Anxiety in the Home-Stretch

I fully admit that I have been suffering an increasing level of anxiety and stress during this home-stretch of buying a farm. The USDA’s program for beginning farmers seeking to finance the purchase of a property for farming is a grueling process and since passing the 200th Day it’s become more difficult for me─largely because the delay is causing quite an upheaval in both my farming operations and my family-life. It was a relief to receive word on Monday that the Appraisal of the Hive-House has finally been scheduled, and will occur on Friday, May 11th at 11. Once that report comes in next week, Closing should follow within a couple of weeks. Yaaaaay!

The FSA’s financing process reminds me a little of a video game, in that─you can’t advance to the next level until you have successfully completed the level before it. Each step in the FSA’s process is crucial to advancement and to reaching Closing Day, and it’s not over until you’ve signed those papers and received the keys to your new farm. My whole experience with the Swinging Bridge Farm taught me a valuable lesson.

I suppose having to go through this process twice has contributed considerably to my current state of perpetual tension. This all would have been over months ago if I hadn’t bet on the wrong horse the first time, but I’ve been much more careful this time around and I’m confident we will soon be scheduling Closing Day.

That knowledge does little to assuage my anxiety regarding Closing though…. So much hinges on this property sale that it almost chokes me up to think about it. My kids need this home. I need this home; Runamuk has reached a point where I don’t feel I can continue to farm without adequate infrastructure and a permanent home-base. My days as a landless farmer have reached their limits.

What’s more─buying a farm and moving a farm are similar to buying a home and moving a family, but way more intense because there’s livestock and farm equipment involved. And because in order to keep my farm income coming in so that I can pay this new mortgage I’ll soon have─I need to ensure that the farming continues even through the move.

To top it all off, there are a few nay-sayers in my midst who can’t seem to fathom how anyone could possibly buy property on an income generated from farming and have deemed my plan destined for failure. That’s just insulting; I wouldn’t have gotten this far if I didn’t have some idea what I’m doing! And besides─my loan has already been approved: TWICE!

I look forward to proving the nay-sayers wrong, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Before the 200th Day I wasn’t necessarily counting the days to Closing, I was just keeping a tally of the process; but once I passed day 200 I began counting. This has been a long process for me and my family, and I am mentally drained and exhausted. With the tension mounting in the home-stretch, I find some consolation in knowing I made it through all the days before today, and I will get through today too.

I am no stranger to anxiety, and have been careful to take care of myself: watching my caffeine in-take, drinking herbal teas, taking Valerian capsules twice a day, getting fresh air, spending time with friends, playing my banjo and drinking beer or wine (all things in moderation!), and most of all─keeping busy.

With my first farmers’ market of the 2018 season happening on Saturday, the same day my first round of new bees are scheduled to arrive, and then 50 new pullets to go pick up Sunday evening─Runamuk’s farm season is about to kick off with a bang this weekend, so keeping busy is not a problem. There’s equipment to prep for both bees and chickens, soap to make, soap to wrap for market, a new sign to make to hang in the Runamuk booth at market─not to mention I need to assemble all of the things that go to market with me: tables, tent, shelving and display pieces…the list goes on and on. Keeping busy is no problem at all, lol.

Once the Appraisal comes in Closing should happen within 2-3 weeks, so we’re really close now! Check back soon for another update from the farm, and be sure to tune in to Facebook Live to watch me sign that mortgage contract on Closing Day!

Market season underway

It was cool and overcast Sunday as the Madison Farmers’ Market came together at the Main Street Park in Madison. Fine friends I had scarcely seen since our last winter market back in December, cars and trucks loaded with wares, gear and market-equipment, some with their children in tow. Winter is finally over and spring has come to our part of the world.

Market Banner
The town of Madison sprang for a new banner for the market this year!

There are always a few kinks to work out on the first market of the season. I was still working 4 shifts a week at Johnny’s and then picked up an extra, so market preparations at Runamuk were somewhat sporadic. I spent my Saturday evening wrapping soap and labeling salves, and still wound up running around like a chicken with my head cut off on Sunday morning because I hadn’t had time to gather all of my market-equipment beforehand.

If you’ve never vended at an outdoor event, you might not realize all of the supplies and equipment you need to have with you. Lots of little things like: duct tape, twine or rope, ink pens, chalk, a first-aid kit. Big things like: a folding table, a tent, signs. And don’t forget about yourself─always bring water and snacks or food of some sort, and dress appropriately for the weather.

And if you’re bringing children along that’s a whole separate bucket of worms!

This is the Madison market’s 4th season. We’re still a small market, with just 7 vendors. But we’ve got a really nice group of dedicated people working to bring local food and products to the community. The farmers who make up the Madison Farmers’ Market are: Josh Magoon of Willow Lane Farm in Harmony, Sonia and Jeff of Hide-and-Go-Peep Farm in East Madison, Maria Reynolds of Yellow Place Bakehouse in Solon, Mike Bowman of Groundswell Seed Farm in Embden, Crymson Sullivan of Sidehill Farm in Madison, and Pete and Carol Vigneault of P & C Pottery in Madison. Oh─and don’t forget me!

Our market is held on Sundays because we didn’t want to try to compete with the larger and much more established Skowhegan Farmers’ Market, which has been held on Saturdays for nearly twenty years in the next town over. We’ve found that 10-2 works well for us, and despite some initial misgivings about our chosen day of the week, we’ve developed a regular following of shoppers committed to buying fresh produce and products from Madison-area farmers.

These farmers have come out in rain and snow, cold and wind to be at market to offer their wares to the community of Madison. They get up early to harvest vegetables, or stay up late packaging seeds; for those with livestock on their farms it takes a fair amount of planning and preparation to be able to leave the farm to spend half the day at market. That involves making sure all critters are fed and watered, and that they’re safely secured to be left unattended for hours on end. These are just some of the things farmers have to deal with to bring their goods to you at the farmers’ market.

We’re at market to sell our wares, yes─payday comes once a week and farming is serious business; farmers have bills too. Yet the paycheck is only one of the reasons that motivates farmers to do what they do. Farming is the purest form of activism; farmers are committed to improving their communities through food, to improving the environment through farming. And through the relationships we nurture at market we can affect some measure of change in our community. We can educate the public about vegetables and food, and be the link that people need in order to fully understand what good food is, how to cook it, preserve it, and appreciate it.

Harvest Bucks in Action
Happy SNAP shoppers at market!

So there were a few kinks at market our first Sunday back…I didn’t realize until I was loading the car that the cement blocks I usually haul along to weight down my tent at market I’d absconded with for the beehives last fall. And in my frenzy of preparations and stresses at Runamuk, I’d forgotten to prepare a SNAP shopping sheet for our market’s SNAP program. Thanks to the efforts of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets,  Harvest Bucks program allows our market to offer bonus dollars to SNAP shoppers, which can be used for fresh fruits and veggies at market. We made-do, though, and had our first SNAP shopper of the season come through the market. Yay!

Stay tuned for another action-packed season!

Opening day at market

temporary summer coop
madison farmers' market
It rained and drizzled most of the day, but the farmers’ of the Madison Farmers’ Market were there on opening day!

Sunday was the first market of the season for our local Madison Farmers’ Market–Runamuk was there with 4 other vendors, and also the local boy scout group was there with us.  It was a big improvement from last year when it was just myself and 85 year-old Thelma Lawrence of Hawley’s Little Acre in Madison.  After all my work promoting and trying to recruit vendors for our market–it was very gratifying to see so many tents set up at the new Main Street Park where our market is held.  And in the rain, no less.

opening day at madison farmers' market
Carol and Pete of P & C Pottery brightened up the day.
groundswell seed farm opening day at market
Maria and Mike of Groundswell Seed Farm are certified organic by MOFGA.

Runamuk’s been in the papers and on the news twice in the last couple of weeks–the first was a mention of us in this article about how the bees fared in Maine this winter, and the second was this article about the Madison Farmers’ Market and it’s first full season this year.  Between these articles and the recent Indiegogo campaign video, we’ve had some really great press lately–it’s definitely good for our business, and I see it as a necessary evil–but I will be more than happy to spend some time OUT of the limelight for the foreseeable future.

As far as the gardens go–because we moved our farm to a new location, we’re essentially starting over, which is really killing me.  In town I had a number of raised beds with mini hoop-houses set up on them, and permanent beds that I can work early in the season.  I would have had lots of crops in the ground already–like lettuces, spinach, and brassicas.  Now–because we moved to this site in December–I’m forced to wait for the ground to thaw and dry up enough that I can get the preliminary tilling done.

temporary summer coop
I built this summer shelter using the woven-wattle method.

It’s been a really tough spring–between the long-suffering winter that hung on forever (and it’s still chilly!)–and trying to re-establish our farm here on Burns Road.  We’re working hard here; it seems like everything needs to be done all at once, and it’s hard to prioritize one task over another.  I slapped together a mini hoop-house and got the temporary coop up, Keith’s finishing off his reconstruction of the hoop-house (less hideous this time), and the kids and I have been removing debris from the field where the market gardens are going.  Last Friday I brought home 2 of the big round bales of mulch hay, today I will go get 2 more (all free! yay!), and yesterday Keith brought home a water storage tank, which we plan to use to gravity-feed our garden irrigation system.

So I was at market with no vegetables what-so-ever, but I did have a number of seedlings available, and our beeswax products.  I promoted the CSA with brochures and some new CSA sign-up cards I’d put together and printed out.  I’ve got lettuce seedlings growing, so that when the gardens have been prepped they will be all set to be planted, we’ve received our shipment of onion sets from Johnny’s Seeds, and last week the kids and I went to Newport to pick up our order of seed-potatoes from the Maine Potato Lady.

We’re gung-ho and ready to go–now if only Mother Nature would cooperate with us just a little.