Love Notes

I often find love notes in the cash box here at Runamuk Acres, and it never fails to make my day. It’s inspiring, and motiviating for this farmer, and I am grateful for it. Farming is not easy work, nor is it an easy lifestyle, but I sure love it and the appreciation folks show for it makes it worth every hardship. It’s been one hellova growing season here at the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm─with the usual ups and downs. I invite you to get yourself a cuppa, and join this farmer for a seasonal update.

Love-note found in the cashbox at the Runamuk farmstand!

Runamuk has grown quite a lot this season─both literally and figuratively, lol. Having the farmstand open consistently has increased our presence within the community. We are selling more food to more households than ever before. People rave about the quality of our vegetables compared to that found at the local grocery store. They love my handmade bread, and stop into the farmstand in hopes of finding a loaf of Cinnamon-Swirl. With summer winding to a close, our list of available products shifts. I am spending more time in the kitchen again, baking all those seasonal favorites we love to eat when the weather turns cold. In addition, we’ll have microgreens available soon, with the pork and lamb harvest soon to be available.

The idea to do without housemates, however, set me back financially and I am still recovering. I guess it was a rather preposterous notion─to think I could scrape by without that extra income stream. I need to let the house work for me─to be able to live and farm here on my own.

AirBnB Farmstays

One of my CSA members had been a guest to the farm a few years back, when I was still doing AirBnB farmstays. Lindsay Currier, with her little daughter, Saffron, stayed at Runamuk on their first foray into the area, and absolutely loved it. When they moved to Kingfield a short time later, they became one of the farm’s founding CSA members. They’ve been staunch allies ever since. For some time now, Lindsay has been gently encouraging me to make a return to hosting for AirBnB.

Shameless plug! Lindsay is an avid biker and just started her own guiding service. Check out www.stillpeaking.com for more info!

Then, I was into the Farmington Farmers’ Union a couple months back, when I chanced an encounter with another former guest. He told me he had also settled in the area after a stay at Runamuk! The encounter made a big impression on me, and I began to see the ripple effects that this farm has on the community. It was a pretty humbling realization, which led me to reconsider my position on letting space in my home. At length, I decided to return to AirBnB with at least one of the guest rooms.

Guest room #2 at Runamuk’s AirBnB farmstay.

Early in September, I listed the second-floor guest room on AirBnB─no breakfasts this time around, due to the insurmountable demands upon this farmer’s time. Yet, guests are welcome to purchase from the farmstand, where I often have breads, muffins, and other baked goods, in addition to whatever vegetables and meats are in-season.

Already we’ve welcomed several visitors to our farmstay, and Runamuk is receiving regular bookings. For the most part, the Runamuk farmstay attracts folks who are farm-curious, people who are in the area for myriad outdoor adventures, and those who seek a chance to find peace in nature. The vibe these folks bring with them is a breath of fresh air in my overworked and overwhelmed state. Seeing the farm through their eyes, reminds me of just how far my farm-journey has brought me. And how much I have to be thankful for.

Find our listing here on AirBnB to check it out. You can support this farm just by telling friends and family about our fabulous farmstay. Runamuk lives at the foot of Maine’s Western Mountain Region, where outdoor activities abound. Adventure awaits!

Ups & Downs

The Field: In other areas of the farm, I had some great success stories this growing season. The 10 acre field out back looked absolutely fantastic. The different forbes and grasses have benefited from the practice of rotational grazing that I’ve employed these last 4 years. The growth is lush and rich, teaming with a diverse array of wildlife, from tiny invertebrate insects, to numerous bird populations, and even a few resident deer. All coexisting on that field with the milling sheep, and their resident guard dog.

The Gardens: The smaller of the 2 vegetable gardens, I’ve managed to reign in, laying commercial-grade weed barrier over beds and pathways to combat weed-pressure. We’ve put a lot of work into amending the soil in this garden, resulting in some very robust crops there this season. Garden 1 gave us a bounty of broccoli, cabbages, zucchini, onions, big fat scallions, and seemingly unending cucumbers.

The Tractor: In the larger, 1-acre market garden, yours truly cover cropped half the garden with a combination of peas and oats. I had about two-thirds of the other half of the garden planted before the season began to unravel on me. It was at that point, when it was time to till in the cover crop and plant a fall cover, that my tractor went down. Before I could get the thing repaired, the window of opportunity passed me by. Crops will only hold in the field for so long…sigh.

If you’ve been following along with my story, you may recall how I sold my prized Farmall tractor to buy the smaller Bolens lawn tractor. I had decided that the Farmall was just too big for what I was trying to do. Unfortunately, after using the Bolens this spring, I’ve come to the conclusion that this machine is too small and under-powered for the kind of work I am trying to do with it. I’m at a loss. I don’t know what Runamuk needs to fill this gap, the finances are not available to support investment in another tractor─and I don’t want to be tilling anyway! I throw my hands up in frustration.

Saying goodbye to Big Man and Junior.

The Sheep: Meanwhile, I sold 6 lambs over the summer, sending my babies off to start new flocks on new homesteads near and far. The flock grew to more than 20 mouths this spring, making this farmer acutely aware of the fact that winter stores will only last so long. Runamuk can only feasibly support 10-12 sheep through the winter months. Sacrifices are a harsh reality in farming. 6 lambs went to new homes─including Big Man─the bottle baby who followed me around this spring, melting hearts everywhere we went. 6 sheep will go to freezer camp come November. Deciding who will stay, and who will go, is one of the hardest decisions I have to make as a farmer. Executing that plan is harder still, but lambing season 2023 is my consolation.

Spoils-to-Soils: The scraps collected through Runamuk’s Spoils-to-Soils program last winter yielded about 3 yards of beautiful compost. Unfortunately, I’ve had to disband the program due to the fact that I do not yet have an outdoor set-up for year-round use. Washing the 5-gallon buckets after we’ve emptied them of compost was a bit of an issue. Try as I might to prevent it, there was still quite a lot of fat, grease, and debris that accumulated in the pipes here. The gunk eventually caused a blockage, which resulted in a messy and disgusting repair job for poor Deron. We can still take any kitchen scraps or yard waste that locals would like to drop off, but─to keep my utilities working properly in the farmhouse─I am no longer washing and exchanging buckets.

The Orchard: Earlier in the spring, I managed to make time for pruning and training the 3 and 4-year old fruit trees that make up Runamuk’s little orchard. Then, I took the tiller between the rows in the front orchard to sow low-growing clover with the notion of creating a living mulch. I left it all season, avoiding mowing in order to give the clover a chance to take root, but grasses have come up, overgrowing the clover and now the whole thing looks like a hay-field. At the moment, I’m not sure if it’s worth it to try to hack it back. Perhaps I’ll let the winter snow pack it down to create a mulch layer, which would almost certainly benefit the poor soils there.

Season Extension: While I was able to invest in the supplies to erect a smallish caterpillar tunnel, and I did indeed get the ribs of the structure up, time got away from me. Weeds overtook the ground where I put my tunnel, making it a big job to reclaim the space. Big jobs take time that I do not have at the moment, which means that this project has once again been shunted to the back burner. It’s a disappointment, but you can bet that I will try again next season. Runamuk must have a way to extend it’s growing season if this farm is to feed it’s community year-round.

The Water Project: When I bought the property, the former owners had already pipes running to the pond. There was an existing electric pump and a blue pressure tank to feed water to the small garden. Try as I might, I could never get the pump to run. Eventually, the conclusion was that the thing had sat out in the elements for too long. As a result, we’ve been solely reliant on water from the farmhouse for irrigation and livestock. Town water─for which I am dearly paying. With local water authorities threatening to restrict water-usage, getting a secondary water-source up and running is a high priority for the farm. Yet, current finances do not allow for investment in a replacement pump to draw the pond-water. Thinking this was going to be another of 2022’s missed opportunities, it was a surprise when Deron’s eldest brother donated a pump and pressure tank to the farm. He had upgraded the system in his home, and no longer needed the older model. Come the 2023 growing season, we’ll be all set and ready to tackle this pivotal project.

My Book: It’s embarrassing to admit that I just could not make the time to gain headway on the book I’d announced at the start of the season. Between the demands of this farm, mothering and educating my teenaged son, going back and forth between the farm and Deron’s home in Solon─as well as working through some deeply personal issues─it was all I could do sometimes to write at all. Let alone write anything worth sharing.

All too often, we let talent fizzle as we age. We let go of the passions held so tightly in our youths, in order to meet the demands of adulthood. Time and energy are finite resources. We prioritize how we spend such precious assets, abandoning some dreams out of necessity. While I have sacrificed other dreams to be able to farm, I can not─in good conscience─ignore the call to write. I am afraid that if I were to give up on writing, I will lose a part of myself. I’m even more afraid that when I come to the end of my days, I will regret that I didn’t keep trying. So bear with me, if you will─keep checking in for farm-updates, and potential book releases. You can bet that I will make it happen. Some how, some way.

Love Notes

Your friendly neighborhood farmer!

Farming is not easy work, and I’m certainly not making big bucks doing it, lol. Yet, I do it for love. It’s a blessing, I know, to be able to do all things with and for love. Different notes of love have guided my actions throughout life. Love has brought me here, to this scrappy patch of Earth. It brought me to this place where I get to live, eat, breathe, and work in all forms of love.

It’s curious─fascinating even─to watch the effect of that love rippling out over the community that Runamuk has built for itself. Kind words of encouragement, admiration, and love go such a long way in feeding the soul. You nourish me. Whether it’s a note on a CSA order, a comment on an Instagram post, or a love-note on the farmstand, you are fortifying and inspiring this farmer to keep working hard, so that─in turn─I might nourish and inspire you, too. Whether it is my wholesome, hand-made and hand-grown, local foods, or my authenticity that inspires you, lol, I am truly grateful for the appreciation. Thank you so much for the love notes!!!

Thank you for following along with the story of this female-farmer! It truly is my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

How do I afford to keep my farm going?

An acquaintance of mine emailed me recently asking how I can afford a farm, and how can you know what to do to be profitable?  Those are two totally separate and totally loaded questions, so I am going to answer the first here, and the second one in  a separate post.

how to afford a farmLots of people are drawn to the homesteading and farming lifestyle. Now more than ever people are drawn to quality food, local products, and a more sustainable existence. Getting started though can feel like trying to scale a mountain.

I thought about her question a long time before I could really come up with an answer. If you’ve been following along with my story then you already know about my financial struggles and the difficulty I’ve faced this year in starting over. My divorce and the harsh 2014-2015 winter effectively put Runamuk back to square one. I’ve scratched and clawed my way along from the very beginning, when Runamuk was just an idea to help pay for my sudden beekeeping obsession. I wasn’t sure I was qualified to answer the question!

I’m still not sure I’m the right person to answer that, but it’s a good question and I believe that the public should know the difficulties that farmers face to produce the food and products that consumers want. It’s a great lifestyle, and a valued service that people seem to appreciate and respect, but when it comes to their wallets there seems to be a disconnect from that appreciation. I see it frequently at the farmers’ market.

How do you afford a farm & running one?

Technically─I can’t afford it. There’s the bald truth of the matter. I’m behind on my bills, keeping up only by paying the minimum amount due each month to keep the lights on for another month. I have payment arrangements to pay off past-due balances, I have no savings to speak of and every dollar matters. But I make do because this is what I want with every fiber of my being─I want nothing more out of life than to farm, keep bees, and be close to nature.

Off-farm work─to pay my living expenses I’ve taken off-farm employment. This supplemental income pays the electricity, half the rent (Runamuk is paying the other half), my cell phone, and until March of 2016, my Subaru payment. I’ve been fortunate to find seasonal jobs in the farming sector that allows me to work around the busy summer months to some degree, so that I can continue to farm even while working off the farm. Until Runamuk is generating more income…

Multiple revenue streams─Runamuk is a diversified farm. Not only do I sell farm-fresh eggs, honey (when I have it), and beeswax products at market and online, I write, assemble the BeeLine for the MSBA, host on-farm workshops, and teach local bee-schools. I do odd jobs occasionally; this summer I was paid to help another beekeeper split his hives, to remove a nest of yellow jackets from beneath a deck, and to look after my neighbor’s horses. The advertisements hosted by this website contribute a small amount too, and occasionally someone will purchase one of my eBooks. Every little bit helps keep the lights on, or purchase a bag of chicken feed, sugar for the bees, or baby chicks for next year’s laying stock.

The BarnWillingness to work─I get up at 4:30 most mornings so that I can have time to work on the computer before I have to leave the farm for my job at the orchard. I’ll work on the BeeLine or a blog-post, send out emails on behalf of the farmers’ market or the Somerset Beekeepers, post photos to facebook or instagram as part of my on-going marketing campaign for Runamuk─and I’ll do that until about 7 or so when it’s time to get ready for the orchard. When I get home from work, usually around 3 or 4, I have a quick cup of green tea for a caffeine boost before I tackle another project for Runamuk. The day ends around 7, when I crash on the couch to watch a bit of Netflix before I go to bed (aka─falling asleep on the couch and then getting up and going to bed 45 minutes later, lol).

Last Saturday’s trip to Rangeley was the first day off I’ve taken since March. I’m happiest when I’m knee deep in mud, grimy with sweat and dirt, and sore from a long day’s hard work. And I think that’s probably a common trait in farmers; we’re willing to work long hours and days on end without sight of a day off just to be able to live this life and do the work that we enjoy.

Make sacrifices─I’ve given my time and money to make Runamuk possible, and I’ve also sacrificed myself at times. That means I’ve given up my free time, time with my family, friends, and any possible time for vacations. I wear my clothes threadbare to stave off having to buy anything until absolutely necessary, and then it’s usually from the thrift store (I’ve been wearing the same carhartt sweatshirt and vest for the last 6 years, and currently the hiking boots I wear everyday are coming apart). And I’ll gladly give up a bottle of wine to be able to pay for fish emulsion for the garden, or a new cat for the farm.

Sometimes I have to sacrifice my own perceptions of what I want something to look like─let go my OCD and accept that this is the very best I can do at this point given the finances and time constraints I’m currently facing. Sometimes that’s harder to do than giving up the bottle of wine on Friday night.

Resourcefulness─I credit my perpetual creativity for the heightened level of resourcefulness that I currently possess. I can make just about anything out of saplings, twine and duct tape. I can look at just about anything and my mind will be working on all the possible ways I can use the object on the farm. I am a shameless hoarder of miscellaneous and cast-off items; anything that might save a dollar and might help me to advance Runamuk.

Asking─When I was young I remember being afraid to ask questions in class, afraid to ask for help or to speak up when something seemed wrong. Somewhere along the line I got over that fear, and learning to ask the questions has become one of my greatest strengths. I’ve learned to ask questions to learn more about my interests and to pick up needed skills. I’ve learned to ask for help─and not just from family and friends, but also to the extent that I will put it out to the local community via social networks, through word of mouth, even posting to Craigslist or the Uncle Henry’s if needed.

I live by the old adage: “You’ll never know if you don’t ask.” That’s how I came by Jim Murphy’s farm and how I secured an affordable lease. I asked for it.

Help/support─It’s still difficult for me to ask for help, but sometimes there’s no way around it. Some jobs require an extra set of hands. Sometimes you need someone to lean on. And I’ve had plenty of friends and family who have helped me along my way, and lots of support and encouragement across the community.

In my former life, my spouse’s income supported much of Runamuk and my farming-addiction. Now I am having to make my own way and the journey seems just a bit more raw and real…

Patience─this isn’t something you can do or create overnight. With farming especially, it takes years to build up your business and become a truly productive and self-sustaining entity. I am nowhere near being self-sustaining, it’s been a slow and difficult start for me, with set backs and obstacles to be overcome along the way. Since I became a mother (my first baby is 12 now…sigh) I’ve moved along this path toward independence and sustainability, beginning with gardening and baking, then moving onto homeschooling, avoiding consumerism, chemicals and processed foods, GMOs, and finally I stumbled into beekeeping and farming for financial independence. It was a natural progression for me that’s taken 12 years and I still feel like the majority of the adventure is ahead of me.

It’s one of those things that you really have to stick to in order for it to add up and pay off. You can’t just try it for a year or two and decide that it’s too expensive and far too labor-intensive, and give it up as a lost cause. For one thing, in farming the majority of the expense is up front in the establishment of infrastructure. The majority of your mistakes are going to be made up front, and then as you get established, gain some experience, it will begin to pay off.

Unless of course you happen to come from a family of farmers and are lucky enough to be able to follow in the footsteps of your predecessors. In that situation the infrastructure is already in place, and you have someone training you and guiding you, teaching you about the animals and the plants and the processes involved in producing whatever it is that your farm produces. Then it becomes a very different sort of journey, and that is not a story that I can tell, lol!

Every farmers’ story is different, but this is how I’m doing it. It’s not pretty, and it may not be for everyone. Nevertheless, I’m working toward the end goal of being able to work on-farm full-time and toward seeing Runamuk become what I have envisioned for it. That’s what keeps me going in spite of the hardships and the obstacles. And that’s what gives me the patience and the strength to continue doing it.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to contribute to help answer this person’s question: How do you afford a farm and running one?

Go to “How do you know what to do to be a profitable farm?” to read the second half of my response to these questions.

New chicks!

new chicksA peeping, cheeping box addressed to Runamuk Acres came to the post office in Madison early Wednesday morning, and the postal worker called at quarter after six to let me know that my chicks had arrived. Twenty-six birds total: 7 silver laced wyandottes, 7 speckled sussex, 6 delawares, 5 barred rocks and 1 free exotic chick.

Despite having taking in a number of new birds over the last couple of months I still cannot meet the demand for eggs at market or within the community. I can’t tell you have often I’m asked, “Do you have any eggs?” and how frequently I have to turn customers away for lack of product.

I weighed my options, finances are tight, but if I didn’t get some fresh layers I’d be in worse shape next year. And thanks to a few workshop sales I had a few extra dollars, so I took a deep breath and placed the order with McMurray Hatchery (I’ve used them a few times and always had good results, and I like their selection too).

Since Willow’s accident I’ve been experiencing serious furry-four-legged-critter withdrawals. In the last year I’ve given up my sheep, goats, cats, and lost my dog…and though I still have honeybees and a variety of poultry, somehow they just don’t fill the void. Chicks may be poultry still, but they’re teeny and fluffy and I’ll take it! Lol.

Eagerly I dressed and drove the five miles into town, crossed the bridge over the Kennebec River, pulled in at the back of the post office and rang the buzzer. The box of cheeping chicks was handed over and I brought them home to place them in the prepared brooder space in the garage that is attached to the farmhouse. I wanted them close at hand while they’re small, for feeding and watering, health-checks, and just so that I could have easy access for cuddling little baby chicks.

With the exception of a 4-hour power outage Wednesday afternoon thanks to Hurricane Joaquin, which left the chicks without a heat lamp for the duration, everyone is looking great. All 26 chicks survived their ordeal through the US Postal system, and are eating, drinking and growing normally thus far.

Thank goodness for small fluffy chicks!