A Single Mom Farming Alone

It was never my intention to be a single mom farming alone─in fact, I rarely think about my situation that way. Beginning farmer? sure. Female farmer? absolutely. Single white woman farming with 2 kids in tow? Not so much. It was recently pointed out to me on facebook, though, when another page shared Runamuk’s post with this remark: “Think being a single mom prevents one from starting a farm? Think again. This mom shows how it’s done in Maine!” I was startled by their assessment and it’s been nagging at me ever since, so naturally I have to tell a story about it.

Kids Bring Farming to Another Level

My 2 sons, BraeTek on the left, and William in the foreground.

Farming is hard under even the best of circumstances, but having kids on the farm brings it to another level. Kids have to have routines, they need to be cared for and fed, educated and molded into responsible citizens with good values and moral principles. I’m happy for the moms out there who have family and friends to help them along their child-rearing journey. I believe that a child should have a village in his or her life; a diverse array of people to learn from and draw a wide-range of experiences from. Unfortunately, I have never had that kind of support in my own child-rearing journey.

When my boys were very young, I was especially isolated and I struggled with it in a big way. I’ve had to learn to juggle my passion for farming with my motherly responsibilities. In fact, trying to farm and be a mom at the same time has been as big a challenge as securing property for Runamuk’s forever-farm was. Bigger, actually─because if I had never developed strategies to make it work for both my children and I, then I wouldn’t have been able to grow Runamuk to the point that I could convince the FSA to help me invest in this property.

I’m that mom…

First, let me explain to you who my children are…

fun in the mud
We’ve always had lots of fun playing in nature!

You know those sweet little ones who are polite, clean, good-natured and well-behaved, toddling along behind their mother as they go through the grocery store? Yeah─those aren’t my kids. My kids are the ones who burst into the store already arguing with each other; they’re the ones who race up and down the aisles, bump little old ladies, or stop to scream at the cheese (yes. This really happens…regularly...). I’m that mom, too frazzled to bother taming her hair, who never really seems to have control of her kids.

I don’t really want to control my kids though. That’s not who I am, and that’s not how I parent. I believe that children are individuals just like you or I; they have their own needs, feelings and desires that should be respected. And, they have their own challenges in life too, just like you or I.

The Role Autism Has Played at Runamuk

My eldest son, William, is Autistic. He was diagnosed on the spectrum by the time he was 3: “High-Functioning Autistic”. He’s smart as a whip─reading by the time he was 3─and can remember facts and events like it’s nobody’s business.

William is also a visual thinker, and a bit of a ham. He often reenacts skits from various cartoons, comic strips, books, or movies that he’s seen or read. Check out the first few seconds of these 2 clips to see where screaming at the cheese in the dairy aisle comes from…

William is able to communicate fairly well, but struggles to understand social cues. He gets overwhelmed in social settings, and has such keen hearing that he’s very sensitive to loud or noisy situations. He has some extremely rigid thinking that impedes his daily life. And mine…

It’s hard to say if it’s the Scottish lineage of my ex-husband’s side, or if it’s just William’s nature to be quick to anger, but that’s traditionally been how he copes with his disability. He gets so angry when someone says or does something that doesn’t match up with what he expects or wants it to be, that sometimes he lashes out at the people around him─either verbally or physically.

He also struggles with impulse control, so teaching him that it’s not right to hit, use hurtful language, or reenact inappropriate skits, has been exceedingly challenging.

As a young mother I had an extremely difficult time dealing with society’s judgemental nature. Among the professionals who were supposed to be helping me walk my disabled son through various treatments and therapy programs, I felt judged incompetent because I could not control my son. By the teachers leading the preschool program, I felt inadequate because my son could not sit in circle time without hitting the child next to him. And I especially felt judged by other moms we tried to connect with; rarely were we invited back for a second visit.

It’s hard to say if it was William’s behavior, or my own reclusive nature that got in the way back then. I was insecure, highly sensitive, and overwhelmed. I tried, but I could not control my young son. I could not make him do what they wanted; William only does what he wants.

After BraeTek came along it became extremely difficult to take William on outings by myself─even a trip to the grocery store was an ordeal. I remember one time I had BraeTek in his infant-carrier, strapped atop the grocery cart and I left him there while I chased William 2 aisles away! Mercifully my baby was still there when I returned, heart in my throat, 4yo William tucked under my arm kicking and screaming.

Ups & Downs

with william at borestone
My attempt to get a picture with William

As he’s grown older, and especially since my divorce, William and I have had some serious ups and downs in our relationship. He resented me for the divorce. My living situation in the years leading up to the purchase of Runamuk’s farm was rough on the kids. It’s gotten much better since we’ve finally found home, but even now it seems to come and go in waves. Some days William is a happy prankster, re-telling Garfield comic strips. Other days he can be so aggressive, and so difficult for me to remain calm in the face of his raging fury, that I am reduced to sobbing in the bathroom at the end of the day.

That’s why he only stays with me 2 nights each week.

Mother of the Year I am not.

My ex-husband is an excellent father though, and it is a consolation for me to know that William has grown in all areas with his father as his primary care-giver. Meanwhile, BraeTek is at Runamuk 4 nights a week, and seems to be doing well with me as his primary care-giver. Following our divorce, my ex and I have learned to co-parent with the best interests of our children at heart, and I’m grateful for the amiable relationship we now share.

Still, I can’t help but harbor some guilt for the mistakes I’ve made in raising my boys. I can’t help feeling some level of guilt for the fact that I couldn’t give up my farm-dream to put their needs first. And I can’t help feeling guilty that I get overwhelmed by my own son.

Strategies & Attitudes

fresh carrots
William has always loved eating straight out of the garden!

The boys are 16 and 12 now; looking back on it I can see how I adapted different strategies and attitudes with my children that allowed me to cater to their needs and the needs of Runamuk at the same time.

Eventually I learned to ignore other people’s judgemental attitudes. William looks like a normal 16 year old boy; they don’t realize that he has some serious issues to contend with, and so I forgive them their harsh judgements.

When we are in a store or social situation, I’ve learned to focus solely on William so that I can thwart those impulses of his. And for special events, my ex and I have learned to team up to coax William through.

I’ve learned to plan my week around William’s visit. I don’t work off the farm on those days so that I can supervise William, and I stay within earshot of the house when he is at Runamuk. On days when William’s mood is more volatile, I’ve learned to be flexible enough to drop whatever I’m doing in order to work him through it.

Keeping a good routine with the kids has been imperative, I’ve found, and so I stop farm-work by 4 to cook dinner and spend time as a family.

And I’ve learned to use screen-time to my advantage. They’ll work through a number of chores for the promise of 2 or 3 hours on the internet. And when they get out of line, the screens are the first thing to go.

World’s Okayest Mom

Motherhood is probably the biggest challenge of my life, and as such it is also the biggest source of insecurity in my life. That’s why I was so taken aback by that facebook post: “This mom shows how it’s done!”

Obviously they don’t know me, lol.

If any of the cashiers from the Madison Hannaford supermarket are reading this, I’m sure they’re chortling with laughter right now. They’ve seen my kids (and me) at our worst─unwitting bystanders to this show I call “My Life”.

I’m really not the mom to show anyone how it’s done. Laughingly, I refer to myself as the “World’s Okayest Mom”─not the worst by far, but certainly not the World’s Greatest Mom.

strawberries on greenstalk
BraeTek, age 12.

I never gave up though. I’ve given my kids everything I could─emotionally, physically and financially─even while trying to build this crazy farm-dream of mine. I may not always get motherhood right, but I’m always giving it the best I have.

Older now, and more confident in myself, I’ve found a new level of freedom in not caring what anyone thinks of me─or my son. This freedom has allowed me to create a life all my own. It allows me to be wholely and completely myself─quirky, weird and passionate, life-loving me─and there is no one I am more myself with than my children.

You know the mom in the grocery store who is talking and laughing─maybe just a little too boisterously─with her children as they shop? The mom who uses different voices when reading a storybook aloud, who actually gets in the sled with the kids, makes a mud pie, a blanket-fort, or takes up a swash-buckling stick-fight with her son? You know those moms who make ordinary days magic, and holidays extraordinary?

I’m that mom.

Go forth and farm, ladies!

My favorite picture as “Mom”.

I’m damned proud of how far I’ve come with my children, and the mother that I am. It hasn’t been an easy road, but if it hadn’t been for the experiences I had as a young mother, I surely would not be the person I am today. And yes, I’m proud that I’ve managed to build up this farm even while coping with the struggles of motherhood.

I hope that my story does inspire other women to follow their hearts and lead their own farming-journeys─even with their kids in tow. I hope they look at me and say, “My kids are way better behaved than Sam’s; if she can do it, so can I!” Go forth and farm ladies; the world needs us!

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box; OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day-to-day goins-ons of this bee-friendly Maine farm!

The Threat of Snow

threat of snow

October is a tricky month for farmers. One day it’s mild and beautiful─you take pause to admire the spectacle of Maine’s glorious fall foliage; the next day the temperature plunges, the wind picks up, and the threat of snow looms in the forecast. For the last few weeks I’ve been walking this line between preparing for winter and still trying to make the most of what’s left of the season, but with Samhain just days away, and Thanksgiving not far off─this is really it. The end of the 2018 growing season.

Winter Preparations

If I’ve learned anything about living and farming in Maine over the course of my 38 years, it’s that you don’t want to be caught unprepared when winter sets in. My personal deadline for all farm and household winterizations is Thanksgiving; experience has taught me that by the third Thursday of November, generally the weather is too cold and windy for much in the way of outdoor work, the ground is frozen, and the threat of snow is in the forecast. Having the apiary put to bed, critters snuggly and protected from the elements, and all equipment stowed away puts this farmers’ mind at ease and allows me to immerse myself in the festivities that come with the Persephone Period and the Dark Days of the Year.

closing in the chicken coop
Closing in the 3-sided shed that’s attached to the garage.

Winter livestock preparations have been the main focus here at Runamuk throughout September and October, but with more urgency as we’ve moved further into October.

The shed attached to the garage, which already had chain-link fencing covering the long wall, I converted into a Winter Coop for the chickens. On the open end I built a wall to close it in, then covered it with chicken wire. Roosts were assembled, along with a set of “Deluxe Nesting Boxes”─only the best for my ladies, I tell them!

The weather in early October was still mild however, and I really wanted to run the flock across the plot where I intend to plant perennial fruit trees next spring─so I held off on moving the girls into their winter digs.

winter chicken coop
Just add plastic (but only if it’s 6mil greenhouse film)!

Sheep: Free to Good Home

In the meanwhile, Runamuk was offered a pair of sheep. Yes! For reals! Beautiful purebred Romney sheep─free, and so sweet and sociable they’re sure to melt hearts.

Lily and Miracle were offered to us by friends we know through the local 4H group we were once a part of. Nina Blauvelt reached out to me to say that this had been her daughter Emily’s last year at the fair, as she is now a senior with a job and looking at colleges for next year. They’re downsizing their sheep herd, but these 2 in particular are very special to Emily, and she didn’t have the heart to send them to auction. The Blauvelts were looking for a good home for the pair and naturally they thought of me with my new #foreverfarm; was I interested?

Initially, I said no. Four years ago I had a not-so-great experience with free sheep that made a lasting impression (check out: Sheep in the Garden to learn the whole story!); ultimately it was a valuable lesson in the importance of proper farm infrastructure. That same year taught me to be careful not to take on more than I can handle─and I’ve been very mindful of that concept as I’ve been settling Runamuk in here. My hands are already full. I’ve been out straight all summer (and loving every minute of it! don’t get me wrong) but sheep were no longer part of the plan for Runamuk.

The next morning, as I was driving eastward toward Fairfield and the office at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, the sunrise painted vibrant shades of crimson and yellow across the sky, while the radio playing only my favorite songs─it hit me all of a sudden that I really wanted to be the one to give Emily’s beloved sheep a good home. With 13 acres of grass to my name, and fencing materials already on hand, I really had no reason not to take them. What’s more, grass-eating sheep would fill a gap in my farm and homestead operations that would be too beneficial to pass up: namely, added grass management, another source of manure for the gardens, and a red meat option for my family. Plus, sheep would add a definitive cute-and-cuddly feature to Runamuk; as much as I love them, bees and chickens are not necessarily the most endearing of creatures when it comes to marketing.

Right then and there I pulled over into the break-down lane to send Nina a message as cars and tractor-trailor trucks zoomed past me on Route 201A.

I wasn’t sure how soon the newcomers would arrive, so in case it was sooner rather than later, I put together a slick little moveable sheep-shelter the very next day. It’s similar to the chicken tractors, but without the nesting boxes and the roosts, which makes the structure light as a feather.

portable sheep shelter
Moveable sheep-shelter (for summer-use only!). Note to self: Next year anchor it with cement blocks!

I was pretty pleased with the thing, and it looked great set up in the pasture with the electric net sheep-fencing. A few days later however, autumn turned on it’s heel, wind and rain rolled in, the temperatures plunged, and that lightweight summer-shelter was literally blown away. I found pieces of it strewn across the yard; wryly, I decided that the time for temporary shelters was over, and set myself to work on a sheep-shed that would serve through our rugged Maine winters.

A Mom Win

Meanwhile, with temperatures plunging at night, and some pretty intense winds, I decided it was time to move the flock into the Winter Coop. My chicken-tractors are only meant to be used through the summer months, and as such are open at either end. I was increasingly worried about the flock suffering at night, so I made the final preparations to the Winter Coop (a door lol) and the boys helped me move the birds in.

With a child on the Autism spectrum, and having faced divorce and come out on the other side, being a mom and a farmer at the same time has not easy for me (that’s a whole post in and of itself!). Yet that evening I felt like maybe─just maybe─I’m an OK mom.

Bundled against the cold and whipping wind, headlamps strapped to our heads as we traipsed back and forth across the lawn in the dark, carrying bird after bird─my boys performed like true farm-kids. I demonstrated with the first chicken how I wanted the birds to be held as they carried them across the yard, and how to settle each bird onto a roost inside the coop. They did a great job of it, and with 63 birds it was no small task. When it was finished I felt a sense of relief for the chickens, along with this immense feeling of fulfillment. Afterall, it was for my children that I became a farmer in the first place, and to be able to impart some of these skills upon them is hugely important to me. In that moment it really felt like I might actually be doing an OK job of it.

inside the winter coopdeluxe nesting boxeschickens inside the winter coopPreparing for Sheep

With the chickens taken care of, I could turn my attention back to preparing for the arrival of sheep to Runamuk. Wanting to keep all the livestock fairly close to the house for the winter, I decided to build the Sheep-Shed off the backside of the garage using schedule 40 PVC conduit, and some wooden platforms that the previous owners had left behind. I covered the whole thing in Tufflite Greenhouse Film (I use this stuff for everything! it’s the best!) that I bought at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and voila!─Winter Sheep-Shed!

finished sheep-shed
Finished sheep-shed!

Having both chickens and sheep based off the garage, meant that I only needed to rig up one electric fence charger to energize fencing for both species. It felt good to be able to make use of one of the chargers I inherited from James Murphy during my tenure at his farm in Starks. That man did a lot for me in his afterlife, and even though I didn’t end up at his farm permanently, I’m beholden to Jim for the lessons learned there, and for the tools, equipment, books and furniture that I inherited from him. I’ll be forever grateful, and I’m still glad that I chose to name my dog after the man.

electric fence charger
I was pretty ecstatic when I managed to rig up my own electric fence charger WITHOUT electrocuting myself! Yes, Sam─you ARE a farmer!

Sheep Delivery!

The Blauvelts came last Monday evening to deliver Lily and Miracle to me. I gave them the grand tour:  Runamuk’s #foreverfarm and my great big house (aka – “my castle”). Nina, her husband Gordon, and their daughter Emily, have followed my journey to farm ownership since our days in 4H, and they’ve watched my progress this summer on Instagram. As farmers themselves, they could see right away the potential this property has for me and for Runamuk. I think they felt really good about leaving their beloved sheep with me.

emily w her sheep
Emily Blauvelt with Lily and Miracle.

Emily led her 2 prized ewes: Lily and Miracle, across the yard to the paddock I’d created around the Sheep-Shed and the backside of the garage with my electric net fencing. This area had not been touched by the chickens, and despite the cold and the decreasing day-light hours, there’s still some lush grass in that spot; the 2 sheep were eager to graze when they saw it.

I got a quick download on sheep-care from the Blauvelts as Lily and Miracle checked out their new accommodations, along with the promise of help should the need ever arise, then they bade us all farewell. And so now I have sheep!

lily and miracle
Sheep at Runamuk! Lily on the left, and Miracle on the right.

Threat of Snow in the Forecast

We’ve already had a couple of snow-squalls here in the mountains of western Maine, and the threat of snow is in the forecast again this weekend. Typically these threats don’t amount to much in October, and, because the ground is not yet frozen, we generally don’t see any accumulation until around Thanksgiving─hence my Thanksgiving deadline for winter preparations. The window is fast closing and I know it. Every day I’m checking chores off my list one at a time, so that when Thanksgiving rolls around I can hunker down inside my house and just enjoy the season to come.

birdhouse in snowstorm
Snow magic. I’m in love!

There’s something magical about winter─maybe it’s just winter in Maine? or maybe I’m the only one in the world who feels this way, lol. Regardless, I find snowstorms absolutely enchanting: the way the snowflakes cascade from the sky and the stillness of the world around you. I revel in the energy of storms; the power of wind and the might of nature beyond our control reminding me that there are greater forces at work here. Sunrises after an ice storm are enough to bring tears to my eyes (and not because they’re blinding!); I adore the way trees’ limbs and branches are coated with ice, and how the brilliant pink and orange hues of the sunrise glint off them. And I love, love, love the way a power outage can draw the family together; playing boardgames by candlelight is a special kind of magic.

Once I loathed the Dark Days; it’s easy to feel isolated and to slip into the winter-blues at this time of the year. I’ve learned to take this as a time for self-reflection, a time for honoring the ancestors through tradition, and a time to be with family and friends. Mostly though, I think I’ve learned to see the good and bad in everything─the seasons, people, animals…even the slimy and the scary ones. I’ve learned to appreciate life for whatever it is, to accept it for what it isn’t, and to just be grateful that I’m here to experience anything at all.

Our world is a beautiful place when we chose to embrace it, and life really can be what we make of it. If we would only try: one foot in front of the other; one day at a time─there will be inevitable failures and set backs, but if we keep moving forward in the direction of our goals and dreams─there will certainly be progress too. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the way we look at something. <3

Thanks for following along with my farming journey!!! You can support bee-friendly farming simply by buying our products; check out our online farm-store to get yourself something nice today! Subscribe by email to receive the latest updates directly to your in-box. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day-to-day happenings on this Maine farm!

A good season

spring honey 2017

It’s been a good season for Runamuk, all things considered. The weather has been good this year, with a good amount of rain and an equally good amount of sun. There have been a few scorchers and a few chilly nights, but all around it’s just been a decent season and farmers all over Maine have reveled in a year where they can simply farm and grow. A welcome change after last year’s drought.

In the Apiary

Beehives apiary august 2017
The apiary in August!

With adequate rain, the flowers have offered up plenty of nectar this season, and the bees at the apiary in the Hyl-Tun pastures have produced a crop of spring honey. After 2 years without honey to sell I now have available both a fall honey (from the 2016 season) and this new spring honey.  Yaaaaaaay!

spring honey 2017
If you haven’t tried honey on your Saturday morning pancakes, you don’t know what you’re missing!!!

I’ve put out both varieties in sampling at market and at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, so that folks can taste and learn about the different types of honey. Most people have no idea that there’s more than one type of honey, so accustomed to the standard “Clover Honey” found in the mainstream grocery store is the general population.

It all comes down to the flowers the bees are foraging on. Different types of flowers will produce varying flavors─even varying consistencies of honey. Honey will differ from one region to the next, as the floral sources are a little different from landscape to landscape. Here in Maine the spring honey is typically lighter in color, sweeter and thinner; whereas the fall crop will be darker and has a more robust flavor, and tends to crystallize quite a lot fast because it has a lower moisture content.

Having honey has meant a huge boost to Runamuk’s income, and after having none these last couple years due to harsh weather and the fall-out from my divorce in 2015─it feels really good to have been able to make a come back.

In the Garden

squash neighborhood and sunflowers
The squash neighborhood has turned out to be very productive this year!

The sandy patch of soil at 26 Goodine’s Way where Runamuk has parked itself during the interim has produced a respectable amount of food to feed this farmer. It’s a small garden, so I’m not taking many vegetables to the farmers’ market, but I am able to feed my family with it.

Our strategy to house the chickens for the winter on the garden site has paid off. Through the winter and early this spring the chickens worked the soil for us, cleaning up weeds and adding manure. In early May we moved them out of the garden into a movable hoop-coop and have allowed them to free range all summer. The fence that had protected the birds throughout the winter, now kept them out of the garden so we could grow our crops.

Read about the “Hoop-Coop” I built in the face of our impending farm-move to house the Runamuk laying flock!

amaranth 2017
Paul grew a hedgerow of Amaranth, which I had never tried before. Now I am smitten with it!

We’ve had lots of greens, radishes and turnips, beets, fresh onions and potatoes, zucchini and summer squash galore, and I’m just beginning to get cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. My winter squashes have done fabulous, and I even did a crop of dry beans for winter soups and stews. When a couple of wayward pumpkin seeds sprouted in the manure pile left after cleaning out the former hoop-coop, I poked a few more pumpkin seeds into the pile for my Thanksgiving pies and those have grown to sprawl all over too, with several pumpkins getting big and fat under the broad-leafed foliage.

It’s been a new experience for me, dealing with such sandy soil. The stuff is literally classified as “Dune sand”. The kind you want at the beach or in your toddler’s sandbox─NOT in your garden. At the start of the season as I planted my seedlings into the sand I felt despair, feeling it was surely an act of futility to ask anything the grow in that “soil”. This garden has enforced for me the idea that you can absolutely grow your own food just about anywhere with dedication and a lot of hard work.

Check out this post to learn more about my real food challenge!

The key to growing in sand, we’ve found, has been the addition of well-composted manure to the beds─lots and lots of it─and we mulched everything to help retain moisture. Paul set up an irrigation system  for the garden that drew from an unused well here; he’s watered the garden religiously every morning and evening, and then even 2 or 3 or 4 times during the day when the sun burns hot. With a passion for soil-building and growing food, Paul has more or less taken over the garden aspect of the Runamuk venture, freeing me up to focus on the bees, while still allowing me to keep my hands in the dirt.

The Runamuk FarmRaiser

farmraiser launch countdown
The Runamuk FarmRaiser launch countdown on my phone! Gasp!

There are just 11 days left before the Runamuk FarmRaiser campaign launches on September 1st. Preparations for the campaign have consumed my spare time─as if I had any to begin with lol! The whole thing is pretty scary and there have been several mornings I’ve woken up at 3am with my heart pounding and anxiety coursing hotly through my veins.

I remind myself during these moments of panic that it really doesn’t matter how much or how little the gofundme campaign raises, the FSA offers financing on the down-payment as well, but I can’t help feeling that the more I am able to raise the better it’s going to look to the land-owner, or the more doors the down-payment fund might open for Runamuk. It’s a huge deal and I feel as though much of what Runamuk is─or can be─hinges upon the success of this crowdfunding campaign.

balfour farm with maine farmland trust
I attended a dinner at Balfour Farm recently, that was sponsored by the Maine Farmland Trust! Connected with some kindred spirits and made some new connections; what a great group of people!

So what do I do at 3 in the morning when fear prevents me from sleeping? I work! I’ve put together an entire Media Kit containing flyers, press release, full-length article, HD pictures, social media graphics and more. Friends have volunteered to post flyers and help spread the word too, so feel free to check out the resources in this file on my Google Drive. If you’re inspired, go ahead and share my story with your friends, print out some fliers and paper the town!

billys belly bluegrass festival
My friend Sonia Acevedo with her offspring Eden, on stage at Billy’s Belly Bluegrass Festival in Anson.

I’ll be visiting local events over the next few weeks to tell the community about the Runamuk FarmRraiser and to invite folks to the upcoming party on October 1st. It’s been fun getting out there in the broader community to connect with people; I’ve run into old friends, finally met friends whom I’d only ever known online, and made a lot of new friends too. I’ve invited every one of them to my party lol.

The press release went out to local papers last week, and I contacted a few journalists that I have connections with─hoping to increase exposure of the Runamuk FarmRaiser. I also have a long list of organizations I want to reach out to to share my mission for a pollinator conservation farm. Now I just need to make a few videos: an explainer video to go along with my campaign, a teaser video, and a couple of “behind-the-scenes” videos. Stay tuned to see my attempt at video-making coming soon!

As anxious as I am about the gofundme campaign, I’m equally as excited to share the upcoming FarmRaiser party with friends, not just as a fundraiser, but as a celebration of farming and friendship─and bees! My talented and beautiful friend Sonia Acevedo from Hide & Go Peep Farm is going to play for us, and I’m working on recruiting some other musicians but I can’t give out the details on that til it’s nailed down, so check in with me later! Otherwise there will be lots of great food to share (it’s pot-luck!), local brew to imbibe, hay bales to sit upon under barn rafters lit with twinkling white holiday lights, and many many good friends to catch up with. It’s going to be a really fun time and I hope you’ll come spend the evening with us on Sunday October 1st!

Shifting focus

kale beet seedlings
Kale and beet seedlings we sowed for harvesting later this fall and winter.

Summer seems to have passed in the blink of an eye and now back-to-school season and the impending cooler weather of fall are approaching at break-neck speed. Our focus is shifting from growing and producing, to self-preservation for the coming winter: Paul has begun cutting up logs that will become our winter heating, we’re talking about how to protect the laying hens from the minks this winter, and about how we will store the potatoes. Even now that it’s almost late-August we’re still poking seeds in the ground to grow crops that we will harvest later in December and January when there is snow on the ground. I love the seasonality of this farming life of mine; each season brings it’s own ups and downs but it’s always part of the turning wheel of the year.

Thanks so much for following along and stay tuned for more updates coming soon from Runamuk!

2016 Year-End Review

runamuk-apiary-bees-on-a-hive

A full rotation of the Earth around the sun has brought us once again to the end of the calendar year. It’s been a busy year for Runamuk, with some ups and some downs too, and some life altering moments. Before we shift our focus to 2017 and all that the new year may bring our way I’d like to take a moment to review what went well this year on our apiary and farm─and what did not.

Personally

paul-smith-runamuk-apiary
It’s a special kindov guy willing to lend a hand in the apiary!

Right out the gate 2016 brought a budding romance with a former CSA-customer of mine, and looking back on it now I suppose that set the tone for the whole year. Paul was eager to live the homesteader’s life, a more self-sufficient life, and an honest life, and he made up his mind pretty quickly that he wanted to do it with me. On the other hand, I was fresh out of one relationship and my divorce still a raw wound so I was fairly cautious about bringing a new person into my life and onto my farm. We decided on a 1-year trial “apprenticeship”, though Paul has been much more than my apprentice from the very start, lol. Over the course of the year we developed a strong partnership, which I’m confident will serve Runamuk well as we continue to grow the apiary together.

Apiary

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Hot bees hanging outside the hive!

In the apiary 4 out of 5 hives survived the winter of 2015-2016. When statistics indicate beekeepers are losing anywhere from 30 to 37% of their hives each winter, to have just a 20% loss was a big victory for Runamuk. I’ve been eager to grow my apiary, with big plans to expand and spent months last winter working on my business plan. It became apparent pretty quickly though that Runamuk just doesn’t have the kind of numbers that financial institutions want to see when they lend money. That’s one of the downsides to bootstrapping your business I guess.

Farming of any kind is a lot of investment up-front and it can take several years before the farmer starts seeing a return. For first generation farmers like me there’s a steep learning curve and the first years in business tend to involve some stumbling as we learn on-the-job. All this is especially true in beekeeping where all of the investment is in the hive-equipment and the gear you need to manage the bees, and where it can take new beekeepers half a decade to really grasp the intricacies of beekeeping today.

So the realities of the business world hit home for me; afterall, farming is a business just like other businesses. If you can’t show that you’re generating a positive income, even the USDA won’t give you money. Sure there are a number of programs to help beginning farmers or female farmers like me, but they still want to see those positive numbers.

And of course, there was the insecurity of my place there at Jim’s farm, when just 9 months after I signed their lease agreement my landlords decided to sell the property. Brief dealings with the Maine Farmland Trust revealed the bias that exists within the Maine agricultural sector, and the realities of business and money reared their ugly heads to create a road-block that ultimately put that farm out of my reach. This was the life altering moment when I chose to walk away, to say goodbye to a property which was, perhaps, the love of my life, in favor of the lifestyle that I need to live in order to be happy. I will never forget that piece of land, or the way it made me feel to be there, the plans I had to bring that iconic farm back to life, and how much I loved it.

new bees 2016
New honeybee colonies come in these starter-hives called “nucleus colonies” or “nucs”.

Despite that set back we managed to bring 10 nucleus colonies to the apiary this year, in addition we made a number of our own nucs by breaking up one of the four hives that survived the winter. I also caught a swarm and successfully hived it. We went into the 2016 winter with 15 colonies, at last check we’d lost 2 so current count is 13.

This was Runamuk’s second year with no honey crop. Last year, following the brutal winter of 2014-2015 when my hives all died, I brought in 5 nucs and took no honey from those new colonies. This year Maine experienced drought conditions that were pretty severe in some parts of our state; as a result the flowers were not producing much nectar and what little honey the bees made I distributed between the hives to ensure their winter survival. Runamuk customers have been asking for honey and while they were all disappointed by our lack of available honey, most were understanding and patient.

runamuk-beeswax-soap
I made a lot of soap this year!!!

I made more soap than ever before this year and even expanded my soap-line to offer new seasonal fragrances that were only available while supplies last, which was a big hit with Runamuk’s dedicated patrons and shoppers at the Madison Farmers’ Market. Increasing our distribution of Runamuk’s beeswax products had been a big goal for 2016; I managed to put together a store on our website, I listed soaps and salves with The Pick-Up in Skowhegan, and North Star Orchards sold my products in their farm-store too.

With my part-time off-the-farm job in addition to the #greatfarmmove, I found it difficult to maintain the pace and to allocate the time required to keep up with the soaps and salves. I couldn’t dedicate the amount of time necessary to photograph each product and write descriptions for online listings, and to top it off problems with the shipping-program we used on the Runamuk site made our online store unattractive to shoppers. We’ve taken the store off the site for maintenance and intend to have it back early in the new year.

Pollinator Conservation

I feel like this was a big year for my efforts to promote pollinator conservation. I only did a couple of small local presentations over the course of the summer: one with the children of the Solon Summer Rec program, one for the robotics team of the homeschool association at the Crossroads Bible Church in Madison, and one presentation for the folks at Johnny’s. But there was my talk at the Common Ground Fair, that was a pretty big achievement─and then the new beneficial-insect symbol in the Johnny’s catalog that I was fortunate to be part of. These successes have spurred something new and exciting coming to Runamuk; you’ll get that news in an up-coming blog-post so stay tuned!

Homestead, Farm & Garden

For years I’ve been working toward an increasingly self-sufficient diet of unprocessed and conscientiously produced foods. This year Paul and I made some big strides together choosing to eat less meat, and more vegetables, grains and legumes. We’re determined to feed ourselves and have been eating a lot of foods we’ve either grown or raised ourselves, foraged for, or purchased/bartered locally from other farmers we know. I still make a weekly shopping list for Hannaford, but I rarely spend more than $35 there, and that’s usually in the form of butter, coffee, and other staples─you know, like toilet paper─or wine.

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Field pea shoots on the left and buckwheat shoots on the right. Made us some great salads with some DIY vinaigrette to go with it!
fishing for food
Bass caught in the Sandy River, breaded in cornmeal and pan fried, served on a bed of microgreens, with a slice of buttered sourdough bread.

This year, to feed ourselves we grew our own sprouts and shoots, delved into the complexities of sour-dough baking, we foraged for fiddleheads and ramps, Paul went fishing and we harvested so much asparagus from Jim’s garden that we stank when we peed! We were even able to sell some at the farmers’ market. We grew a great crop of early peas and greens; I fell in love with Cherokee lettuce I grew from seed I got at Johnny’s (check this out!). I planted a big and beautiful garden and sowed 80 pounds of seed potato.

Despite my attempt to choke out the weeds with a first-year cover crop of buckwheat, the quack-grass was undeterred, but I was determined. My dedication to weeding faultered however when I realized I was going to let go my love affair with Jim’s farm. The weeds seized their opportunity and quickly took over the garden.

Lack of rain meant we were trying to irrigate the crops, using both the well and the pond. Paul set up a complex series of hoses and sprinklers, soaker-hoses and pumps, but even still it was a challenge to keep the crops moist in the sandy soil that made up the big garden. It took forever for my carrots to germinate, and then they grew so slowly that I forsake them; Paul pulled up a few slender carrots and a number of thumb-sized nubs on moving day.

Onions didn’t want to grow, my squash patch suffered, and though we grew some beautiful tomato plants with manure procured from friends at Willow Lane Farm in Harmony, we experienced an acute case of blossom end-rot that affected nearly the entire crop. We did however manage to get a harvest of early maturing potatoes: our Red Norlands did very well, and we had some Adirondack Blue and strawberry paw potatoes too. I had a third of my garden planted in potatoes, and half of the potato patch was dedicated to Kennebec potatoes for winter storage. Because they’re a late-maturing variety they suffered more from the drought and weed-pressure. I also ran out of time to harvest due to the move.

learning to butcher rabbit
Here I am beginning to skin and gut my first meat-rabbit!

Paul brought bunnies to the farm and I attended a workshop at Hide & Go Peep Farm in East Madison to learn how to process the meat-rabbits when the time comes. I kept a pair of rabbits in the garden for the summer, but never managed to construct the rabbit-tractor I wanted for the other pair of bunnies so I wound up rotating the rabbits between the barn and the one outdoor crate.

This year I finally went to the Maine Artisan Bread Fair that’s been held annually at the Skowhegan Fair Grounds for 10 years now. I brought home the abandoned kitten, and 30 more chicks for egg-production. Later in the fall, with help from Ernie and Gwen Hilton─good friends and dedicated supporters to Runamuk (and me), who live and farm at Hyl-Tun Farm just a mile up the road from where I was at Jim’s there in Starks─we sent 30 birds to freezer-camp: theirs and mine.

Storing the food we’d produced became another issue─especially once we’d made the move from Jim’s big old farmhouse where there was plenty of space, to Paul’s small mobile home. We’re making the best of it and have stashed the freezer full of food, the boxes of potatoes, and the bin of garlic, in the back bedroom as far away from the woodstove as possible, with the pumpkins and squashes lined up along the floor at the base of the wall.

Blog & Writing

Including this post, I’ve written 15 articles on a variety of topics from beekeeping and what kind of plants are good to grow for pollinators, to the broken food system and what resources peeps at Johnny’s Selected Seeds recommend for beginning farmers. I wrote 34 updates chronicling my journey as a beginning farmer and beekeeper here in Maine. This post will round 2016 out with a total of 50 pieces of writing.

Of course the big news regarding the Runamuk blog and my writing is our new relationship with Johnny’s as our blog-sponsor. Hooray for Johnny’s! I’m hoping to be able to bring on several more sponsors in 2017 for the chance to promote some great local─and green─Maine businesses.

Somerset Beekeepers’

Before the divorce my husband worked off-the-farm and supported our household, while I labored in the garden, with the bees or with goats or children (which often are much more difficult than goats OR bees!); I had a lot more time then for volunteer-work. Since the divorce I’ve been working either full or part-time off-the-farm, all while continuing to farm, keep bees, and homestead. Honestly it’s been more of a struggle to keep up with everything these last couple of years. After 5 years serving as the president of the Somerset Beekeepers, our county’s chapter of the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association, I finally stepped down. Unfortunately our group had fizzled and we were no longer seeing the attendance we once did. When I stepped down no one else stepped up to lead the group and the Somerset Beekeepers, sadly enough, has disbanded.

That being said, I’ve left myself available to the UME Somerset County Cooperative Extension as a beekeeping liaison of sorts, in the event the community should have need of me. It’s a good thing I did too! Round about August there was a gentleman beekeeper out in Embden who was working with his bees when he was overtaken suddenly by an allergic reaction to the bee stings. He was taken to the emergency room and his hives were left uncovered, the bees exposed to the elements. This gentleman’s daughter called the extension office, who in turn called me; so Paul and I drove over to Embden to close his hives for him.

Madison Farmers’ Market

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This was the second year we’ve accepted EBT at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

This was the second year that our local farmers’ market was able to accept EBT transactions from SNAP shoppers. We were able to draw in many new shoppers thanks to our participation in the Maine Harvest Buck’s program. Funding we received from the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets enabled the Madison market to give a dollar-for-dollar bonus to customers who purchased food items using their EBT. So if a SNAP shopper spent $20 at the market they received $20 worth of Harvest Bucks vouchers that could be used at any point throughout the season for the purchase of fruits and vegetables.

In Madison there was a new local food ordinance passed which opened up new opportunities for farmers growing and selling food there. Our market supported this movement, however we’re also cautious of it and have discussed at length how this impacts the market and how we want it to apply to farmers selling food at the Madison Farmers’ Market. Above all else we want to be offering fresh, locally produced food that is safe for our friends, families, and communities to eat; all of Madison’s farmers strive to meet the regulations outlined by the authorities for all of the food and products we sell.

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Sonia, of Hide & Go Peep Farm plays the fiddle at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

We had a hellova time with the company who processes our transactions at market. Last year we enrolled in the USDA’s flagship program to be able to accept EBT at the market; we received the equipment and first year of processing free in exchange for a 3-yr contract with a company called WorldPay who would process those electronic transactions for us. We were supposed to have a reduced fee this year, and then next year the market would pay the full sum for the service provided.

Regrettably, WorldPay was impossible to work with: I would call to make changes to our account so that the market could receive payment for the transactions we were processing at-market, wait on hold for 40 minutes before finally getting a representative, then I’d jump through hoops trying to get them the paperwork they wanted, but the changes were never implemented. One day I was on the phone all day going back and forth with WorldPay when I should have been outside working my bees. It was a nightmare.

After repeated attempts to resolve the issue we finally opted to cancel our account with WorldPay. We never received payment for any of the transactions processed at-market this season, and I wound up having to pay my farmers for those EBT and credit card sales out of market-funds. The WorldPay fiasco put our farmers’ market more than $500 in the red this year. Currently I’m working to get a new system in place before the start of the 2017 market-season.

It was difficult for me to keep up even with my work for the farmers’ market while I’m working off-the-farm, but after letting go of the Somerset Beekeepers I was all the more determined to hang on to the market. I did my best to prioritize and put the Harvest Bucks program first and foremost in my list of duties, but managing of meetings, recordkeeping, and promotion of the market and special events suffered some this year. Thankfully the farmers that make up our market have all become close friends and they’ve been understanding and supportive over the last 2 years.

Overall the farmers at the Madison Farmers’ Market dubbed the season a success. They were pleased with the increase in traffic we saw as a result of the Harvest Bucks program. We were able to extend our market into December thanks to an alliance with the Somerset Abbey that allows us to be inside every other Sunday from November til Christmas. We’re all looking forward to the new year and the coming season.

Biggest Lessons Learned

  1. Recordkeeping is as crucial to farming as is planting the seed that grows the crop. Get organized and make the time to document your work, your expenses, and your sales (income).
  2. You need good numbers to get any kind of financing or funding─as in positive income. In farming it’s important to have an instant source of income while your long-term crops mature: that’s why many farmers produce annual vegetables when they first start out.
  3. Owning the land you farm on is the most secure option for farmers. Do whatever it takes to make that happen: improve your credit score, look for a lease-to-own option, reduce your expectations and look at ugly-duckling properties which are typically more affordable. Land-insecurity in farming is hugely detrimental to your business, and leases not geared toward agricultural activity can be your downfall.
  4. Business is business. Farming is a business just any other; take it seriously or no one will take you seriously. When it comes to such crucial matters as land-leases that make up the very foundation of your farm, assume nothing─be sure to cover all details and get it in writing before committing.

Closing the Door on 2016

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More chicks this year to meet the demand for farm-fresh eggs at market.

I feel like this fall, over the course of the encroaching winter, I’ve examined my life and  let go of a lot of old baggage. I’ve closed the door on one chapter and I’m really looking forward to this new phase as I continue to grow my apiary and farm here in Norridgewock with Paul. What you’ve been reading here is just one woman’s story in the pursuit to generate her income through farming─the farming of bees, no less. I am not unique in the obstacles I’ve faced; land-access and lack of capital are 2 of the biggest challenges beginning farmers have to overcome if they are to succeed. Any individual determined to bootstrap their way to success in farming is going to have similar stories, and not all of us will make it. Some will give up.

But I am still here. Bring on 2017!

Winter solstice & dawning realizations

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As the Wheel of the Year turns the seasons and we move deeper into the darkest half of the year I want to pause for a moment to reflect on the journey that has brought me to where I am today. I’ve spent a lot of time this fall looking inward, thinking about who I am─the experiences that have shaped me as a person, and the choices I’ve made that brought me to this place in my life. Traditionally fall has been a time for honoring the dead, a time for self-reflection, for letting go and saying farewell. A time to release resentments and regrets.

Life is rough

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Traditionally the dark weeks leading up to the Winter Solstice are a time for reflection and letting go.

You know it’s been a rough one when your nine year old son looks at you with somber eyes and says to you “Mom…you’ve had a sad life….” These last few years have been especially filled with struggle─but that’s nothing new to me. Mine is a tale filled with pain and tragedy that I am not comfortable sharing online for the whole world to read. No─I’ll save that story for the memoir I’ll write someday, lol, and you’ll have to read the gory details from the pages of my book!

Maybe it’s just a survival tactic I’ve picked up along the way, but I’ve come to view times of trouble as “life lessons”. They’ve become opportunities─a time for self-reflection, exploration and personal growth.  And after each struggle I have emerged stronger, wiser, and perhaps (to my continuing detriment) even more stubborn. At this point I feel I have a pretty clear understanding of who I am, what I want, what I am willing to do to get it─and what I’m not. I’ve realized I’m a very principled person, but that my principles don’t always align with those of the mainstream public. I live largely by two guiding rules. The first: if it’s good for the Earth it’s good for me. and the second: live a full and happy life.

Who am I?

samantha-burns
“If it’s good for the Earth, it’s good for me.”

As a child growing up in Maine I was the proverbial tomboy; I ran through the woods, caught frogs and turtles in the ponds, turned over rotting logs looking for salamanders, played in the dirt with my brother and went fishing with my father. Over the years I have spent a lot of time wandering through the fields and woods, seeking the comforting solace of nature. Nature has healed my spirit, allowed me to feel accepted, loved, and worthy of being loved. I have a connection with nature; it’s only natural that I should want to protect something I care about so deeply.

Becoming an environmentalist, a farmer, beekeeper and advocate was the easy part. Learning to live a full and happy life─that one has been harder to realize. I had to first figure out that the key was to be true to myself─I mean the me that I am deep inside, the one who wants to hide for fear no one will like who and what I am. To do that I first had to figure out exactly who I was. That’s probably easier for some people to figure out, but for me there were a lot of barriers to overcome in order to do so. By the time I began to comprehend who I was and what I wanted, life had already swept me away far down the wrong road.

I am living proof of how a grisly childhood can lead an inexperienced young adult to make poor choices that can affect them for the rest of their life. A testament to how behaviors ingrained in us as children become part of who we are and shape who we become. That being said, I also believe the person we become is dependent upon the individual’s strength of character, their strength of will, and their ability to accept that turbid past, to learn and grow from those ordeals to become the person they are meant to be.

My runaway life

All of this has become clear to me over the last few years as I’ve worked towards living a life true to who I am. It wasn’t easy coming to terms with the fact that I just wasn’t happy in my marriage and that no amount of volunteer work, advocacy, or self-improvement was going to fix what was wrong in my life. Divorce is quite at odds with the lifestyle I lead in farming and I agonized for years over what I knew in my heart needed to be done. Before making the leap I even researched it─looking for guidance online from divorced farmers. Turns out it’s a pretty uncommon occurrence in the ag-industry. It’s incredibly difficult to separate marital assets when farming is involved. And if you think about it, “family” is synonymous with farming. Generally speaking, farmers just don’t get divorced.

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I looked after Dad for 5 years in an increasing capacity before he died; I didn’t realize til he was gone how close we’d come to be.

It wasn’t until my father died that I finally found the strength to reign in the runaway horse and wagon that my life had become. Changing the direction of your life after 17 years down the wrong road is no easy feat; it took everything I had to wrench that wagon off the road I was on. Some critics asked why I couldn’t have made the leap before my husband and I had taken a mortgage against the parcel of land that his parents had gifted us. Sadly, sometimes those life-altering realizations come to you belatedly, and for me it took losing my father to find the courage to make the changes in my life that my soul so desperately craved. No one regrets all those years of turmoil more than I; I will forever live with the knowledge that I hurt a number of people because I was not strong enough to take control of my runaway life.

I’m sure there are a great many people who believe I should have soldiered on, accepting those choices I made early in life, suffering through life for the sake of my children. I prefer not to live my life that way however, and I would not want my children to grow up to live their life that way either. I am a deeply principled person who regards a full and happy life as the second-most important guiding principle─I could not ignore the fact that for the entirety of my adult life I had not been happy in my marriage. And because I believe that any one person has the power to make changes in their lives no matter how big or small, I endured the uncertainty that followed─wading through the darkness in search of new light and a life that might make my heart sing and my soul soar.

Vulnerability, shame, connection and worthiness

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My first tattoo! Forest spirits from Hiyao Miyazaki’s animes; stories of man’s connection to nature which resonates with me personally.

So anyway─in the weeks leading up to and following our “Great Farm Move” I was pretty low and spent quite a lot of time thinking about the choices I’ve made. I thought about these principles that are important to me, that I want to live my life by, and what I want out of life. I spent some time indulging myself, doing some self-care: I started watching a lot of inspirational TED talks and I began to pick myself back up again. I went to see Young Frankenstein the musical at the Waterville Opera House with a colleague from Johnny’s, spent an afternoon shopping at local thrift stores with my sister, and just recently got my first tattoo. In another couple of weeks my sister and I will be going back to the Waterville Opera House to see the Nutcracker in honor of my late father, who had longed for years to take his girls to see that seasonal ballet, but never got the chance to do so.

In the midst of all this I came across Brené Brown’s TED talk on YouTube in which she talks about vulnerability and shame, two emotions that I am acutely familiar with. She says shame is the fear of disconnection. We all want to feel connected in life: connected to our families, to our co-workers, and connected within our community. I want to feel connected to the Earth and nature; that’s why I’m a farmer. Connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

Stay with me here; it all circles back around…

Brené says shame and vulnerability prevent the feeling of connection that we all crave, and no one wants to feel grief and disappointment, ashamed or vulnerable, anxious and unworthy─so we numb those difficult feelings. The problem is that you can’t selectively numb emotion; when we numb fear and anxiety, we also numb joy and gratitude and happiness. And then we find ourselves miserable and feeling vulnerable, so we numb.

According to Brené Brown we are the most in-debt, overweight, addicted and medicated society in U.S. history. We don’t want to feel the hard feelings so we numb them with alcohol, with prescription medications, food or whatever it is that comforts us and helps us not to feel vulnerable about who we are and our place in the world. We attempt to perfect ourselves, our children, our homes and our lives─we don’t want anything to be wrong or out of place so that no one can find fault in us because we want to maintain those connections which are so crucial to our existence. And Brené says we also pretend: we pretend to be like everybody else, or we pretend that we agree with the general consensus─we do what we have to do to fit in so that we can feel accepted.

In all of her research Brené found that there were two types of people: those who have a strong sense of worthiness and belonging and those who struggle with it, who are always wondering if they’re good enough (I would belong to this later group). She wanted to know what the first group had that the people in the second group did not, so Brené focused on just the people who possessed that sense of worthiness, calling them “the Wholehearted” and looked at all of the data she had collected from those kinds of people through her work as a researcher. She found that Wholehearted people all have one thing in common: they have courage.

Note: Brené points out that there’s a difference between “bravery” and “courage”, and that the word courage is derived from the Latin word “curr”, which means “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

Embracing imperfection

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Family fun photo!

These Wholehearted people simply have the courage to be who they really are─imperfections and all. These people embraced vulnerability. They live with the belief that what makes you vulnerable also makes you beautiful. The Wholehearted experience a deeper connection with those in their lives and with the world around them as a result of authenticity. And that is inspiring to me.

I lost count of how many YouTube videos I watched of Brené, fascinated with this concept of embracing our imperfections and living a courageous life of authenticity. I even bought 2 of Brené ‘s books: The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. No one likes to admit that they’re vulnerable; that we have fears and anxieties─that we struggle. But Brené Brown has studied vulnerability and shame over the course of her career, and she talks about letting go of who you think you should be in order to live a wholehearted life.

I know it sounds cliche, but sometimes in life, when you hear something at the precise moment in time when you need to hear it most─when you’re ready to hear it─something shifts inside you. Suddenly it all makes sense. I had been fighting to live my life with authenticity, but I didn’t know that’s what I was fighting for.

A friend of mine told me not too long ago that she thought I was courageous for persevering in the face of the obstacles and challenges that have made up my journey thus far as a farmer. I was embarrassed at the time; I scoffed and shrugged it off─knowing that inside I’m perpetually scared that I am not enough, and forever afraid that I really don’t belong.

But she was right. It may be a struggle, but I am living my life with courage and authenticity. I just didn’t realize it until I listened to Brene Brown’s TED talk.

And to further enforce the concept there was this video. Brené calls this talk her “Sweaty Creatives” talk. You don’t have to watch this video, I can’t force you─but I promise you’ll be inspired if you do.

There will always be critics

She quotes a speech that Theodore Roosevelt gave during the early 1900s which has since come to be known as “the Man in the Arena” speech:

It’s not the critic who counts, it’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done it better. The credit belongs to the person whose actually in the arena, whose face is marred with blood and sweat and dust. Who at best, in the end, knows the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst─if he fails─he fails daring greatly.”

We have no control over who is in “the Arena”. But if courage (telling our story with authenticity) is a value we hold─we have to show up and be seen. We have to look those critics in the eye and say, “I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.” Because in the end, it’s not about winning or losing; it’s about living a Wholehearted life, true to ourselves.

Brené goes on to say that “if you’re not also standing in the arena getting your ass kicked, then I’m not interested in your feedback.” And that concept has been hugely freeing for me. I’ve long known that not everybody puts themselves out there like I do. Many people are happy enough to coast through life in their own little bubbles, never really doing much of anything, never connecting with the people around them, living solely to pay the bills─just another cog in the wheel of the machine that makes up our mainstream society. Maybe they feel it’s safer that way. I’ve encountered many people who would dictate or pass judgement from their comfy seat on the living room couch with the tv blaring before them. Well I’m sorry, but unless you’re out there in the field sweating in the hot sun, sore and exhausted but still working to give it your all─I’m just not interested in your feedback.

Again, this was something that I “knew” somewhere deep inside, but felt guilty for and struggled to recognize. Brené’s talks really brought it home for me.

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Runamuk set up at the Somerset Abbey’s Winter Market in Madison, Maine.

Before I learned about vulnerability and the Wholehearted I was forever at war with myself, I knew in order to be happy I needed to live a life true to who I am─but I always felt guilty for doing so. One part of me felt I didn’t have the right to live a happy life. I didn’t feel I was worthy of love, or even friendship. And I certainly didn’t feel I belonged. Who am I to teach anybody anything, let alone about bees? Who am I to claim to be some environmental activist? Why do I have to write about everything? take photos of everything? This is the part of me who says: “you’re not a farmer”, “you’re not a writer”, and “you’re certainly not doing anything new” or “you’re not qualified”. All this while another part of me says, “Yes I am.” and “Yes I can.”

Well I’m still perpetually at war with myself; fighting with the many different sides of my own self. But Brené Brown has validated what I had known all along: that it’s ok to be imperfect. That having the courage to live authentically is crucial to feeling connected, and that if courage is a value we hold─there are going to be consequences.

Yes, I have fallen a few times along my journey: my divorce and consequent loss of land to farm on, the death of all my hives in the harsh winter of 2014-15, and then losing Jim’s farm… If you’re putting yourself out there, trying to live a full and happy life that is true to yourself, trying to tell your story with courage and integrity─sometimes you’re going to fail. Sometimes you’re going to get your ass kicked in an outright knock-down, drag-out brawl; you’ll be bruised and bleeding and crying for your mommy…but you’ll pick yourself up, limp away to lick your wounds…and you’ll try again another day.

The winter solstice and new beginnings

I think it’s significant that these dawning realizations have come to me as the darkness has gathered this fall. This is a time of year to release old thought patterns, fears, relationships, situations and things that no longer serve you. It’s incredibly freeing to unburden myself of those things that have weighed me down in the past.

At long last my journey of hardship and heartache has brought me to this place where I am performing the work that satisfies my soul; I am surrounded by people I have connected with as a result of that work and because I choose to live this authentic life. I have made so many wonderful and caring friends in the community as a result of volunteering my time and skills to teach others about bees, through serving the community of Madison-Anson as manager of its farmers’ market, and through my work at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I have found that I am not alone in my struggles, and that sharing your journey with those around you leads to a richer and more fulfilling life. I am truly grateful to have each and every one of these people in my life. They have touched my heart and brought a deeper meaning to my existence.

son of runamuk
My youngest, now nearly 10.

As the Wheel of the Year turns to the Winter Solstice and we look forward the rebirth of light to the Earth, I’m turning my attention to the coming year. I’m excited for this new beginning. Runamuk and I may have floundered, yet in spite of it all my kids, the farm and my apiary are still growing. I have a new and dedicated partner in life and in business; Runamuk currently has 15 beehives, 37 egg-laying chickens, 4 meat-rabbits, 3 lazy farm-cats, 1 Murphy-dawg, and 40-something acres to work with. There are exciting opportunities on the horizon and you can be sure I will continue to put myself out there, telling my story with honesty and courage.

Happy Winter Solstice from all of us at Runamuk!

Thanks for following along with my farming journey! Stay tuned for more stories, articles, and misadventures!

One random act of kindness

random act of kindness

Some people may not have much faith left in society and their fellow man-kind, but I certainly do. I’ve seen it demonstrated to me personally time and time again, and every act of kindness fills me with warmth and love and gratitude, and lends me the strength to go another day. I’ve had help along my journey, and people continue to help me. Sometimes I do ask for help, if somewhat reluctantly─hey, I got my pride too! but in all seriousness, I know when to ask for help and so I will…if I have to. But sometimes I don’t ask for anything at all and I am surprised with a generous act of kindness bestowed upon me.

This is the story of one such random act of kindness.

random act of kindnessI have some issues with my feet. I’m flat-footed, and while I was in basic training for the Army─back when I was fresh out of high school─I broke not one-but several of the bones in my right foot. I was put in a cast and discharged from the military with an uncharacterized discharge. The bones healed and the cast was removed and I continued on with my eighteen-year old life. But the foot was never the same; when I waitressed (that’s what I did at that point in my life) long days or nights that foot and ankle would get so sore! Once I finally sat and relaxed at the end of the day the tendons in my foot seemed to seize up and I couldn’t walk without limping, and I wasn’t even 20.

That went on for years and because the left foot was continuously trying to compensate for my bad right foot, I developed some soreness in the left ankle as well. It always seemed to be worse in the springtime, after a long lazy winter when all of a sudden I was outside raring to go again: gardening, digging, planting and pruning…and at the end of the day I’d be satisfied from my labors, but sore and limping once more.

Over the years I eventually learned that staying active in the first place really helped to keep the muscles in my feet strong. Practicing yoga helped to work out the tendons in my feet and legs too; but good footgear really has been the key to saving my poor little hardworking feet.

Even still, knowing that I needed sturdy footgear with arch support that could take the wear and tear of a farming lifestyle, I’ve never spent more than $25 to $50 on shoes. I own a total of 2 pairs: a pair of lightweight sneakers and a pair of hiking boots. I paid $3 apiece for them at the St. Sebastian thrift store in Madison.

The hiking boots see much more use, and it showed in their condition; the soles were coming apart from the rest of the shoe, there were holes where the seams were giving way, and somehow my feet had begun to swim inside them. It was time for a new pair of boots.

So I went into Reny’s and for the first time EVER in my life I picked out a pair of footgear that was priced over $100; these were quality Timberland waterproof leather hiking boots and I went and put them on layaway there. I was pleased as punch with myself for making such a commitment to─well to myself. Afterall, how can I get all the hard work of farming done if I don’t take care of myself, and your feet are a pretty important part of the body for accomplishing most labors, lol.

I dutifully went in every week after getting paid by the orchard, and put another $20 on the layaway balance.

But these last few weeks with the added expense of heating this big old farmhouse, and now living and farming on just one income, I’d been struggling to pay even a small amount on the layaway. The balance remained at $64.44 and my boots remained in the basement at Reny’s…

Then out of the blue yesterday I received a call from Barbara at Reny’s. At first I was afraid that she was going to tell me that my payment was overdue and that I was at risk of losing my boots! but instead Barbara said that a certain “Santa Claus” had come in and paid the remaining balance on my layaway. I could pick up the boots anytime.

Can you believe it! Some blessed guardian angel paid the $64.44 so that I could have my new boots!

farming bootsOnly a handful of people knew about these boots and the layaway, so I have my suspicions as to who it could have been. And to that person I say thank you so much, from the bottom of my humble heart. Thank you.

That is the story of how one random act of kindness affected me. And that’s just one example─I have other stories of how people have generously helped me out along the way. I only hope that I am deserving enough of their good opinion of me.

If you watch the news or even the facebook newsfeed, there’s a lot of negativity out there in the big wide world. It’s easy to focus on the bad events, horrific shootings, bombings and war, drug abuse and crime. Even in our day to day, mundane lives, it’s easy to focus on the negative, when we really have so much to be thankful for, and little random acts of kindness like this one happen every day, all over the country, and all over the world. I’ve seen it. lived it. and on more than one occasion.

It’s random acts of kindness like this one that lend me to believe that most people are good at heart. This is why I still have faith in society. And why I do what I do─for the Somerset Beekeepers, the Madison Farmers’ Market, and as a farmer and environmentalist. Kind actions and generous hearts spur me on and encourage me to share the love and hope that I feel in my own soul.

new boots

This week I was able to wrangle heating oil and firewood to keep the pipes from freezing and to keep me warm too. I was able to pay my car payment (only 3 left now!), and I am eager to be going back to the Somerset Abby this Sunday for another of our Farmers’ & Artisan’s Winter Market. I’m thankful just to be alive, to be here on this farm, and to have the opportunity to make the most of every day.

And I am especially grateful today for my new boots. They fit my feet like a glove! I picked them up after work today, before returning home to the farm; Murphy and I can scarcely wait to take a walk this weekend down through the pastures!

Saying goodbye to Willow

It’s been 2 weeks since I received that fateful call on my cell while I was at farmers’ market. It was a beautiful sunny summer day, I’d opted to leave Willow at home while I peddled my wares that day–partly because it was too hot on the blacktop parking lot for a dog, but largely because Willow just loathes the market. I tried getting her to socialize, and she did improve some, but she was just never comfortable with the busy atmosphere of market, so I opted to leave her at the farm where she could monitor the comings and goings and sleep in the shade of the lilac bushes where she’d dug her earthen bed. It was a good morning, I was at market with my peeps and I was happy to be there; but my world came screeching to a halt when I got the call informing me that Willow had been hit by a car and was laying on the side of the road.

livestock guardian
I called her my “dawg” because she was my home-girl, my bff, my bestie–my constant companion.

Moving into Jim’s place I knew what the risks were. Route 43 dissects the farm and cars and trucks of all sizes fly through as they travel between Madison and Farmington. I knew that Willow loved to run; she had roamed free at my ex’s place and to be tethered to a dog run was something of an injustice to her. She would occasionally slip her collar in order to lope across the land. I’d tried tightening the collar, I tried walking her, I was working to train her to come consistently when called, and I had plans to invest in an invisible fence system for the farm and for Willow. I’d hoped that I could just keep her safe long enough that I could bring sheep to the farm (hopefully next year) and then she could stay with the sheep inside an electric fence and she would be happy as any livestock guardian dog. But I recognized the risks from the start.

I didn’t think, I just started packing up my booth–product was thrown haphazardly back into it’s storage tub and personal effects were tossed into the car. Several of the other vendors at the market noticed and when I told them what had happened they immediately began to help me take down my table and tent and load it into the subaru. I was hugged–I think I was shaking as I struggled to control my emotions and hold it together so that I could drive home–and then I left very unceremoniously.

The Runamuk farm isn’t five miles from downtown Madison where our farmers’ market is held in the Main Street Park, so it wasn’t a long trip home–especially with my foot heavy on the gas once I got out of town, but in my mind I replayed the last year and a half I’d spent with Willow.

sam and willow
Me n my dawg.

From the instant I saw her picture in the initial email foray about the 4 month old puppy, I was smitten. I’d been searching for a while for just the right dog to make my own–having never had a dog just for me before I was determined that this one was going to be mine. I was fully prepared to clean up any amount of puppy poop, puke, fur, chewed messes, or what have you. At that point Runamuk was facing a new year in a new home and the future looked bright. I had big plans and having a livestock guardian on the farm made sense.

I had done my homework–having been lusting after my very own canine companion since I was a small girl. I’ve done lots of research over the years about various dog breeds. I’m no expert, but fairly well versed, and tend to prefer the working breeds over the toy dogs. I’d read the recommended procedures for picking out a new puppy, how especially for livestock guardians you want them to come from working stock, how you should meet the breeder, get to know the puppies before selecting one that will best suit your family and life. I knew all that, and still it all flew out the window when I saw that fluffy white and yellow puppy staring at me with those timid golden-brown eyes.

My husband at the time had asked me as I left to go “check it out” what the chances of me not coming home with a dog were. I said I was going in with an open mind and I reserved the right to not get this dog if she wasn’t right for me.

But as soon as I pulled into this woman’s driveway and saw the puppy on a leash it was all over. I didn’t see the fact that it wasn’t a farm–yes there was a horse–but the tidy mobile home alongside a busy road with a horse pen tucked out back was not a farm. The woman had bought a pair of the puppies from someone in Massachusetts and said she was going to have to move into an apartment soon and could not take the big dogs with her. Because they were already 4 months old the puppies were being sold at a discounted price, which was what had enticed me to answer the ad. They called her Willow, let her romp around all over their house and furniture, and the little girl fed her Doritos while they sat together on the couch watching cartoons.

Ultimately I brought the dog home with me–foolhardy or not. But something in Willow’s eyes spoke to me; I saw a kindred spirit there–and I knew that this was my dog. At long last I’d found a dog for me.

willow
She was never happier than when she was running free across the land.

I did exactly what I’d promised to do. I watched the puppy, cleaned up after the puppy, worked to train and coach the puppy–and I loved that dog unconditionally. Willow sensed that, ate it up, and gave it back to me in spades. She was my girl and I was her person. It didn’t matter to me that she was the most cowardly livestock guardian dog ever.

I don’t say that to belittle Willow. It’s simply the truth. She was afraid of change, of sudden movements or strange objects, terrified of vehicles, wary of strangers and freaked out by loud noises–I could go on. She was a very anxious and nervous dog, but with the sweetest temperament.

That said she could also be stubborn, and she was a big girl–75 pounds–so when she decided she didn’t want to do something she would just sit herself down and stare back at me, woefully resolute. I tried matching her stubbornness and waiting her out…but I’m not that patient I guess. I would always end up wrapping my arms around her and carrying her where I wanted her.

dogs and porcupines
Waiting for the Madison Animal Hospital to open in the morning following a quilling incident. Eventually we decided to hook the dogs up at night to minimize the risk.

She and I went to the vet at probably a half dozen times last year thanks to an overabundance of porcupines at my ex’s place. She got herself quilled and there was no taking them out of her face on our own. She was too big to hold down and she would get very defensive if we tried to take the quills out–those things hurt you know! So I would have to take her to the Madison Animal Hospital–naturally these encounters tended to occur in the middle of the night (usually about 20 minutes after I’d fallen asleep my husband would come wake me up with the news); thank goodness for Dr. Darren Richards’ patience and commitment to his veterinarian practice and his furry patients!

I had to heft Willow into the truck because she was terrified of the thing, and she rode all but in my lap to the vet’s office. And then I proceeded to carry her across the parking lot and into the building feeling decidedly foolish. Each incident drew us closer together as she saw that I was there to help her through the pain and fear of going to the vet’s office, and the last time I took her over there she actually got into the subaru and walked into the vet’s office all of her own accord.

I’d just set up a payment arrangement with the Madison Animal Hospital to get caught up on my bill with them–finances have been so tight since I left my ex that I hadn’t been able to pay off the debt, but the kind people at my local veterinarian’s office have been patient and understanding.

happy puppy smile
She had the most beautiful puppy-dawg smile!

All last summer we were together. If I would go down to the garden she would sleep nearby in the shade of the forest undergrowth. If I went for a walk to collect herbs for salve-making, she went too. We had silly little games we used to play together–she would come running back to me full tilt after an exploration of the forest and I would throw my arms up and cry “It’s Willow!” in a sing-song voice–and she would come thundering by me, then turn and race back to be caught up in a hug.

This dog loved hugs. And I loved burying my face in that soft white and yellow fur.

And then when I made that difficult decision to leave my husband, to put my entire farming-endeavor at jeopardy and start over–this dog was one of the only things I took with me. It was Willow and I in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in-town Madison in February, and this dog became the embodiment of my farm and everything that I held dear as I struggled to recreate myself and my life.

When the neighbors in the apartment above us would come into the building and stomp up the stairs on the other side of our living room wall and Willow would woof and bark, it was a sign to me that my farm was still alive in the instincts of my livestock guardian as she sought to protect us from the noisy neighbors.

When I missed my kids so much and I was depressed and questioning my choices in life this dog still loved me, and allowed me to bury my face in her fur, hug her close and cry it out.

When I had no one else to mommy, I mommied the dog. I don’t have a daughter, so Willow became my girl. My puppy-girl.

sad puppy
Willow always looked so forlorn when I had to leave to go to work!

I often felt guilty for dragging Willow along with me as I made such big life changes. She wanted nothing more out of life than to run free through the forest or across the pasture. Or to receive love and hugs from me. Perhaps it was selfish of me, but I like to think that she needed me too.

When I arrived home at the farm Willow was still laying along the side of the road, her body had been covered by the childrens’ sleeping bag that she sometimes slept on. She’d slipped her collar–again–and was running around the farm happy as a lark when she went to cross the road to make for the endless expanse of pasture on the other side of the barn.

The poor guy that hit her was waiting for me. He was a mess, red in the face and tearful–obviously very broken up about the incident, and he was quick to explain that he’d tried to swerve but couldn’t miss her and that she took her last breath just after he got out of the car. She didn’t suffer.

I dropped to the ground, kneeling in the dirt on the side of the road, pulled the sleeping bag back to reveal the face of my beloved puppy-girl. Her lifeless form still bore the happy smile she would get whenever she ran free. I buried my face in her fur one last time and breathed in her scent. Her body was still warm but beginning to stiffen.

I knew what had to be done. And I knew that I had to be the one to do it.

I hefted her body and carried my dog away from the road. I sent the heartbroken gentleman on his way with no ill-wishes or hard-feelings. He has dogs too, he said, and the look on his face was more than enough to tell me that he felt awful about the whole thing. It sucks, we all have to get from point A to point B–this is just one of the prices we pay for the convenience of modern transportation.

To be fair, my partner attempted to help me bury Willow. But in my grief-shocked state I was not very receptive and probably a little harsh, so he left me to it. I dug the hole at the foot of the maple that lies in the middle of the field–Willow and I used to nose around it during our walks around the farm these last couple of months. I placed her in the grave, covering her with the sleeping bag that had been hers in life, and covered her over with soil.

willow and winter
Willow had the sweetest temperament–she lay there the entire time that Winter slept on her, and she never moved a muscle.

And then I sat there under the tree and cried. I cried for this lost love, for the joy she’d brought me, for the hugs, the golden brown eyes, the soft white and yellow fur, and the happy running-free smiles with lolling doggie tongues. I cried for stubborn dogs and silly dawg games, for this dog that liked to eat snow by the mouthful and lick the dew off the grass. For Willow who liked to chase dry leaves on the wind and chew sticks to bits.

After that I managed to drag myself up to the farmhouse where I proceeded to spend the day on the couch. A limp lump of flesh and bone that alternately leaked and sniveled as I mourned my dog. I knew the risks when I chose to leave my husband and take this dog with me. I knew the risks when I chose to move us into this farm alongside a busy road. I knew she loved to run and that pyrenees are notorious escape artists. I knew all this and I still chose to forge ahead with it all.

Now she is gone. There’s a gaping hole in my life–in my heart–where this dog was. She filled a void in me that I never realized was there. And when life our world turned upside down we held onto each other. She sustained me through the hardest part of my divorce–she was my farm when I had no farm. Willow was the embodiment of everything that I was–even when I wasn’t sure anymore what or who that person was.

I planted coreopsis on her grave. Beautiful flowers for my beautiful puppy-girl. RIP Willow.
I planted coreopsis on her grave. Beautiful flowers for my beautiful puppy-girl. RIP Willow.

She got me through it all. We found our farm. And now before she really had a chance to enjoy it with me–she has gone from me. Oh sweet tragedy! What a magnificent love affair! So brief and fleeting–not quite a year and a half–but so rich and so meaningful. I can’t help but wonder if there will ever be another like it.

Willow will always have a special place in my heart, but I know without a doubt that I need another canine companion in my life. I feel like there’s a big empty void inside me where my dawg is supposed to be. So I will pay off my bill with the vet, and hopefully I can get the fencing system that I’d always wanted for Willow. I know it will be a long time before I can invest in another livestock guardian, but there are plenty of dogs that pass through the local animal shelters, and maybe someday in the not too distant future I will be ready to rescue and give my love to one of them.

Good days and bad days

runamuk logo

Spring has finally come to my neck of the Maine woods. Last week, for the first time in months, the temperatures rose into the 40s and exuberantly I made my way to the apiary to check on the bees. After five years keeping bees I know enough to realize that the odds were against me. Last year’s neglect led to hives with high infestations of mites, and while I hoped for the best for my remaining hives, I was realistic about what I might find when I opened the hives.

I could tell as I approached that it was likely the colonies had perished. On a warm sunny day in March the bees should have been flying, but the bee-yard was silent and devoid of life. Hoping against hope I lifted the top covers, but alas–inside I found only death.

You might think I would be devastated by the loss, but such is beekeeping in this day and age. Last year I chose to focus on expanding my farm, and so I did not invest much in the way of time or money into the bees. And it was evident when I finally did mite-tests on the hives and found them overwhelmed with the parasites. Belatedly I attempted to correct the situation, but as is so often the case in farming–if you miss the window of opportunity that Mother Nature affords you, it is often too late to do much about it.

This “window of opportunity” is something I emphasized with this year’s bee-school students. I want them to learn from my mistakes.

Now here I am. Facing divorce, a farmer without a farm, having sold off my precious goats, starting over at square one, and not even a single colony of honeybees to boast of. People ask me how I am doing, and I answer honestly: some days are good, and some days are not.

Mostly I take each day as it comes, holding tight to hope and putting one foot in front of the other with sheer determination. But some days hope and optimism are fleeting. Some days the dream of having and working my own piece of land seems too far out of reach, and the pressures of the world are too overwhelming to bear. Those days I question myself, my choices, who I am and what I am doing. Those days are filled with anxiety and uncertainty and–I’m not ashamed to admit–sometimes even a fair amount of depression and self-pity. There is no choice but to endure the day hour by hour, knowing that somehow this too shall pass.

Then–just the other day–someone said to me when we were talking about my farm and the divorce: “What good is a farm without land?”

And that irked me. At first I didn’t know why their words bothered me so much, but it was one of those conversations that stuck with me, and the more I play and replay the conversation over in my head, the more that question bothers me.

I am a farmer at heart, with or without a farm. And I have a farm-based business even without land to farm on.

Yes, some aspects of my farm I’ve had to let go of–the goats, the market garden, and for the time being–my grandiose plans for a pollinator conservation and sustainable living center.

But there are aspects of my farm that survive, such as the apiary. I have new colonies coming later in the spring to replace those that have been lost, and I have hopes of catching some swarms too. I have my beeswax products that I make and pedal, and I still have a dozen or so laying hens that are mine as soon as I have a coop to put them in.

I have small but growing group of dedicated customers and followers who support me and my farming endeavors, who swear by my beeswax soaps and herbal salves, are first in line to buy the season’s honey, and who clamor for my farm-fresh eggs. They may be few in number, but regardless I have customers–and that constitutes a business–however small it may be.

Perhaps the question bothered me because it is one that I have asked myself on those bad days when I am overwhelmed by life, doubting myself and uncertain about what my future holds. On those days it’s hard not to look at all that I have given up for the chance at fabled happiness and wonder if I have made the right choices in my life.

I am a farmer with no land to farm on. I am a beekeeper with no bees. How can I rightly call myself either?

And yet I do. I cling to those titles like a life-line. They have become part of my identity and I cannot let them go. I may be back to square one, but I am not quitting. I will continue working to build up my business on leased land until the day that I can invest in my very own farm and land. I firmly believe that I will have that some day.

There is a poem that I came across when I was still just a teenager making plans for the future, and it has stuck with me all these years.

“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die life is a broken-winged sparrow that cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams, for when dreams go life is a barren field frozen with snow.”     ~Langston Hughes

Spring is in the air

runamuk logo

It’s that time of year when we’re all sick of winter and looking ahead to spring. Winter is worn and tired and every living thing is waiting with baited breath for the warmth and rebirth that comes with spring. But it’s not here yet, and most of us are frustrated with waiting and sitting on our hands watching more snow and cold roll through the Northeast.

I however–am not sitting on my hands. For me–an approaching spring means that all of the preparation for spring has already commenced, and I am right out straight trying to manage all of the different aspects of all of the different projects that I oversee–and this year I have the demand of a full-time job added into the equation. Spring my not be here yet, but the rush of spring has come into my life with a storm of demands and claims upon my time. Everything wants to be done and now.

Bee-school is currently underway and I am scheduled to be at the Somerset County Cooperative extension every Saturday evening following a day spent working for Johnny. I trek in there with my laptop, handouts and equipment to teach a series of 4 classes, sharing with the 2-dozen prospective beekeepers the basics of the craft, with anecdotes of my own experiences and mistakes thrown in for good humor.

In addition to Bee-School I need to spend some time recruiting speakers to come present to the Somerset Beekeepers over the course of the next year, organize workshops and figure out what kind of investments into supplies our group needs to continue educating area beekeepers.

But even more pressing is the BeeLine.

Back in November I took over as editor of the BeeLine, which is the bi-monthly newsletter distributed by the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association. It is a 17-page newspaper that includes articles, current events, up-coming events, resources, and advertizements. And as editor it’s up to me to collect all of these materials and organize them into a computer file that will allow the newsletter to be printed at the local print-shop. In order to even begin serving this position, I first had to learn to use design software–something I had never done before.

Being a fan of freeware, I found the Scribus program had good reviews and I downloaded it and spent a month learning to use it on the go (with some help from the former editor, who–as it turns out–is also a graphic artist by trade) as I assembled my first-ever BeeLine issue, which was published and sent out to MBSA members at the beginning of February. Now it’s time to put together the next issue and get it to the printer’s pronto. I spent my two days off from Johnny’s working on that.

Then–as the manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market–I’m working to promote our local market and recruit new vendors. This involves issuing press releases, posting to various social media, creating fliers and distributing them, as well as accepting phone calls and responding to emails from potential vendors to the market.

And finally–there’s Runamuk. Things are quiet for Runamuk–I’ve ordered 5 nucleus colonies for this spring, and I’m working to set aside a few hundred dollars to purchase soaping ingredients and tins for my beeswax products. The urge to sow seeds and tend seedlings is overpowering, but this year I will be purchasing my seedlings from my farming-friends at my farmers’ market.

That just leaves the blog. Now that I am finally beginning to get my life back together–now that I’ve figured out a new way forward for Runamuk–I am once again feeling the urge to write come flooding back to me. I do have a couple of articles that I’d like to write up for the blog, and a number of posts I’d like to share, but I have to fit this in between all of these other pressing matters.

In the past, the number of extra-curricular projects that I’d taken on was a lot of work even as a farmer who did not have to leave the farm to work. Now–under the circumstances–I’m thankful to have my job with Johnny’s Selected Seeds, but working off-farm severely restricts the amount of time I have to dedicate to these projects. I have a payment for the Subaru Outback that I financed recently, and living expenses to keep on top of. Above all, it is imperative that I keep up with my finances and maintain a VERY good credit score if I stand a chance at ever financing a mortgage on a farm of my own. And that is the ultimate goal, folks–a farm of my very own. One that will never be at-risk of being lost to me ever again.

So it’s a lot of work and things are certainly overwhelming right now–but it feels good to maintain these projects that have made up my life in the past. They provide a sense of continuity–reminding me that even while both Runamuk and I are changing and evolving through my divorce–a large part of who I was remains. My work for the community has played a huge role in what Runamuk has become, and it’s important to me to maintain that service even through these uncertain and difficult times. And so I will continue to wear my many hats, and continue to juggle the multitude of projects that give me purpose. Hopefully those I serve will be patient and understanding!

A new way forward for Runamuk

brandybuck making new friends

Wednesday was a particularly difficult day for me.

It was a tough conclusion to come to, and one that I spent the last month thinking about, but in the end I decided that it was best for me, best for the goats, and best for Runamuk to part with the goats.

george and bella at their new home
George and Bella made it safely to their new home on a homestead in New Hampshire.

I said goodbye to all four of my goats–Bella and George were able to stay together–they went to a homestead in New Hampshire where they joined a small herd of rescue goats and another homesteading family.

Miranna–the White Queen–returned to 5 Season Farm where she originally come from, and Merriweather Brandybuck went to a large homesteading family–right in Anson.

Divorce is a good time to reevaluate your life. To take a step back and assess what parts of your life are really working for you, and what parts are not. To look at yourself and say: do I like who I am? do I like the person that I’ve become? do I like the life I’m living? the day-to-day existence of my personal being? do I like my job?

For one reason or another it can be incredibly difficult to make changes in our life–let alone the really BIG changes. We wind up with people who depend on us, a reputation to up-hold, principles and ideals, dreams and goals all to abide by, and it can seem overwhelmingly difficult to make big changes.

So when some kind of significant life-altering event such as divorce comes along it’s the perfect time to take the opportunity to take stock and make the changes you’ve been wanting to make. And with that in mind, I’ve been evaluating my own life, figuring out how best to move forward with my new life…how best to move Runamuk forward.

It took a while to find a place where I can settle. I’d posted ads on Craigslist and the Uncle Henry’s, but also spread the word via facebook and through good old fashioned word of mouth from my friends, family, and community that I have been searching for a 2 bedroom home where I can homestead–even on a small scale.  I had some really intriguing offers too–opportunities like managing or working in partnership on other farms–all of which were distant and far-flung. Some opportunities included a great growing space for my market garden, but the housing was less than adequate, and with 2 growing boys having my own space with at least 2 bedrooms is imperative.

But with some patience and perseverance the community that I serve has come through for me, and I am so grateful. A friend of mine has a small house just outside of Madison that has 2 bedrooms, a large shed where I can store my beekeeping and gardening equipment, as well as just enough land for a garden to feed myself and the boys. The rent will be low enough that I will be able to continue to do much of what I’ve come accustomed to with the funds earned working at Johnny’s (read about my new job with Johnny here), which is a huge relief.

As I seek to get both myself and my business back on our feet, I find it necessary to re-evaluate what I really need to be doing to build this farm-business up into something truly self-sustaining, and as it is–at this point, with no homestead, no acreage that needs clearing, and a job off the farm–the goats no longer fit into my plans for Runamuk. Better to let the goats go so that they have the space to roam and browse, and that I might better be able to focus my attention on the bees.

brandybuck making new friends
Brandybuck is making friends and settling in well at his new home.

And so the funds that I took in from the sales of Bella, George, Miranna and Brandybuck will be used to put a deposit on 5 new colonies of bees for this coming season.

I’m not sure if I’m re-defining–or rediscovering who I am during this process, perhaps its a little of both as I let go of many aspects of my old life, embrace new elements, and refocus my attention on that which I wish to pursue–and on who I want to be–going forward. Whoever I am coming out the other side I hope that She is someone the old me would be proud to claim…