Parting Ways

After 2 years working together, Paul and I are parting ways. It’s always difficult when you care about someone to admit that you’re on different paths in life, but we’ve both come to terms with it and this will be an amicable parting of ways. Upon closing, Runamuk and I will move to the Hive House, while Paul will continue building his own farm at his location.

We’ve known for quite some time that the purchase of my own property for farming would inevitably bring about a change in our relationship status, but I’ve hesitated to share that information on the blog for the whole world to read. This story has never been about the men in my life, or my relationships with them─I’m the farmer and this is my story of trials and successes in agriculture. However, the men in my life have had a significant impact on my farming journey that cannot be denied.

I’ve faced all the same challenges male farmers face: access to credit and land, as well as the sharp learning curve that comes with being a first-generation farmer. Yet I’ve also faced challenges specific to women: a hegemonic, patriarchal society steeped in an invisibilizing mythologic perception of agriculture and the disproportionate burden of domestic responsibilities that still pervades global culture even in this modern age with it’s growing Female Revolution.

THAT─is a big can of worms to be explored in an upcoming article I’ve been working on about women in agriculture, and I’m not prepared to delve too deeply into such a controversial topic in this post. Check back soon for more about the challenges facing women who farm.

I do not regret the time spent with Paul, and living at his remodeled trailer has provided me the leg up I needed to be able to invest in the farm-property I’ve been dreaming of. In turn, I’ve inspired him to take up market-farming and Paul has joined the Madison Farmers’ Market under the name of “Oakenshire Farm”; he will be selling gourmet mushrooms and farm-fresh eggs, working his land to earn his living.

But what does that mean for Runamuk? How can I farm without a man by my side? Will I be able to keep up with the workload? And won’t I get lonely?

For better or worse, I’ve more or less farmed alone since I first aspired to make an income from my agricultural pursuits. Over the years I’ve developed the Runamuk operation in such a way as to allow me to manage the majority of the work on my own─without expensive machinery and without help. And for the most part, I intend to continue to do so.

This new property is going to provide the infrastructure I need to really grow Runamuk. I’ll be able to establish the systems that will allow Runamuk to shine in it’s own right: annual and perennial gardens that produce food for the farmer, and medicinal herbs for the apiary, an apothecary where I can dry the herbs for infusing into oils that will later be mixed with beeswax to make my herbal salves, and a kitchen that will qualify Runamuk for a Home Processing license─opening the door to new markets and wholesale distribution.

My boys are now 15 and 11─old enough to be contributing to the home and to their own subsistence, skills which I devoutly believe will prove beneficial to them in their adulthood. I’ll recruit their help these next few years as I cultivate the pollinator conservation farm I have long envisioned for Runamuk. And my darling sister will be moving in with me, we’ll lean on each other for a while, til she and Runamuk each find their footing.

Really, I don’t have any concerns about keeping up with the workload. I can work long and hard; I know how to manage my time and how to strategize a plan to get things done. I have the support of friends and family around me if there comes a project that requires more hands─or should I want some company.

As a creative type, I’ve never been one to mind a little quiet solitude. I find those periods of isolation are perfect time for artistic exploration, self-reflection, and an opportunity to focus on the things that are truly important to ones’ self.

What’s more, as I get another year closer to my 40th birthday (2020), taking care of myself first and foremost has become paramount. This is my story─I’m the one with this fire that burns within my soul─compelling me to build Runamuk, to grow this pollinator conservation farm, to work with bees, grow my own food, and to propagate a sense of community through my work for my local farmers’ market. I don’t expect anyone else to have the same level of passion, and I don’t want anyone else to do the work for me─that would cheapen the journey and rob me of the experiences of my own life.

Paul and I had some good times together, and I think we each learned a lot from one another. We’ll continue to be friends, for one can never have too many, and I wish for him a happy and self-sustaining life.

Check back soon for more news on the progress of my loan request with the FSA.  Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts from Runamuk directly to your in-box!

What do farmers at Johnny’s Seeds say are the biggest challenges facing farmers today?

challenges facing farmers

Though farmers in general are a dedicated lot, farming has never been easy and today’s beginning farmers face numerous obstacles. There’s a steep learning curve to growing produce and raising livestock for food production. A farmer has to wear many hats and have a broad spectrum of knowledge and skillsets. There are regulations and legalities to be adhered to and the start-up costs are high. It can be really stressful to make it all work and incredibly difficult to make the farm actually pay.

Yet despite all that, statistics show that the numbers of young farmers is growing, and here in Maine that number is up by 40 percent. Yay Maine!

I wrote more about the challenges new farmers face in this article from 2014. Or take a look at this article from the Huffington Post.

Recently I asked my colleagues at Johnny’s Selected Seeds what they see as the biggest challenge facing farmers today. Check out their responses below!

challenges facing farmers

Chance Gonyer ─ Seasonal Call Center representative; farms at Collective Roots Farm in Cornville, Maine.

Consumer knowledge—regarding produce and products.

Kamala Hahn ─ Call Center representative; farms at Buttermilk Hill Farm in Belgrade, Maine.

Uneducated people. We are stuck in a rut of competing with grocery stores and their pricing. It really is apples vs. bananas. Local food has better flavor, lasts longer and is more nutrient dense.  For a consumer to truly understand what it takes to get a tomato to market makes them understand why it is not >99 a pound.  I actually had a CSA customer that was unwilling to pay our $4.50 pound price for vine-ripened tomatoes, because “ I can get tomatoes just like these in the supermarket for $1.99 lb.”

Ken Hahn ─ Seasonal Call Center representative; farms at Buttermilk Hill Farm in Belgrade, Maine.

Access to land, I think, continues to be an issue for farmers. Many of us are on leased land held by aging holders. There is a lot of good will out there trying to bridge that gap but even with those bridges I fear a lot of farmers are accumulating staggering debt, which in the not-so-long run will cripple our farms. The other challenge farmers are facing is a litany of bad advice. I have seen the attitude among much of the small scale and organic farm community, that says “we’ve been doing it this way for forty years and you should too”. But those forty years of experience have led to a lot of destructive practices. Bad advise is killing our planet.

Erin Reardon ─ Contact Center and Scheduling Lead; avid gardener.

Since I am not a farmer, but work with a lot of farmers, I am guessing the money would be the biggest challenge. The cost of operating a successful farm against what a farmer actually makes is huge. You have to compete against places like Wal-Mart that buy in bulk and can sell at a much lower cost. While the quality may not be the same and is most likely not local, a lot of times it comes down to the price for the consumer. I think Maine has a huge following for “buy local” and that must help but at the end of the day most consumers will go with what they deem as “affordable” and that may not always be from the local farm.

Bernadette Heyse ─ Call Center Representative; avid gardener

I feel the biggest challenge is fungal and insect diseases on plants.  More and more farmers are bringing their gardening indoors in greenhouses and hoophouses to try to avoid disease.

Sarah Ingalls ─ Seasonal Call Center Representative; avid gardener.

Debt and lack of access to land.

Brittany Iafrate ─ Contact Center Night Lead; avid gardener.

College debt & lack of access to land.

Thomas Macy ─ Contact Center Representative: aspiring farmer.

The market is saturated with small vegetable growers and the supply exceeds the demand.

Paul Gallione ─ Johnny’s Information Specialist; farms at Moosehead Trail Farm in Waldo, Maine.

Distance from major markets, and the lack of agricultural infrastructure.

Me! Samantha Burns ─ Seasonal Call Center Representative; farms at Runamuk Acres Farm & Apiary in Starks, Maine.

I feel like misperceptions are a big challenge. We’re only human afterall, and folks have a tendency to form a mental perception of what they think food should look like, or what they think a farm should look like, how they think the job should be done, or what a young lady should be doing with her life. It’s a continuing struggle to educate the public to understand that the food at the grocery store is lacking, that sometimes a farm is little more than a ratty trailer in the woods with a coop full of chickens producing superior eggs, that there’s not always a big red barn, and that just because our parents use miracle grow and round-up, doesn’t mean there’s not possibly a better way to produce good food. And yes, that a young woman can put in the hard work required to make money farming and sometimes she actually knows what she’s doing.

Farming is amazing

Despite the challenges and the struggles that farmers face on a daily basis, and despite the amount of work involved, farming is an amazing thing to do. It’s a beautiful thing to connect with a piece of land, to learn the way the weather and natural rhythms of the Earth affect your farm, and to breathe life into your community by producing food and feeding relationships. Those who are drawn to farming find meaning in their labors, and value in the service they provide. And that’s what makes the struggle worth the effort.

What do you think? What YOU see as the biggest challenge facing farmers today? Feel free to leave a comment below!