Finally a Forever-Farm

It’s officially official; at long last Runamuk has a forever-farm of it’s very own! On Wednesday, June 27th, after nearly 10 years working toward this goal─I finally became a land-owner.

Big Thanks to the Dream Team!

fsa farm closing day
From left to right: Nathan Persinger, Penobscot County USDA Farm Loan Officer, Janice Ramirez, Somerset County Farm Loan Officer, myself holding the keys to the farm, my NextHome realtor Leah J. Watkins, and Andrew Francis, FSA Program Director for Somerset County.

Closing was held at the USDA Service Center in Skowhegan, Maine, and my whole team turned out for the occasion. I’ve dubbed them the “Dream Team” because without these people none of this would have been possible. Nathan Persinger, Penobscot County USDA Farm Loan Officer and my FSA rep, Janice Ramirez, the Somerset County Farm Loan Officer, my realtor Leah Watkins, and Andrew Francis, the FSA Program Director for the Somerset County FSA. They each believed in me enough to help make my dream of farm-ownership come true, and they will always have my unending gratitude.

Settling In

With the ink drying on the paperwork, the #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter is well underway. I’ve spent the last 6 days moving my farm and family from Norridgewock to New Portland: Saturday and Sunday were the hardest, with the larger furniture, dressers, beds and bookcases, coming over in the Hilton’s horse trailer and a borrowed truck (thank you Ken and Kamala Hahn!). Saturday night a few of my closest friends came to help move the bigger items into the house and joined me in the celebration of this victory.

My body is bruised and sore all over, but I’m on the other side now─there’s not so much left to move now, and we’re beginning to settle in here at the Hive House. The house is lovely and fair─filled with character and charm. There are plenty of spaces for a whole spectrum of workshops, along with a 10 acre field out back and mountain views in 2 directions. I never would have dared hope I would end up with a house and property as nice as this─it’s amazing and I feel so blessed to be here.

i bought a farm
The Hive House.

Admittedly, the Hive House was not my first choice; when the Swinging Bridge Farm turned out to be a dead-end, I had to think fast and make some compromises. To some degree it feels a little like we’ve each come into this relationship a little reluctantly. This house had apparently been part of the same family for several generations and has a legacy within the community here in New Portland. Change can be hard, and for something as iconic as a house such as this one, I imagine it’s strange and uncomfortable and difficult to see it changing hands. But now that we’ve been brought together─the Hive House and I─I feel like we’re falling in love slowly, hesitantly, like a shy bride (the Hive House) and her recalcitrant groom (yours truly) unexpectedly captivated by each other.

Savor the Moment

It’s such a monumental accomplishment that I have allowed myself to take the time to really savor the moment─a honeymoon phase, if you will. I’ve been a tumult of emotion: alternating between relief, pride, love, excitement, fear, wonder and incredulity.

Relief: I’m immensely relieved that it’s finally over. Years of working toward this goal and here I am finally owner of my own home, where I can raise my kids and grow my farm and never have to face having to leave it behind ever again. If I have my way I’ll grow old and grey, die right here in this house and my ashes will fertilize the same soil that I farmed.

conservation at the hive house
Lots of birdhouses around the field at the Hive House!

Pride: I am so proud of me! I did it─I bought a farm! And though I’ve had some help along the way to grease the wheels, this was MY accomplishment. It was me who decided to generate an income from farming, and it was me who worked and strategized how I could some day buy my own place to ensure my own security.

Year after year I have doggedly pursued this goal, and even after my divorce when failure seemed imminent, I kept at it. I have been told that it would never amount to anything, that the chickens are of no use, that the bees are too risky a venture, and that you can’t make money farming. Maybe I’ll never be well-off, but I was able to buy this beautiful property as a farmer based on the income I’ve made from the farming of bees and chickens. I did that, and I’m proud of that.

Love: It’s at the root of everything I am and everything I do. Love for my kids, love for nature, and love for my fellow mankind drives me to protect those things. I revel in that love and it consumes me.

Gratitude: To be here, to have this beautiful house and property for my own, I am just so immensely grateful. I am filled with gratitude for every person who ever said a kind word, grateful to those who believed in me and encouraged me, and humbled that the Universe saw fit to bring me here to this place.

Excitement: Now that I finally have a forever-farm I’m excited to be able to get down to the business of farming. I can put into action my plan for a pollinator conservation farm, where I can share the beauty and wonder of the relationship that flowering plants have with their animal pollinators.

Fear: I’ve had people question my ability─asking whether or not I can handle it and if I know what I’m getting myself into. Now that I’m here and looking around, I admit that it’s a little overwhelming to think that I am responsible for all of this. What if those nay-sayers are right and after all this I wind up blowing it in the end???

Wonder & Incredulity: It’s a marvel that I ended up here after the long journey I’ve been on; there are moments when I can scarcely believe it’s really real. The field, the view, the gardens and the pond, the house and all of the out-buildings─it’s like a dream: a wonderfully wonderful dream that I never want to wake up from.

Switching Gears

I still have a few things to bring over from Norridgewock, but today I’m switching gears to begin construction of 2 chicken tractors to house the laying flock on the pasture out back. Making a video-tour of the farm is on the list of things to do, but until the moving is completely finished that is not a priority. Also, stay tuned for news of Runamuk’s Farm-Warming Party scheduled for later this summer!

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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!