2018 Year-End Review

2018 top 9

It’s time for Runamuk’s 2018 Year-End Review! A quick review of my adventures in farming over the course of 2018 to give us some perspective before we launch into 2019, and all of the shiny new opportunities that await this farmer now that we finally have a permanent place to call home.
2018 best 9Sometimes we wait 10 years for that 1 that will change your life; 2018 was that year for me. Closing on the Hive House is the biggest accomplishment of my life, and while I still have goals I want to achieve, I’m doubtful that anything I do from here on out will ever compare to buying a farm and seeing that lifelong dream come true. Farm ownership has changed my life─it’s changed and it’s made all the difference for my family. Before we move on to 2019 and all the possibilities that it might have in store for us, I’d like to take a moment to review 2018 at Runamuk, and reflect on the lessons I learned as a beekeeper, as a farmer, and as a person.

The Runamuk Apiary

runamuk apiary_may 2018The winter months of 2018 were harsh for many beekeepers across Maine; Runamuk lost 20 out of 21 hives. It’s not the first time I’ve lost a significant portion of my apiary, but it’s always a disappointment and a big set-back to my operation. A visit from the state apiarist, Jennifer Lund, who examined the dead-outs, confirmed my suspicions. I did everything “right”, but the severe cold we experienced for prolonged stretches during January and February, combined with the bizarre the fluctuations in temperatures, had caused the bees to perish.

So I started again. I bought in 10 packages and 5 nucs this spring, and raised almost 40 of my own Queens, which were either installed into nucleus colonies, or replaced Queens in existing hives. I did much better this year with Queen-rearing; I’ve learned that timing is hugely important, as is providing adequate stores and nurse bees to your mating nucs. Right now I’m managing over 30 colonies, but the real question is: how many will survive the winter?

A drought during the main nectar flow this year, meant the bees were unable to make much in the way of surplus honey. The little honey that Runamuk produced was redistributed among the nucleus colonies I raised for 2019─I’m determined to NOT buy in bees this year. Customers were disappointed that I did not have honey for sale, and there was a significant impact to my finances as well.

Those severe weather conditions of the 2018 winter qualified me for the FSA’s ELAP program (Emergency Livestock Assistance Program). It was more paperwork and more waiting on the FSA, but in October I received $1200 from the government to reimburse Runamuk in-part for bees purchased to replace hives lost to the severe winter conditions. It didn’t completely cover the cost of the replacement bees, but it was definitely a help.

Farm & Garden

apiary apprenticeships
The laying flock working the garden.

Our late-season closing date had significant impact on the Runamuk farm and garden operations. Thankfully, I was able to plant potatoes and onions in a transition plot in Norridgewock, because aside from that I was not able to grow vegetables during 2018. By the time we arrived on the scene at the Hive House it was the beginning of July and preparations for moving the chicken flock took priority.

To house the flock of laying hens at our new #foreverfarm, I constructed twin chicken tractors. I rolled them onto the neglected garden plot, and set the birds to work on the weeds and the soil. Investment in electric-net fencing and solar chargers allowed me to rotate the flock around the future garden site, and opened the door for more rotational-grazing in seasons to come.

happy sheep at runamukLater in the fall Runamuk was gifted a pair of Romney sheep, which will work well in tandem with the chickens in my rotational-grazing schemes. These lovely ladies are so sweet and gentle; they’ve added a special dynamic to the Runamuk farm. Next fall I’ll have them bred with the intention of putting some meat in the freezer come 2020.

Following Halloween, I made one last push to get a crop of garlic in the ground at our new location. This involved chopping a swath down through my cover-crop, plugging in the 10-pounds of seed garlic I’d purchased from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and then laying a good 6-inches of straw on top of the cloves. I’m looking forward to seeing those first bright green leaves poking up through the straw this spring.

Personally

2018 was a year of personal growth for me. Half the year I was strung out, tense and distraught as I plodded through the FSA’s extensive loan process, anxiously awaiting Closing Day while my life and my farming operation sat on hold. I distracted myself with friends, music, and by focusing on the things that I could do while I waited, which turned out to be serving the farmers’ market and working with the bees (yay bees!)

appalachian sheep dogsIn May I joined friends on-stage at the Farmer Talent Show to play my banjo in public for the first time ever (I’m a little shy, if you recall, and suffering from a bit of stage fright, so this was a big deal for me). The show was a fundraiser for the Maine Harvest Bucks program at the Madison Farmers’ Market, and turned out to be a wild success within our rural community.

It was late in the season by the time I finally met the Sellers at the FSA office in Skowhegan for Closing on the Hive House. On June 27, 2018, my whole life changed. I’d earned something for myself that was monumental, validating years of blind faith in a dream that more than one person has scoffed at along the way. As a result, I’ve become a little bolder, more confident in myself and my own abilities. I’ve found my “muchness” in the Hive House and in this scrappy parcel of land.

me on the farm
Loving life on my new farm in New Portland, Maine!

At the same time, learning to be alone for the first time in my life was challenging. I struggled with it initially, but then leaned into the discomfort. I allowed myself to grow and evolve, and I’m learning to appreciate the solitude. Being alone is a marvelous opportunity to get to know oneself better. A chance to shower oneself with love and attention. And so I have.

What’s more, I’ve decided to step down as manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market so that I can better devote myself to Runamuk, my kids, and to myself. The Hive House, Runamuk, and all that I want to do here─all that I want to be for my kids─is a lot to manage on my own. I can do it, but I’ve realized that I need to better prioritize how I use my time and energy, and I need to prioritize who and what I give myself to. My kids have to come first, Runamuk is next, then me; everyone else and everything else will just have to get in line.

Biggest Lessons Learned 2018

  1. NOT getting what you want, can sometimes be a blessing.
  2. Prioritize everything.
  3. Solitude = Self-Love and alignment with ones’ own soul.

2018 held some painful plot-twists: initially things had looked good for my purchase of the Swinging Bridge Farm, but when that door abruptly closed on me, I had to think fast if I were going to make farm-ownership a reality for Runamuk. What if the stars moved out of alignment and I missed my once-in-a-lifetime chance?

Now that we are settled at the Hive House, I am grateful to the Universe for saving me from myself lol; as much as I loved SBF and those beautiful, beautiful trees, that house and property needed a lot of work and money put into it, and it would likely have been too much for me to cope with on top of farming. The Hive House is in solid shape and is everything Runamuk needs, it’s everything my kids need, and I am grateful to be steward of this patch of Earth.

Level-Up

runamuk acresBuying the farm was life-changing for me; I leveled-up big time this year, and now I have the chance to grow Runamuk into the sort of conservation farm I’d always imagined. Now I can try the things I’ve always longed to: rotational-grazing, cultivating soil microbial life for better soil health, planting perennials for food, medicine, and nectar sources, and practicing a style of farming that combines modern agriculture and environmental conservation in the best way possible.

I’m eager for spring to come and for the chance to dig in here at our new #foreverfarm home. Like so many other farmers and gardeners, I’m pouring over the seed-catalogs and planning my 2019 season. I’m giddy as a schoolgirl at the thought of all the projects I have lined up. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’ll be building toward something that will be here for generations to come.

This bee-friendly demonstration farm may never change the world on the whole. Yet, if I can show even a small segment of the population that bees and bugs are good─that insects are crucial to the web of life and remind people that so much of what we know today is dependent on these tiny creatures and their relationship with flowering plants, and as such they are deserving our respect, our appreciation, and our protection─then I will have made some difference in the world. My life’s mission will be fulfilled and I will be content enough in that.

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; 2019 is going to be a great season! Follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for behind-the-scenes glimpses into day-to-day life on this #beefriendlyfarm.

 

200 Days

200 days

Today marks the 200th day since I first dropped off my application with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency back on September 28th. 200 days slogging my way through the red tape associated with the government-financing process in hopes of one day owning my own forever-farm. Everyone wants to know what’s going on─have we Closed yet? when do we move??? My perpetual answer seems to be “Not yet.”

runamuk apiaryPermanently Part-Time at Johnny’s

Farmers everywhere are gearing up for the season ahead. At Johnny’s Selected Seeds, most of the seasonal employees (local farmers like me, hired to help man the phones in the Call Center during their busy season) have returned to their farms. It’s bittersweet to watch my colleagues depart one by one. I’m happy for them to be able to do the work they love because I know all too well how farming can consume the soul, but I’m a little envious that I can’t go too.

Originally I was hired as a seasonal employee 3 years ago, but following my divorce I’ve required the stability of a dependable paycheck year-round. What’s more, with a new mortgage I expect to continue to need supplemental income year-round for another 2 or 3 years, so I’ll be there in the Call Center 2 days a week all season. Permanently part-time…ouch.

It only stings a little though, because I’m finally buying a farm! Squeeeeeeee!

Guesstimated Closing Date

No, we have not moved yet, and we don’t even have a date for Closing. My agent at the FSA (Farm Service Agency), Nathan Persinger, likens their loan process to an iceberg…what you see above the water is nothing compared to the mass of ice below the water, and it takes a long while to navigate a safe path for your ship.

The good news is that my loan request was approved, and I’ve received word that the job for the Appraisal was accepted by Farm Credit East, who states they will have it done “on or before May 11th”. That’s much sooner than Nathan had expected; officially they have a full 90 days to get the Appraisal done, and this is a busy time of year too, so I was very lucky to get it scheduled so soon.

Once the Appraisal is done that just leaves the Title Search between me and Closing. So long as nothing pops up in the county registry regarding the Deed’s legacy, then the FSA will schedule a date for Closing. Typically once the Appraisal is done, Closing can happen within a couple of weeks.

I have this gut feeling that the Appraisal will be completed before May 11th, and so I’m guesstimating that Closing will take place somewhere around May 18th.

OMG that’s just 4 weeks away!

Validation

200 daysTears sting my eyes whenever I think about signing those papers at Closing. When I was young, my family moved around a lot… We never left Maine, but we moved from Anson to Madison, to Skowhegan, to Salem (Maine), to Kingfield, North Anson, and then back to Anson/Madison again. I thought when I became an adult I would finally be able to set down roots somewhere, and while I came close a few times, I have yet to gain that sense of permanency that my spirit craves.

It was 9 or 10 years ago, following a move that was particularly difficult for me, when I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I was a stay-at-home homeschooling and homesteading mother and wife, and while I didn’t want to give that up, I came to realize that in order to buy a home and put down roots I would have to have an income of my own─my husband’s paycheck alone was not sufficient to buy the home I’d long envisioned. And so I set out to generate an income for myself. I decided I could use the skills I’d learned as a homesteader to make money while I continued to stay home with my children: I became a farmer.

Since Runamuk’s inception, I have experienced many ups and downs along my journey as a farmer─even some serious set backs that might have caused a lesser woman to abandon the path for a smoother road altogether. For better or worse I have kept on and soon my life-long dream for a home─a farm of my own─will become reality. Soon, so many hardships and sacrifices will be validated. When they put those keys in my hand every struggle will have been worth it.

Note: I plan to Facebook Live the contract signing, so stay tuned for details on when Closing will take place; you won’t want to miss this monumental occasion!!!

Ramping Up at Runamuk

Meanwhile, being permanently part-time at Johnny’s does not mean I’m only farming part-time. No, I’ll continue to farm full-time in addition to my off-farm employment, and─like my seasonal colleagues who are departing the Call Center─I am ramping my farm up for the season ahead of me.

This season, for the first time ever, Runamuk will be attending 2 farmers’ markets. I’m pretty stoked to say that we’ve been accepted into the Gardiner Farmers’ Market, which is held on Wednesdays from 3-6 throughout the summer months. The Gardiner market will hold an extended market from 3-7 once a month, and this is when you will find Runamuk there with our raw honey, beeswax products, and GMO-free eggs. It’s going to be a long haul for me from New Portland (where the new farm is located) to Gardiner, some 65 miles south, and since customers don’t necessarily need to buy products like honey and soap on a weekly basis, I’ve decided it will work best for me and my family to only make the journey once a month.

To prepare for the season ahead, I’ve been busy making soap─so much soap! All the old favorites: the Randy Lumberjack, the Girl Next Door, and the unscented Honeybee soap; the seasonal fragrances, including the ever popular Lilac-scented spring soap. Some of last year’s trial varieties will be returning: Maine Lobstahman, Caribbean Escape, and Hazelnut Toffee, and there will be a few new fragrances too: Strawberry-Rhubarb (you won’t believe how yummy this smells!), and Lavender─by popular request.

forum onion crop
I sold my onions in bunches of 3 and 4 at the farmers’ market. They were a big hit!

I’ve got 50 new egg-laying chickens that will be 16 weeks old and about ready to start laying when I pick them up on May 15th. I’ve made my pre-season supply purchases: seeds (because you can’t work at a seed company and NOT buy seeds in the spring lol), onion plants and onion sets, seed potatoes, new beekeeping gear, wooden-wear for new hives, and candle molds and supplies for candle-making. I’m planning to debut my first beeswax candles this year.

Naturally I’ve got more bees on order, and even some new Queens from Hall’s Apiary in New Hampshire. I fully intend to raise some of my own Queens, but with the new farm I really want to boost my hive numbers in a big way this year─and buying in additional mated-Queens to make my own nucleus colonies is a sure-fire way to do that. Over the next few years I will be working hard to increase the scale and productivity of my apiary; the plan is to scale up to 40 honey-producing colonies by 2021, and to focus more on raising lots and lots of nucleus colonies, both to replace hives lost in the winter, and to be able to offer overwintered nucs for local beekeepers. So many bees!!! I can’t wait!

200 Days and Counting

follow runamukThe long process to Closing on a real estate loan with the FSA is one of the major reasons why more farmers aren’t utilizing this avenue to farm-ownership. Even with a Sale Agreement and Approval for the loan, nothing is certain until you’ve signed that contract at Closing. It’s months and months of anxious uncertainty to gain the keys to your home and place of business. Only the most determined farmers will successfully navigate their ship through the iceberg-infested waters that is the government process.

I am that determined. I will have a home and forever-farm.

What had initially begun as a means to an end, has consumed my soul; I am a farmer, through and through. I have such love for the Earth and the natural world around me─like a clean, clear mountain spring that wells eternally from deep inside me, driving me to this work─compelling me. I am a producer and I will feed my family and my community─nurturing their bodies and their spirits with my labors of love.

The end is in sight!!! Check back soon for news of Runamuk’s Closing Date! Be sure to like Runamuk Apiaries on Facebook so you can watch me sign the mortgage contract via Facebook Live!

Under Contract AGAIN!

hive house

The road to farm-ownership has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride, and it’s a huge relief to have a property under contract again. After letting go of the Swinging Bridge Farm, my realtor, Leah J. Watkins, and I toured the property at 344 School Street last Wednesday. I decided on the spot to make an offer for it, so Leah drafted the paperwork and we sent it to the Seller later that evening. Yesterday my offer was accepted and just like that I am back in the game!

hive house
The house at 344 School Street. Photo courtesy: Google.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me. I was already stressed because of the downward spiral my loan for the Swinging Bridge Farm was taking, and then my older son, William was sent to Portland where he ultimately ended up having his gallbladder removed!

Emergency Surgery

William is high functioning Autistic, and studies show that those children are more likely to have digestive issues, but he began to have these “stomach pains” infrequently over the last year or so. He’s always had some issues with constipation, but these “pains” were something else. Something alarming.

At first we tried eliminating dairy, thinking maybe he was lactose intolerant, which would explain his constipation. But the pains still came─not all the time, and sometimes worse than others. It all came to a head at the beginning of the month, around the same time that my loan for SBF was tanking. William hadn’t “gone” in a week and he’d spent a weekend in pain; Keith (my ex-husband and the father of my children) took the boy to the Emergency Room.

william in the hospital
William was jaundiced and yellow-eye prior to his surgery: here he’s upset that Mom insisted on a pre-surgery picture…

On Friday an ultrasound at Reddington Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan revealed that William had gallstones! And one of them had obstructed his bile duct. His doctor sent us to the Maine General Medical Center in Portland, where they have a very good pediatric staff. That Friday night William was put under so that doctors could perform a laproscopic procedure to eliminate the offending gallstone.

The next morning we consented to allow the gastroenterologist to remove the gallbladder altogether, as William would have inevitably suffered relapses related to his many remaining gallstones. Having suffered from gallstones myself I could not let my baby continue to suffer from the pain that can flare up as a result. William has always been a very good eater─he naturally regulates his own diet so that he’s eating diverse array of all food-groups. I’ve never had to fight with him to eat his vegetables, or to try the fish; he likes it all. So I was fairly confident that diet alone would not save my baby. And since he’d always been a bit bound up, the possible side-effect of looser stools was less of a threat than the promise of regularity for William.

On Saturday morning at 7:30 William was wheeled back into the operating room. He was brave and affable the whole time. I could see on Friday night that he just wanted the pain to be over, and then by Saturday morning he was enjoying the extra attention lavished upon him in the hospital. By Sunday he was back to his usual moody-self.

Hit With the Flu

Meanwhile, William’s father and I both came down with the flu while we were at the hospital. Keith succumbed first; laid low by the time we woke up on Saturday morning at the boy’s bedside. After William came through his second procedure safely I sent Keith home to his bed and stayed on at the hospital with William while he was under observation in his recovery room in the Pediatric Short-Stay Unit of the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital─the pediatric wing at Maine General. Saturday night I was taken down with the chills and a fever, I had to ask the nurse to bring me another blanket, but I was still cold. The kindly nurses felt so bad for me that they brought me some ibuprofen to help with my fever and after that I was able to function enough to get my child through the remainder of his ordeal.

Thankfully it wasn’t a severe strain of the flu, but it morphed into a nasty cold that came with a horrendous cough─and conjunctivitis! When I showed up at Johnny’s the following Tuesday for my usual shift my supervisors took one look at my glowing red eyes and sent me to see a doctor to make sure I wasn’t going to die. They knew how stressed I’d been about the deal for SBF and were worried that my blood pressure might be causing a hemorrhage.

Turns out it was conjunctivitis.

Processing my Break-Up With SBF

I was laid low again when I came to the realization that I was going to have to let go of the Swinging Bridge Farm. I admit that I was utterly heartbroken and defeated. My friends and colleagues, even acquaintances online whom I’ve never met in real life, supported me. I worked through the worst of it, answering the phone at Johnny’s, glad for the distraction as I processed the information and weighed my options.

I considered a whole range of possibilities, from working full-time at Johnny’s to taking a year off from farming─I even considered giving up farming altogether. Big failures have a tendancy to make us question our choices, and so I did. In the end I came to the conclusion that I’d come too far to give up now, but that it was time to make some compromises. I want to continue farming and supporting my community in the way that I have, but I also want my kids to have the home I’ve promised them.

There was just one other property available in my area and price-range. The strange-looking mansard house on School Street in New Portland. This house had been available last fall too, but I didn’t love it the way I did the Swinging Bridge Farm.

Even now I’m still healing from letting SBF go. It wasn’t so much about the house─it was the trees and the rock walls that I fell in love with there. I loved the sheer wildness of the neglected old farm, the mature forest and those gnarly old apple trees. I have a thing for trees and for the history glimpsed in the rockwalls that criss-cross the landscape here in Maine. On a deeply personal level SBF spoke to me and I’ll always remember the way those woods made me feel.

Good Business Sense

However I have to admit that from a business and family stand point, the property at 344 School Street checks all the boxes:

  • Barn for assembling & storing bee-hive equipment.
  • Garage for storing garden equipment & tractor.
  • Pasture for chickens.
  • Open, level acreage for gardens.
  • Public water makes it easy to get Home Processing License for bottling honey.
  • Dishwasher─another plus for getting Home Processing License.
  • A whopping 5 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, and an office space too! Gives my family plenty of space to settle in.
  • House in good repair: means I can spend more time farming and less time fixing the dwelling to make it suitable for my family to live in.
  • Road frontage and proximity to heavily traveled Route 16 makes my farm more accessible to customers.

It’s only a third of the acreage I would have had at SBF, but still a respectable chunk, and perhaps better suited to my needs─if not my heart.

Under Contract AGAIN!

hive house
She’s in great condition and offers lots of space; she’s growing on me! Photo courtesy Google.

It took the Seller 6 days to respond to my offer. There was the same initial confusion regarding the FSA loan process that we’d seen the Fletchers balk over when I made a move for SBF. There is no “pre-qualification” with the Farm Service Agency, and there are a number of hurdles to be overcome in the ordeal: the Financial Eligibility, the Environmental Assessment, and the Property Appraisal. It’s a lot of paperwork and red tape with the government agricultural office, and frankly it’s intimidating.

Eventually the Seller came around and said yes. I received the Sale Contract yesterday morning and immediately sent it over to Nathan, my FSA Agent. An hour later I was in the Somerset County USDA office in Skowhegan signing the application for the financing of the 344 School Street property.

Essentially I’m back to square one: applying all over again for the loan, but with a nice head-start on the paperwork, and a promise from Nathan to speed things along as best he can. Don’t get too carried away though─this is the government we’re talking about, and appraisers are apparently booked out til May now that the FSA office is coming into it’s busy-season. We can’t close til we get the Appraisal done, so we may very well be looking at a 3-4 month wait before I can move Runamuk to her forever-farm property.

Gearing Up

Meanwhile, I’ve been gearing up for another season─making soap when I’m not at Johnny’s, as well as ordering replacement colonies and supplies for the apiary, onion plants, seed potatoes and “just a few” packets of seeds. If all this works out, I’ll likely be moving in the midst of Swarm Season: the beekeeper’s busiest time of year, but I’m hoping to wrangle a few friends into helping this time around.

Runamuk’s #GreatFarmMove; #theFinalChapter; will be the end of one book, and the beginning of a whole new sequel in my life. I know it’s going to be hard work. I know it’ll be exhausting. unending. work. But I look forward to the labors, and the inevitable blood, sweat and tears─because I’ll finally be able to build upon something year after year, for the next 40 years of my life. I look forward to finally being able to put down roots and to being able to cultivate the soil where I live. And I especially look forward to promoting bee-friendly ideals, and sustainable living for a better and brighter tomorrow.

When I think about all the work ahead of me upon Closing, I can’t help but square my shoulders and lift my chin in determination. I look the challenge that is farming right in the eye and say: Bring. It. On.

Check back soon for more updates on my journey toward farm-ownership! It’s a new season full of new opportunities and exciting adventures to come! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly in your in-box!

FSA Farm Loan Update: Complete Application!

It’s been 54 days today since I dropped off the bulk of my FSA farm loan application with the Somerset County branch of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Surprisingly enough, things continue to progress in the direction of ownership of the Swinging Bridge Farm for Runamuk.

sbf the house
The Swinging Bridge Farm was constructed in 1880 and sits on 150 acres in New Portland, Maine!

The Story So Far:

At first I was afraid to hope. I was afraid to imagine myself at that picture-book little farm for fear I would once again come up short. I gave considerable thought to what I will do if the FSA does not approve my loan request. After struggling for years to gain ground with bees and farming I contemplated whether the hardships and sacrifices are truly worth it. I thought long and hard about my life’s ambitions, my needs and the needs of my children.

Introducing Nathan at the Penobscot County FSA!

Due to the volume of applications currently under review at the Somerset branch, my file was sent to the Penobscot County office. There it is being handled by Nathan Persinger who is new to Maine and it’s burgeoning small farm movement. Originally Nathan hails from Kansas (if I remember correctly), where he worked primarily with large-scale farmers growing commodity crops. Nathan has been excellent to work with. He’s been polite and respectful, has kept me in the loop, further explaining the intricacies of the FSA’s process as we go. He’s really been an advocate for me and my farm operation.

It wasn’t until Nathan told me that my business plan was the best he’d ever seen that I began to allow myself to believe that this might all work out. He said that he believed in my project and  he was going to do everything he could to help me get my farm. Still it was hard to fathom success after so many failures.

Then Nathan sent along his Farm Assessment for me to review. This is a narrative of sorts, developed by the FSA agent handling the case, which accompanies my loan application to the State Office. I read the part at the end about how he is recommending my plan for approval and my heart just soared!

It’s not mine yet.

fsa farm loan update
Counting the days til she’s mine!

Remember, we’re still at the regional level. The entire application with the encyclopedia of supporting documentation has yet to go to the State Office for intense scrutiny. The whole thing reminds me somewhat of high school sports lol. You compete on different levels to win the State Championship for title and trophy: first the team competes on a local level, then  regionally, and finally─if you’ve practiced long and hard, and if you’re good enough, determined enough─you compete at the State Championship for the win. Thankfully this is not the Superbowl and I don’t need to go on to a National level.

Before my application can go on to the State Office, there is an environmental assessment and an appraisal of the prospective farm property that need to be done. The FSA performs an environmental assessment largely to ensure that the proposed farming operation will not cause a threat to the surrounding environment. Nathan has to go to the Swinging Bridge Farm and perform an inspection so that he can write up a report. The appraisal is done to ensure that the government is not paying more than what the property is actually worth.

Note: Check out this pdf provided by the USDA to read more about the FSA’s Environmental Compliance requirements, and this one to learn about the whys and hows of the FSA’s Real Estate Appraisal.

The Swinging Bridge Farm Gets Registered With the USDA

In order for the Environmental Assessment to be done, the Swinging Bridge Farm first had to be listed with the USDA. This designates the property boundaries, the types of agriculture happening there, and makes the property eligible to receive services from not only the USDA and the FSA, but also the NRCS.

If you’re a beginning farmer and you’re lucky enough to own your own property, or even if you’re managing property for someone else, it’s worth it to go down to your county USDA office to register your farm and learn what programs your land might be able to take advantage of. It’s a very simple process and the folks at the USDA office are super nice. I’ve done it twice before: once for the land I owned with my ex-husband, and then as farm manager for Jim Murphy’s farm in Starks.

3 Cheers for Mrs. Fletcher!

Let me take this moment to recognize Mrs. Fletcher, the 70-something year old woman who inherited the responsibility of caring for the Swinging Bridge Farm when her husband passed away a few years back. She had multiple offers for the property and did not have to accept mine. We are strangers who have never even met; for all intents and purposes, we live in different worlds. She was under no obligation to work with this wayward farmer from backwoods Maine on a sale that could take the better part of a year at worst, and 5 or 6 months at best to close.  But something about my story, my plans for a pollinator conservation farm, or my passion for taking care of the land struck a chord within her.

Whatever her reasons, I am overflowing with gratitude. None of this would be even remotely possible if we did not have that Sale Contract.

Mrs. Fletcher made up her mind that day on September 14th and she has not wavered since. If the FSA requests documentation from her she is quick to provide, and so this elderly lady took herself half an hour from her home in Kennebunk, to the Scarborough branch of the USDA and registered the Swinging Bridge Farm with the government. It looks like the Environmental Assessment will be scheduled for the week following Thanksgiving, which is good because once we have snow on the ground they can’t do the assessment until next spring, according to Nathan.

A Complete Application

I received word 13 days ago of my Complete FSA Farm Loan Application (officially), though I’m still waiting for my Letter of Eligibility. Nathan has really been pushing my case through, and progress is being made, so I am happy to wait patiently. The pieces continue to line up and where there once was no hope at all, there is now the glimmer of promise. I have allowed myself the pleasure of dreaming, and rather than worrying “What if it doesn’t work out?”, I am instead saying “What if it does???”

Once Nathan has my Letter of Eligibility done, the Environmental Assessment and the Appraisal completed, I believe my application can finally go off to the State Office. There my business plan and my financials will be reviewed and funding will either be approved or denied based on the financial feasibility of it all.

In my mind there is a flurry of questions and concerns. Where is the State Office? Who will be working on my case? Will they agree with Nathan regarding the feasibility of my painstakingly crafted farm-plan? Have I put in enough work? Did I do enough? Am I enough? Is it my turn?

We shall see… Stay tuned!