’s amazing the amount of work that can get done in a short amount of time. Last year, we did a Trail Maintenance work-party early in the spring, and an Irrigation Clean-Up party late in the fall.

One of our CSA members hard at work on Runamuk’s barn quilt!

Barn Quilt Workshop – Runamuk hosted Saskia Reinholt, and one of her many Barn Quilt Workshops last June. Some of our very own CSA members participated, painting a bee-themed quilt to adorn our own barn. The Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm is now listed on the Maine High Peak’s “Barn Quilt Trail”, a community-made public art trail celebrating rural traditions, and linking into the national American Barn Quilt Trail.

Irrigation Upgrade – While he was here on the farm, old Steve Rogers, a retired heating and plumbing specialist, tapped into the farmhouse’s main water line to establish irrigation to the field. Before, it was quite an ordeal to run that many hoses and maintain water pressure to irrigate the massive garden I am managing at Runamuk. Now, I have a series of spigots spaced out along the side of the garden, and a spigot at the end of the field for watering the livestock on pasture. What a huge difference it made in the efficacy of the drip tape-and-sprinker system I am using!

Firefly Festival – Runamuk hosted it’s 2nd annual Firefly Festival last July. The weather cooperated, and locals came to the farm to celebrate fireflies. We walked through Runamuk’s 10-acre hay field, learning more about fireflies, and watching for the flashing beetles. The kids managed to catch a few, and we made sure to releasing them when we were done. Afterwards, folks gathered around the campfire to discuss how the firefly came to be such an iconic part of childhood pasttimes, why they are now a species under threat, and what we can do to help this beneficial insect.

My brain-child.

The Fenceline – It got to the point where my solar chargers for the electric net fencing I use was no where near strong enough to contain my flock of sheep. I also had one very troublesome ewe, who insisted on sticking her head through the nets to eat the grass outside their pen─even when I’d literally just moved them to a fresh patch. It was maddening. No matter what I tried, I could not get that fence strong enough. Even after culling the problem ewe, I still woke up at 4:30 one morning to a “Maaaaaa” outside my window (several hundred yards from where the sheep were supposed to be constrained on the field). That was the last straw. In one Saturday, Deron and I erected a 600-foot long line of electric fencing down the middle of my 10-acre pasture. We pounded 60 fence-posts, attached 3 insulators to each post, and ran the wire til late into the night. It was a sudden stroke of genius that came to me in that moment of desperation─to run a line of electric wire fencing down the length of the field, and run my electric nets off of that. Now the sheep stay where I put them, and I am a much happier farmer, lol.

Hay Mission 2021 – With 10 sheep last winter, and 12 this year, Deron and I have taken to buying Runamuk’s hay right out of the field in the summer, saving both time and money. Thanks to my days as a landless farmer with honeybee apiaries strung out across the area, I’ve forged a longstanding relationship with Hyl-Tun Farm, who produces some very good quality hay. The tricky part is moving it from Hyl-Tun Farm, nearly 16 miles southeastwards in Starks, to Runamuk, in New Portland. Once on-site, the hay must then be hoisted up into the barn and stowed out of the elements for safe-keeping. Last summer we recruited our gaggle of teenagers to help, and they, in turn, roped a few extra friends into helping too. Deron and I shuttled the hay from one farm to the other, while the teenagers worked together to get the hay into the loft for me. We bought pizza, they played music too loudly, and had themselves a boisterous good time getting the work done on the farm.

Harvest Dinner – This was the 2nd annual Harvest Dinner put on for Runamuk’s CSA members. Deron and I may have gotten a little carried away with our menu. We’re both avid foodies with some skill in the kitchen, so when we set our minds to it, we really turn out some fantastic meals. We had twice as many guests this year as we did in our first year. I’m hoping that number doubles again in 2022.

Deron’s 1st-Ever Home!

Deron Bought a House! (and I helped!) – Like me, Deron had long burned with the dream of home-ownership. He had that same soulful need to have a place of his own, where he can be master of his own domain. Before he and I can move forward with a joint-venture, Deron needed to see that dream come to life. I put him in touch with the realtor I’d worked with to buy my farm, Leah J. Watkins, and she took it from there. I was by his side in September, when Deron closed on a beautiful home in Solon. I couldn’t be prouder to support this good, hardworking man as he continues to grow and evolve.

Community Compost – It’s become painfully apparent that the soil here is incredibly poor. Even with a robust flock of chickens, and a flock of sheep, Runamuk is not producing enough of it’s own manure to meet the demands of our gardens. Sourcing amendments in can be pricey, and we have few options in this part of the state for organic materials. On impulse, I decided to establish a community compost program, collecting compostable materials from local households and restaurants that I can compost into fertilizer to feed my gardens. Check out “Soils to Spoils” on our website to learn more about that program.

1st Lamb Harvest – With winter was on the doorstep, this farmer was painfully conscious of the fact that 350 bales for an entire Maine winter is only going to feed so many mouths. I had 16 sheep, and my ideal number to overwinter is about 10, give or take 1 or 2. After 3 years spent growing my sheep flock, it was finally time to take a harvest. This was a hard day on the farm, but a necessary part of farm-life. All of the meat went to feed the households of Runamuk’s CSA members, a ms well as my own family, which brought a depth of meaning to the sacrifice that soothes my aching heart. It’s not easy to say goodbye to beautiful, spunky animals you’ve raised and cared for, grown attached to, loved and worried over.

1st Grandbaby! – Deron’s oldest son, Spencer, together with his wife, Casey, welcomed their first child to the family in early November. New Grampie, Deron, is just a proud as a peacock. You can be sure we will be plating a tree here on the farm for that baby boy later this spring, and I can’t wait to introduce him to the sheep!

Christmas Gift – We rounded out the year with yet another generous donation to the farm. From a local benefactor who wished to remain anonymous to the public, came not one─but 2 Christmas gifts. The first was $400 to put toward Runamuk’s CSA program, and the second was a brand new Stihl chainsaw. All we had to do was drive over to Aubuchon Hardware in Farmington to pick it up, along with a few miscellaneous items for upkeep of the new tool. We put the chainsaw to the test by using it to cut down our Christmas and Solstice trees for each of our houses. She works beautifully!

That’s What I’ve Been Doing

There you have it in a nut-shell, my friends! Since I last updated the farm-blog last June, that’s what I’ve been doing with my time. Of course, let’s not forget the hours and hours spent toiling in the garden, mucking livestock pens, moving sheep around the field, morning and afternoon critter-chores, and all of the lovely Friday and Sunday suppers I joined Deron for at his father’s home. Oh─did I mention the countless times the sheep escaped and this farmer chased them back and forth across the property before we finally got a handle on the situation??? Did I mention that!?

Lol, I think I did.

It feels good to be sharing my story again. Thank YOU for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to 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, my friends!

Back in the Saddle

After a long hiatus, I am ready to get back in the proverbial saddle. I am ready to come back to blogging─ready to share my farm’s story with the world once more. I took some time away to focus on the farm, but the writer in me will not be ignored. The words must flow, just as the waters of the mighty Kennebec River must flow southwards to the sea.

I am a Writer

Farmer Sam with her sheep.

“What good is a farm without land?” I was in a dark place 7 years ago, following my initial separation from my husband of 15 years. Uncertain about my future and the future of Runamuk, I was landless, homeless, apart from my children for the first time, and the callous words of an acquaintance sent me into a dark depression. I found myself questioning everything I was, and everything I had ever been.

It was a good friend who took me aside to correct the situation, and I’ll never forget those sincere words. She told me, “Yes, Samantha, you are a farmer.” This friend went on to say, that, other people may have more land and more money to be able to play at farming with–but my heart holds the truest spirit of farming. She believed that it is that spirit and dedication, passion and love that make a real farmer. She said, I have that spirit, and I am more farmer than many who claim the title.

Tears pricked my eyes, and I had to fight to maintain my composure. I felt as though the editor of the New York Times had just said to me: “Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus.” Thanks to that friend’s kind words of support, and thanks to so many others who supported my ambitions, I went on to pursue my dream of owning my own farm and making my living by working with nature to feed my family and community.

Note: To read that story in full, click this link: “Yes, Samantha, you are a farmer.”

Yet, just as much as I am a farmer─so, too, am I a writer. The truth is…I just do not feel whole when writing is not a consistent part of my life. I love being a farmer, but something inside me compels this outpouring of words to page. It will not be denied, ignored, or left behind.

Farm First

Runamuk currently serves 40 local households through it’s CSA program, maintains a farmstand, and collaborates with 2 local restaurants.

Since buying my forever-farm 3 years ago, I’ve largely put the farm first. Establishing Runamuk at this new location, building infrastraucture, gardens, and a clientèle, has been a monumental and all-consuming project. Add to that BraeTek’s return to homeschooling, and a new relationship with my Mr. Right, and you can see why I might need to put writing on the back-burner.

But it didn’t feel right. The urge to create and express myself literally is always there, sometimes fairly choking me with it’s desire to be expressed. Snippets of stories that want to be told come to me on the wind when I am working in the garden. Bits of inspiration hit while I am driving along my delivery routes. Conversations between characters play out in my head when I am mucking livestock sheds. Just as that desire to farm and feed people burns inside me, so too does the need to write.

I know in my heart, if I were to give up on writing─if I were to continue ignoring that side of myself for the rest of my life─when I am old and frail, lying there on my death bed, I would regret it. And I am just not willing to go to the Great Beyond with regrets. I am not willing to live the unlived life, or even a half-life. For, that is what life is for me─without writing─a half-life.

Committed to Writing

I am committed to writing, just as I am committed to farming, to my family─to breathing air! I vow to you here and now, to post─at the very least─an update from the farm on a weekly basis. To myself, I promise to spend time every day─writing. Whether that writing is done in my journal, on the blog, or working on some other literary project─I will write. For, I am a writer, and the words will not be denied.

I write about what I love and hold most dear─farming, self-sufficiency, feeding my family and community, family dynamics, connecting with nature, and environmental conservation. They say to write what you know…well, that’s what I know─because it’s who I am. I am a farmer─and a writer!

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It truly is my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to 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, my friend!!

New 1-Acre Garden!

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.

The new garden with the backside of the farmhouse just beyond. It’s a thing of beauty.

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.

This is one sexy fence!

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.

I finally have a farm-sign! Woot! Woot!

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?

Hamming it up with Hakurei Turnip-Head.

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.

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm.

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!

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!

Taking it as it comes, rolling with the punches

working in the hoop-house

Things are not going exactly how I’d hoped.  The meager savings Keith and I had managed to set aside have been spent–already invested into the farm.  Despite the fact that I ran an 11-family CSA 2 years ago, we were not able to attract the number of CSA subscribers we’d hoped for–having to skip a year last summer because of our impending move broke any momentum we’d gained.  The Indiegogo campaign brought us $1400, which was some help, but the truck is in need of serious repairs, and Keith’s off-farm job pays the mortgage and our living expenses, and that’s all.

I’ve been studying sustainable farming for years, practicing on a small scale, and gearing up for this phase of my life when I could finally make my dreams a reality.  In all that research I came across a few who were adamant that to make your farm a success you needed a nest-egg–to live off, and for investment.  But then there are those who have managed to bootstrap their way to success, and I know that it must be possible–if you have the grit and determination to persevere.

Honestly, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants–terrified that I might be making the biggest mistake of my entire life–setting myself and my family up for an epic failure.  Scared to death that we might loose everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve so far–however small and insignificant that may yet be.  I think it would devastate me to loose this land….

But things are going.  They may not be going exactly as I’d hoped–but we are gaining–slowly but steadily, we are making progress here at Runamuk.

Success in the garden

Having the field plowed and tilled was a major accomplishment that I am still reveling in.  I have designed the lay out of this new garden, taking into account everything I have learned over the last 10 years–all of the successes and the mistakes I made–and this new market garden is taking shape with those lessons in mind.

What a joy it is to be under the sun, birds chorusing in the trees that surround the field, sore from hoeing the paths and raking the beds, sweaty and frustrated with the swarming black flies, hands covered in dirt from the rich garden soil.  Sometimes it still feels so surreal–to be back on this land, finally farming it the way I’d always longed to do.

The market garden in approximately an eighth of an acre.  I’m working on it one section at a time–partly to keep from getting overwhelmed, partly because two weeks ago it was still too cold to think about putting in tomatoes and peppers, and partly due to the fact that the lower end of the garden was still incredibly wet after being tilled.  But I’ve got 6 rows of onions planted, 2 types of carrots, 2 types of beets, some rutabaga, 2 varieties of snap peas, shelling peas, spinach, lettuce mix, five varieties of potatoes–including 3 rows of storage potatoes–and 2 types of string beans–so far.

working in the hoop-house
Lots of plants in the recently finished hoop-house!

This week I’m beginning to focus on getting all of the seedlings that I’ve been growing in the hoop-house planted into the garden.  First up–the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.  Some of the smaller cuke-varieties–the pickling types–will be planted with sunflowers, which will serve as trellises.  In the next section of the garden, where the squashes are to be planted, I will plant sunflowers with a pole bean in the middle of every squash hill.

Because I practice companion planting in order to attract beneficial insects and birds–I will have sunflowers (among other things) planted sporadically throughout the garden.  They serve as perches for birds, food for pollinators, and trellises for climbing and vining crops.  Sunflowers are a work-horse flower in my gardens.

Recovering the apiary

In addition to the garden work, I’ve also been repairing bee-boxes, re-painting them, up-dating them–gearing up for the spring honey-flow.  When I first started beekeeping, I painted my boxes-and they were bright and colorful, like a rainbow.  I no longer paint my hive equipment, yet those initial boxes that have already been painted, and I’m not going to discard useful equipment just because my tactics have evolved, so I’m just repainting them yellow and green to coordinate with our farm colors.

Only 5 of our 12 colonies came through the bitter winter we suffered this year, and that was a big loss to our farm as well.  The apiary is a big part of our business, and I’d invested a lot of time, energy, and money into investing in new colonies last year to grow our hive-numbers.  This year, with all the other investments to make as we expand our farm to include other livestock–the money is not available to buy nucs or packages to replace the dead colonies.

Instead I am focusing my beekeeping-efforts on building up the remaining colonies so that they are strong and healthy.  I hope to be able to make a couple of splits and nucs, which will serve to increase hive-numbers–but first and foremost, I want to ensure that the colonies are very strong before winter comes around again.  Next year I have new, hygienic and treatment-free Queens coming from Kirk Webster of Vermont, so the plan is to be able to have “booming” colonies to make splits and nucs with next year.

Coping with livestock set-backs

The chicks are growing rapidly, though we lost our guinea fowl to a local fox, along with 3 chicks–Keith chased the offender through the woods, and succeeded only in reclaiming a dead guinea.  Not wanting the bird’s loss to be in vain, he gutted it and skinned it, and we had it for dinner the next day.  After that we put an electric net fencing around the coop to protect the remaining birds.

We have yet to bring any other livestock to the farm.  We’re still working to get fencing squared away–with no money to buy the electric fencing we’d wanted, we’re searching for solutions to this problem.  Donations of fencing have been made to us, and as soon as the truck has been repaired, we can retrieve the fencing and get the stuff up.  A couple of pigs are the first on the list, but we have 3 sheep that are being donated to the farm in a month.  And I am still hoping to get at least a couple of goats in order to provide milk and dairy for the family.

Gaining ground

Business at our local Madison Farmers’ Market is picking up–each week it brings in a chunk of cash that–at the moment–is Runamuk’s life-blood.  Keith is considering changing his work-schedule so that I can pick up a Saturday market and attend craft fairs this fall–opening the door for new opportunities and the chance for me to increase sales.  Investments in new signage, and plenty of recent publicity has given Runamuk some great exposure in the central Maine area–people are beginning to recognize our farm.

It’s difficult–knowing where you want to get to–but being unable to reach those goals.  Life throws unexpected obstacles in your path, and there is little to do but take it as it comes, and roll with the punches.  I am learning to accept that, and focusing on completing one small task at a time–every small accomplishment is a victory, and they will eventually add up.  In the meantime, I am living the dream–working like a dog–but bringing my dreams to life, one day at a time.

Stay tuned folks!

 

Bringing back the Runamuk CSA

green sprouting calabrese broccoli

green sprouting calabrese broccoli

I’m really excited to announce that this year, Runamuk will be reinstating it’s CSA!

Some of my followers might remember our CSA program from 2012–which I put on hold during 2013 in the face of our impending move.  I learned a lot about farming and business that year, and we will carry those lessons with us as we move forward and Runamuk continues to grow.

Changes to the program

We’ll be making some significant changes to the way we do our CSA this year.  One of the biggest challenges to our 2012 CSA was the delivery of shares.  I’d hoped that by offering delivery I would entice locals to subscribe–and that worked–we gained 11 subscribers for our micro-farm’s little CSA, we forged new relationships with locals and strengthened relationships with friends and family through the CSA.  But those deliveries were a huge drain on my time when I should have been tending to the crops I was growing for those shareholders.

With that knowledge, as we move forward, Runamuk will no longer offer delivery of CSA shares.  We’ve decided to utilize a different model for our CSA program–known as the “market CSA pick up”–or sometimes referred to as a “debit-style CSA”.

How it works

Basically, members establish a credit account with the farm and shop at our booth during farmers’ market; each week the shareholders’ account is debited the exact amount they spend.  You can spend as much or as little as you want each week, purchase only those things you and your family like to eat.  The remaining balance on your account rolls over to the following week.

There is no customer commitment to picking up produce every single week.  You decide when to purchase vegetables with your debit balance.  Shop as your schedule permits, skip weeks when you’re out of town.

brune d'hiverChoose the quantities and types of produce you want from anything that is available at the Runamuk booth.  If you want vegetables, buy vegetables; if you want a jar of honey, no need to bring cash, you’ve already pre-paid for it!  We’ll be offering seedlings this spring, eggs, a diverse array of vegetables, honey, beeswax products like our soaps and salves–these CSA accounts will be good for any product that Runamuk has to offer.  The only catch is–you have to come to market to get it.

Bonus rewards

We are offering to members who sign up by April 1st a 10% bonus on their investment, but the earlier you sign up the bigger your bonus reward will be.  Also, if you participate in one of our work-days this summer, or volunteer your time working on the farm, we’ll credit your account with an additional $25.

Support local farms

CSA programs like ours offer farmers a much needed influx of cash at a time of the year when they need it most; in return shareholders get to know their farmer better and get the freshest, highest quality foods.  There are lots of great things happening at Runamuk this year–for more details on our CSA program please check out the “CSA Information” page.