Confession #2: Conservation Contract

conservation contract

Last Thursday, this farmer Closed on a Conservation Contract with the FSA that will safeguard Runamuk Acres for the next 50 years. In turn, the farm received a significant reduction on it’s mortgage. I’m floored to be a legitimate conservation farm, yet it all came about because I failed to make my mortgage payment that first year. This confession is about farm-finances, and how that colossal failing turned out to be a blessing in disguise for this female-farmer.

Over My Head

I confess to you, dear reader, that I was unable to make my mortgage payment in my first year. There. I’ve said it.

If you’ve been following along with my story (first of all, thank you so much for that!) likely you’ll recall what a great and mighty leap it was for me to go from landless farmer to farm-owner. My income was just barely enough to qualify for a mortgage in the first place. Then there were expenses related to moving, first-year investments to be made, and a lot of work to be put in to grow the farm and it’s customer base. What’s more, because we came to the farm in July 2018, I wasn’t actually able to plant any crops to increase my financial-standing until spring of 2019. Truthfully, I was in a little over my head.

farm-finance struggle
I love Brene Brown!!!

Even now that this failing has turned into the most wonderful blessing, I am ashamed of the why and the how of this particular story. I’ve agonized over how much detail to share with you, reluctant to admit that I’m a failure─scared of what the haters would say. In the end, I had to talk through it with Deron (remember Deron? my sexy, blue-eyed boyfriend?) to be able to put these words down for you. Ultimately, we both felt that my story might help someone else overcome their own farm-finance struggle, and that alone makes the tale worth sharing.

Leading up to buying the farm back in 2018, I’d been careful with my credit and my expenses. Once I came to New Portland and began establishing Runamuk here, I maxed out my credit cards very quickly. At that point, I was just settling in─trying to get the ball rolling for Runamuk at it’s new home. Even working part-time at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, it was all I could do to keep the lights on, the water running, and everyone fed. Then, when I lost my position with the company and decided to give fulltime farming a try, I had to choose between paying the credit cards every month and buying feed for my livestock. Which would you choose?

So there I was, summer of 2019, unable to make my first mortgage payment, and now I was also delinquent on my credit card bills. Terror fueled my every day as I waited for a foreclosure letter to arrive in the mailbox. I was coaxing myself through panic attacks as I moved chickens around the field. Trying to bolster myself as I trucked veggies to the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, telling myself it wasn’t all an act in futility. Shame kept me awake at night. To have overcome so many obstacles along the path to farm-ownership, only to fail in my very first year was the ultimate humiliation.

Hope to Hold Onto

fsa conservation contract
USDA Service Center for Somerset County.

Janice Ramirez, my agent at the Somerset County FSA branch gave me hope to hold onto. She told me there were several servicing options for such a situation, but we had to wait 90 days after the mortgage payment due date to be able to start the process for any of those programs. She also said that I would need to have all of my accounts current (including my credit cards), and that my numbers would need to match those submitted the year before, which included income from off-farm employment…meaning I had to go back to work.

I had no idea how the FSA expected a single woman to grow a farm-business to the point where it could pay a mortgage if the farmer was not on the farm to do the work. I also had no idea how I was going to manage working with 2 kids at home, 1 with special needs (at that time William was still coming to the farm 2 nights a week), and 1 for whom I received regular calls from the school for behavioral issues. Nonetheless, I went job hunting anyway.

Sugarloaf ski resort is just 30 minutes from the farm. I knew it would be easy enough to secure a job there. Indeed, it was maybe 15 minutes after I’d submitted my application online that I had an email requesting an in-person interview. I took a job as a maid at the Hotel on the mountain, figuring it would be easy enough compared to the work I’m used to doing on the farm. Little did I know that would turn out to be the singlemost horrid work-experience of my life─aside from the glorious mountain views of course. But that’s a story for another day lol. In the meanwhile, I filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to eliminate my credit card debt, which amounted to nearly $20K.

Chapter 7

Filing bankruptcy is another thing I’m not super proud of. It feels like yet another huge failing. Even so, I’m of the mind that this is a warped and twisted financial system set up by the wealthy corporate elite to make money off the masses. I also believe that these options exist to be utilized and I am not above using them if it means I can continue to farm.

I decided I would do this just once. Moving forward, I vowed I would not use credit cards or take any other loans to advance my farm. Runamuk would work strictly on a cash or barter system. In January of 2020 my Chapter 7 bankruptcy case was finalized, zeroing out my accounts and giving me a fresh financial start. This brought me in line to be able to pursue servicing with the FSA in the form of this conservation contract.

What is a Conservation Contract?

The purpose of the program is to help protect and conserve important environmental resources on the customer’s land. By participating in this program, customers reduce their FSA debt, thereby improving their overall financial stability. Borrowers can conserve wildlife habitat and improve the environmental and scenic value of their farms. In exchange, the FSA reduces a portion of the customer’s real estate-related FSA debt.

Debt for Nature Conservation Contract
BraeTek at 13.

To get the maximum financial benefit for the farm, I had to consider a 50-year contract. That’s effectively the remainder of my working career, or the rest of my life depending─and a good chunk of my children’s lives as well. This was a big decision, and not something to be taken lightly.

Under the terms and conditions of the contract, I cannot do anything more with that acreage than maintain it for public appreciation or scientific study as wildlife habitat. No building, timber harvesting, grazing or farming of any kind. What’s more, I have to protect it, ensuring that no one encroaches on Runamuk’s boundaries─else I am held liable with the US government.

BraeTek was just 12 when I brought forth the idea of the conservation contract. Ultimately, it is my hope that at least one of mine or Deron’s children will take up my legacy when I am ready to give up the reigns to the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm. Including the kids in the decision-making processes gives them some sense of responsibility and accountability for the farm.

What’s more, I know that even if they move away and never step foot on another farm for the rest of their lives, they will carry these experiences and memories with them for the rest of their lives. It will have some effect. As mothers and fathers I guess that’s the best we can hope for…that our children will carry some part of their childhood─some part of us─with them into the world.

Go forth, my son, my daughter, but do not forget me…

Determining Eligibility

It has been an incredibly slow and painstaking process to reach Closing on this project. The FSA does not do very many of these conservation contracts, and my agent had never done one herself. Statewide, there are only 55 Farm Service Agency Debt for Nature Conservation Contracts─just 3 in Somerset County (including Runamuk).

To begin with, my FSA agent had to determine if I was eligible for the program. We had to identify the boundaries for the acreage I wanted to put under contract. Then, we had to establish whether or not that acreage would qualify for the program.

conservation easement
Runamuk’s conservation acreage.

Eligible lands for contract include:

  • Highly erodible lands.
  • Lands containing aquatic life, endangered species, or wildlife habitat of local, regional, or national importance.
  • Lands in 100-year floodplains.
  • Areas of high water quality or scenic value.
  • Historic or cultural properties listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Aquifer recharge areas of local, regional, Tribal,or State importance.
  • Buffer zones necessary to protect proposed conservation easement areas.
  • Areas that contain soils generally not suited for cultivation.
  • Areas within or adjacent to Federal, State, Tribal, or local conservation areas.

Site Inspection

The FSA recruited a team of specialists to do a thorough site inspection. This was a big hurdle to be overcome, yet it was something I had really been looking forward to. As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, a self-taught naturalist, and avid nature-lover, I just knew this property had potential. Indeed, it seemed as though the Universe was confirming that instinct when just 3 days before the review, I spotted a Canadian Lynx crossing the road from Runamuk. Surely that could only be a good omen?

On June 2nd I led the party of four on a roundabout tour of the acreage I’d selected for conservation. The group consisted of Janice Ramirez, who is my FSA agent, Nick Pairitz, soil conservationist with the local NRCS, Jeremy Markuson, biologist, also with the NRCS, and one Joe Dembeck, with Somerset County’s Soil & Water Conservation District. Joe had worked as a fisheries biologist for 20 years in positions with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

It was a great privilege for this farmer to have such a wealth of knowledge and expertise on the farm. To see my property through eyes trained by years of education and experience was a fascinating and priceless gift. Their report confirmed what I already suspected about this piece of land, and offered up new insights into this little wildlife refuge of mine.

Site A

conservation agriculture
Runamuk’s enchanting little wetland habitat.

Before coming to the farm, these men spent time in their respective offices reviewing the proposed conservation acreage. Using Google Maps, topomaps, and various USGS maps, they had identified 2 sites of particular interest.

“Location A” is a small wetland area that also happens to sit upon a large underground aquifer. This aquifer feeds the town’s municipal water supply, serving 60 households in the village of North New Portland. The pumping station lies maybe a hundred yards beyond the wetland and Runamuk’s property boundaries, sitting alongside Route 16. That alone makes the site worth protecting.

Check out this article from The Irregular about New Portland’s new pump station, which was recently constructed in 2004.

What’s more, the tiny unnamed stream running through the site empties into Gilman Pond, which flows into Gilman Stream. Gilman Stream is home to a thriving colony of Brook Floater mussels. The Brook Floater is a species of freshwater mussel listed as a threatened species in Maine, and listed as endangered or threatened in nearly every state in which it is found. That also makes this site worth protecting.

A Little About Mussels

conservation contract for wildlife
Brook floater mussel. PC Phyllis Grant via Instagram @phyllyirl

I like mussels, as I enjoy fish and seafood when I can get it. In doing research for this post, I learned a lot about freshwater mussels, their role in the aquatic ecosystem, and the role of the landscape in their distribution.

Did you know that freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled groups of animals in North America? Of the nearly 300 species found in the US, 70 species (or 24%) are currently listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. 17 (or 6%) are being considered for federal listing, and 35 (12%) are believed to be extinct. A whopping 75% of the country’s mussel fauna is listed as endangered, threatened, special concern, or extirpated in some part of their range.

I firmly believe that very creature on our planet has a role of some sort to play in their ecosystems. Mussels are a valuable food source for wildlife like otters, muskrats, raccoons, geese, fish and humans. Most importantly though, mussels recycle nutrients, and improve the water quality and structure of the benthic environment (the eco-region at the bottom of a body of water). The filter feeding activity of an entire mussle community removes large quantities of suspended material from the water column and reduces turbidity. Most of these nutrients are quickly released back into the aquatic ecosystem.

To learn more about Freshwater Mussels, check out this 2007 report provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. It’s fascinating stuff!

Back to Site A…

A small stream of crystalline water cuts through the terrain, with high banks on either side fostering a diversity of wetland plants and grasses. Dead and dying trees, mostly cedars, live in the heart of this wetland. The entire setting is surrounded by a dense and towering forest, making it seem separate and apart from the rest of the world.

“This is ideal habitat for establishing a maternity colony of bats,” the biologist, Jeremy Markuson pointed out. He explained how bats will roost under the peeling bark of the dead and dying cedars. “They like little clearings like this, where they can swoop in after insects at dusk.”

Joe Dembeck lay on the rickety old snowmobile bridge that sags across the unnamed stream, peering down into the water to see what kind of aquatic life might live there. I was very pleased when he discovered brook trout fry, indicating an essential spawning grounds for native fish. Likely the fish come from Gilman Pond about 1500 yards from the site. Incidentally, trout just happens to be this farmers’ favorite fish to eat.

Site B

farm service agency debt for nature contract
The Hackmatack is the only conifer to lose it’s needles every fall.
PC: Caitlin Connell via Instagram @sunny_slopes_farm

Diversity thrives in wetlands and I’d expected that site would draw these men, but “Location B” surprised me. It is a scrappy 5-acre parcel that is sparsely vegetated and─at first glance─seemingly devoid of life. There, the previous owner removed the topsoil and tree stumps following a timber harvest a couple decades ago. Knowing that there are 2 gravel pits bordering my property, it is my guess they were searching for gravel deposits there. The forest has struggled to regain a foothold in the gravelly soil left behind, and I had thought it a rather sad and forlorn part of the forest til the review team cast another light upon it.

The forest has been slow to regenerate there. Growth is sparse, comprised mainly of some red and white pine, and a lot of Northern Larch (aka Tamarack, “Hackmatack” or─my favorite─the “Hack”), which I am very partial to. To me it looked like a sad, sorry piece of land where nature was struggling to overcome the effects of human activity. According to the biologists, however, this is great habitat for turtle nesting, ideal overwintering habitat for myriad native insects, including solitary bees and wasps, and perfect habitat for the common nighthawk, whose populations have been in decline for 20 years now.

Click here to read the review team’s entire report…

How Do You Do It?

runamuk acres conservation farm
Your friendly neighborhood farmer.

“How do you do it?” asked Deron’s 80 year old father. We sat over coffee at the Whittemore’s family home in Madison. David Whittemore Sr. looked across the kitchen table at me with an incredulous expression on his time-weathered face. There was no judgement or criticism in the question. He sincerely wanted to know, how am I able to afford to farm full-time by myself? How am I making it work?

I shrugged and answered honestly, “I really don’t know. But somehow I’ve managed to keep the lights on, the water running, and everyone is fed, happy and healthy.”

Actually, I wonder a lot about how I’m making it work. Mostly, I think it comes down to the sacrifices I’ve been willing to make and the amount of effort I’m willing to give it. I could do an entire post just about the things I’ve gone without or given up. For now, let it suffice to say I’ve gotten pretty crafty when it comes to keeping my expenses low. In this way, I’ve managed to keep things going here. This conservation contract is just one more tool in my arsenal that keeps this girl on the farm and farming.

By entering 41.47 of Runamuk’s 53 acres into this conservation contract for the next 50 years, the FSA took $99,900.09 off the farm’s mortgage. Holy poop!!! In turn, that reduces the farm’s annual mortgage payment from $8750 to $3,927, making solo-farming much more attainable. Best of all, this makes Runamuk an official conservation farm─standing proud for wildlife, and protecting our environment at the local level. I’m pretty darned proud of that!

Thank you for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

12 Tips for Wannabe-Farmers

rotational grazing sheep and chickens

Recently, I received a request for tips for wannabe-farmers. What advice might I have to offer those who are brand-new to agriculture and are just beginning their farm-journey? It came to me through Instagram, a brand-new farmer messaged to say that she’d recently made up her mind to farm. She told me that I’d inspired her (me!), and did I have any tips to offer a new farmer? If you’re in the same situation─new to farming and not sure where to start or which way to go─then keep reading, my friend, this post is for you!

tips for wannabe farmers
Rotational grazing of sheep and chickens at Runamuk Acres.

If you’ve been following along with the Runamuk blog, you’re likely aware that I’ve been calling out wannabe-farmers. Farming is the ultimate form of social and environmental activism we can offer, and the world needs us to stand and take action. Not only is the average age of farmers on the rise, but thanks to industrial agriculture, there are fewer of them, and fewer new farmers following in their footsteps. What’s more, studies by the Rodale Institute have shown that regenerative organic agricultural practices have the potential to allow us to actually reverse global warming. The world needs farmers. And it needs us now.

#12: Start Now!

When it comes to agriculture, there’s a lot to learn, and it really does take a lifetime. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll achieve your goal. Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote often runs through my head: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” There’s something you can be growing─right now─wherever you are. I’m sure of it.

Traditionally farms began as subsistence farms, feeding just the farm-family. It would take a number of years before the farm was established enough to feed it’s community. The USDA sites the average “middle-income” household spends $7,061 on food annually, and the “low-income” households are spending about $4, 070. So even if we’re only growing food for ourselves, we’re still saving ourselves a big chunk of money, and eating better as a result. I’m a firm believer that in order to save the world, we must first save ourselves. If you wannabe a farmer, start growing something today and feed your family first.

#11: Do Your Homework

It is entirely possible to be a farmer without a college degree. I did it, and so can you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study and learn all you can about agriculture, though. There’s so much to learn! Get your hands on as many books as you can and read them all. Take notes if that’s your thing (I still have bins and boxes filled with all of the composition journals filled with my scribbled notes from Runamuk’s early days). Go ahead and watch some YouTube, watch food documentaries, visit your local agricultural fairs and tour the exhibition halls to learn more about agriculture in your area. Take a Master Gardener course if your local cooperative extension offers one. Watch for other interesting workshops or events in your area where you might be able to learn new skills.

This is the time for planning your farm. This is the fun part. Brainstorm what your dream farm might be like. What are you passionate about growing? Are there particular types of livestock you’re interested in working with? What skills do you want to learn along the way? How might you market your products? Where will your farm live? Give your farm a name (oooooo─so exciting!). Don’t worry yet if you do not own land to farm upon─that is not the end of the road─merely an obstacle to be worked around in time.

how to get started farmingDo a SWOT analysis for yourself; I wrote about Conducting a SWOT Analysis of Your Farm and have provided an example with a SWOT Analysis of Runamuk. Naturally, these are farm-analyses, but you should do one for YOU. What are your personal Strengths and Weaknesses, and what do you see as potential Opportunities and Threats to your ambitions?

Remember, there are no wrong or stupid answers in brainstorming. Once you have all of these notes down on paper, it will be easier to see where your real passions and interests, strengths and opportunities lie. You can then make a rough plan for your future farm. I strongly recommend a good 5 year plan. Set goals for yourself and your farm; where would you like to be in 5 years? Don’t be afraid to reach, but also try to be reasonable with yourself─this is going to take a lot of work. Save all of your notes and plans for your records. Refer back to them annually to review your progress, and make adjustments to the plan as necessary.

#10:  Practice Your Social Skills

A great many─many─introverts are called to farming. I know, cause I am one of them. Entire farmers’ markets are made up of introverts, trust me! But I’ve practiced and practiced my social skills, and these other vendors have too; I’ve learned to be friendly and open with the people around me, and it has gotten easier over the years. Sometimes noisy or crowded situations can still be overwhelming. I’m still awkward, I’m sure, perpetually weird and overenthusiastic at times, but I’ve learned that I am not alone in my social awkwardness, and a friendly smile is a great ice breaker.

#9:  Get Involved.

how to be a farmer
I participated in a farmer talent show with friends in service of my local farmers’ market! That’s me in the red sweater!

Volunteering your time and energy is a great way for new farmers to gain experience, build a reputation in the community, and network with other people. Most any non-profit organization or local farm will eagerly accept volunteers. Be committed to your cause, work hard, and be reliable. This helps you build trust with your community, and grows your reputation in a positive way. You’ll get to know the people around you, and they will get to know you and your ambitions of farming. Sometimes these relationships can lead to exciting opportunities for the beginning farmer. The people in your community can also be useful resources that you might be able to turn to when you have a question or need some help. Get involved in your community, and develop and nurture these relationships through volunteer work.

#8:  Treat it Like a Business

Treat your farm like a business, because it is one. I always tell new farmers to file a “Schedule F” with their taxes as soon as they are grossing $500 annually from farm-sales. This is the IRS form that documents farm income to the government, and once you have a record of this income, you are officially considered to be farming on some level. This is what financial institutions are looking for when you apply for loans as a farmer, so this is an important document to have. And if you can show an increase in your net farm-income each year, that proves to the powers-that-be that your business is indeed growing.

You’ll also want to have an up-to-date resume, and a formal business plan (mine was a whopping 33 pages when I started! Before I could submit it to the FSA I had to condense it to 12). Your local business development center can help you with that.

If you don’t know already, learn how to use spreadsheets and actually use them to track your farm’s income and expenses. These annual cash-flow records are invaluable tools with potential investors and financial institutions. Always keep your receipts! Also keep production records: how many seeds sown and the yield they produced, crop rotations, fertilizing and pest treatments, etc.

#7:  Be Prepared to Make Sacrifices.

Imagine the pioneers who went West looking for a new life in a new land…they gave up the security and safety available in the East and traversed over 2,000 miles to reach their destination. Along the way they lost treasured possessions, family members─they sometimes arrived with little more than the clothes on their back after their long and perilous journey. Along your farm-journey, you may also have to give up security and safety, or forsake customary extravagances and conveniences. How far are you willing to go to achieve your goals?

tips for new farmers
To avoid the payment on a pick-up truck, I make-do with my Subaru. The seats fold forward, allowing me to haul a small load, or even livestock, if need be.

To be able to do the work of farming, you will likely need to make sacrifices somewhere along the way. You might decide to give up your newer model vehicle for a second-hand beater with no monthly payments. If you’re not already, you may consider buying yours and your family’s clothing at local thrift stores. Giving up cable or satellite TV services will usually save you in the neighborhood of $100 a month; likewise with expensive cell-phones. Maybe you’ll stop eating out, or give up extracurricular activities. Or, instead of buying that new living room set with your tax return, you could use that money to buy a tiller, or seeds and tools, etc. Runamuk has been funded over the years, in large part with my Earned Income Tax Credit. I’ve also lived in very poor conditions and suffered cold winters in poorly heated dwellings in order to free up money for my farming ambitions.

In the end, it’s all about priorities and how bad you really want it. As a new or beginning farmer, you’ll need those extra funds to invest in your business. You’ll need money to buy tools, seeds, livestock, fencing, permits, insurance─you name it. Unless you have some capital saved already, or are fortunate enough to have access to money, you’ll have to figure out how to make those investments. Be prepared to make sacrifices to make your farm-dream a reality.

#6:  Match the Land to it’s Suited Use.

Whether you’re leasing 1 acre for farming, borrowing space in your great-Aunt’s back-40, or you’re lucky enough to already own a small piece of Earth, you’ll want to match the land to it’s suited use. Do a SWOT analysis on the site.

  • Landscape: Is it all filled with brambles? or an open pasture with fairly good soil?
  • Water: Be it a pond, stream, or spigot, you’ll need access to water for pretty much any kind of farming you want to do.
  • Sun exposure: How much sun does the spot get daily and how does the changing of seasons affect that?
  • Weather conditions: Is the site open to driving winds? Will you experience winter snow and ice? Consider how different weather conditions might affect your farm-operation at that site.
  • Drainage: Is the site relatively dry all year? or does it get wet and mucky in the spring?
  • Existing infrastructure: Are there any existing structures or utilities (like access to water and electricity) that you will be able to make use of?
  • Soil conditions: Is it suitable for growing vegetables? or too rocky, and better instead for grazing livestock upon?
  • Plot size: How much space do you have to work with? Dictates how many carrots or sheep, etc. you can raise there.

All of these things will factor into what you can successfully grow at any given location.

#5:  Think Outside the Box.

tips for starting a farm
I’ve learned to build these alternative hoop-structures for everything from seedling houses to chicken coops. They allow me to do a lot without a big up-front investment. Just one example of this farmers’ creative resourcefulness.

It’s inevitable that you, the new farmer, will eventually meet with some kind of obstacle along your farming-journey. When this happens, do not despair. Instead, take this opportunity to get creative─think outside the box and come up with some kind of alternative work-around to your problem.

This is resiliency at it’s finest, my friends. There are so many ways to farm, so many ways to achieve the same end goal: farm ownership and serving your community as a farmer. Don’t let old-school concepts hold you back. Brainstorm ways around your problem─always remember there are no wrong answers in brainstorming! It’s merely a tool to generate ideas.

If you can’t come up with any ideas, research it to see what other people have done in your situation. Don’t be afraid to ask your peers and your community for input, either. You’ll be surprised by the number of people that want to see you succeed─they want you to be their farmer!

#4:  Watch for Opportunities.

tips for beginning to farm
At Hyl-Tun Farm in Starks, Maine, premium bee-forage abounds for miles around. The landowners invited me to site an apiary there because I was involved in my community, serving as president of the Somerset Beekeepers’ at the time.

Sometimes doors will open for you when you least expect it. In my own farm-journey, I’ve found that by always working hard, and by practicing kindness and gratitude, it fosters my relationships with neighbors and community-members. The relationships I’ve built through my volunteer work has led to many interesting opportunities for Runamuk: everything from donations of equipment and livestock, to access to land to farm upon.

That doesn’t mean you should say yes to every opportunity that presents itself─especially in the case of livestock. Only you know what is right for your farm-operation, and sometimes, even though they mean well, people are just trying to unload their own problem-animals. Try to make good business choices when opportunities present themselves.

#3: Practice Patience.

advice for beginning farmers
To gain experience, I found jobs within the local agricultural community, including North Star Orchards in Madison, ME. Here I am in one of their vast coolers!

Unless you have ready-access to farmland, or access to credit and capital to begin your farm with, it’s likely this is going to be a long-journey for you. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot to be overcome to achieve your goals.

Accept that there will most certainly be failures. There will be bad days. Hard days. Days when you’re sick or sore─or both─and you’ll begin questioning yourself and why you even started this journey in the first place.

You’ll wonder if you’ll ever reach your destination. Be patient with yourself and with the journey. Remember it’s not about the destination. You’re already farming. You ARE a farmer.

#2:  “Don’t Overwork Yourself” (advice from the farmers’ son)

As I sat at the dinner table with my 12 yo son, BraeTek, I pondered what tips for wannabe-farmers I might have. It was a rainy September evening and we were eating one of BraeTek’s favorites: seafood chowder. I’d made it from scratch, with a variety of canned seafood, and my own potatoes, carrots, and onions, in a rich creamy broth. To go with it we had slathered in butter this artisan bread by Julia, from Crumb Again Bakery in Kingfield, which I’d traded vegetables for at farmers’ market last Friday. It was a wonderful meal to share at the table with my son, catch up on his school day, and just connect over good food.

Admittedly, I take great pride in the fact that my kids have been raised largely on my own homegrown and homemade food. After all, it was the desire to supplement our household food budget, as well as to provide fresh and organic food for my family, that steered me down this path in the first place. My 2 sons have been with me through every phase of my farm-journey, and they’ve seen first hand how hard I’ve worked.

Between the slurping of soup, I thoughtfully asked BraeTek, “If you were going to offer tips for new farmers, what would you tell them?”

At first he gave me the typical teenage-scoff, but I laughed that off and pressed him to give the question some thought. The answer he came back with was actually very good; BraeTek’s tip for wannabe farmers is:

Don’t overwork yourself.

He says, sometimes I complain at the end of the day that I am sore or exhausted from working on the farm all day. And he’s absolutely right, you know…as farmers, it’s important to remember not to overdo it. The farming-journey is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to make sure we’re taking time for ourselves, and saving enough of ourselves for our families too. It’s also important to ensure down time in order to avoid burn-out. What a smart kid!

#1: Don’t EVER Give Up.

runamuk acres conservation farm
I am living proof that dream do come true. Check out my farmhouse! If I can do it, you can do it too!!!

This is my number one tip for the wannabe-farmer. If you really and truly want this─if you have no reservations and you know, deep in your heart that you are called to farming, called to serve your community and your planet as farmer─then don’t you ever, ever give up. You will get there.

The path of each farmer will different from the next. It took very nearly 10 years to achieve my own goal of farm-ownership, but perhaps you will have yours and be underway within 3 months or 3 years. Even if it takes you 13 years! in the end, I promise you─so long as you don’t quit─you will eventually find yourself where you are meant to be, doing what you are meant to be doing. Farming.

Join the Revolution: Be the Change

me on the farm
Loving life on my new farm!

The USDA and the FSA consider a beginning farmer to be one in his or her first 10 years of their agricultural careers (but if you don’t have supporting documentation it doesn’t count!). Yours truly is officially graduating this year, from “beginning farmer” to “farmer”, and while I would not claim to be any kind of expert, I offer up these tips for wannabe-farmers from my own experience. My hope is that I can help other new and beginning farmers to have the courage to start down the path of their own farm-journeys.

The time has come for We the People to stand and take action. We can’t wait for our governments to make changes for us─we’ve waited more than 50 years already for environmental action. No, the time has come for We the People to stand up and be the change we want to see in the world. We have that power in our very own hands─we can be farmers, and we can farm using regenerative practices. We can save our children, affect climate change, and improve society─literally at the ground level. Join the revolution today. Be a farmer.

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox! OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

12 tips for wannabe-farmers

September

i am woman. hear me roar.

And just like that September is here; summer is winding down, the kids are back in school, and all focus is shifting to winter preparations. Runamuk’s first growing season upon our forever-farm home has certainly had it’s share of ups and downs. Yet, even though finances are stupid-tight and I’m facing another winter here without a snowblower, I’m feeling good about the state of things at Runamuk. Like─really good.

Winter Preparations

first day of school
First day of school and WIlliam is looking sharp!

The growing season’s not quite over yet. I still have a lot of veggies in the garden that I’ll be harvesting well into the fall, but my attention (like so many other folks in these parts) has shifted to winter preparations. I have a lot of animals and beehives to make ready, a garden to put to bed, and a big house to secure before the first snows come.

In the past, the personal deadline I’ve set for completion of Runamuk’s winter prep was Thanksgiving. Last year, however, our first snow storm came 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. From that point on I was unable to get fencing up for the livestock, and I ended up with my precious electric-net fencing burried under 5 feet of snow and animals that completely disregarded it come March. So the revised deadline is now Halloween; which means I have less time and more work than ever before to make my farm ready for winter.

It’s a huge advantage for Runamuk to have it’s farmer 100% of the time─and we’ve made some great strides this season because of it. I won’t lie to you and say that it hasn’t been a tough adjustment, though…

A Big Jump

To go from being a landless farmer, to finally having a piece of ground to work with, was a big jump. I admit it’s taken a while for me to come up to speed. Giving up part-time work came earlier than I’d initially planned for, so add that financial weight to your pack when making the leap and you might struggle too. There’s so much to do; everywhere I look I see chores and projects that need doing, and I’m the one responsible for doing them.

I was overwhelmed, and worried maybe the naysayers were right…maybe I really did bite off more than I can chew. Maybe I really am just a deluded young woman who should get a real job, and do like everyone else and just garden or beekeep as a hobby. Why can’t I be happy just living inside the fence like everybody else?

A Solitary Existence

Honestly, I think I wasn’t entirely prepared for the level of isolation that comes with being a single farmer; living alone is still as new to me as this house is. I think, though, that anyone─man or woman─would struggle to some degree with such a solitary existence as this. There are days on end when I don’t venture off this property; someone might stop in for eggs or veggies, but that interaction is short-lived and infrequent. It’s not so bad when the kids are on the farm, but on the weekends when they’re away at their father’s the house feels as big as it really is, and the absence of companionship is more pronounced.

I balked at it in the beginning, and tried to fill the void through dating─searching for my BFF and partner in life. That, however, only succeeded in further defining the distance between myself and the rest of society.

It hurt more than you might think it would…to realize that one’s lifestyle─especially the values and principles you’ve built a rich and meaningful life around─is so far outside the realm of the ordinary that most people can’t even comprehend it. For most people, it’s too much work, too much sacrifice, and not enough money.

People ask me fairly frequently: “Are you doing this all on your own?”

The answer is: “Yes, it’s just me.” They’re not lining up to be the next Mr. Runamuk, and, truthfully, I won’t share it with just anyone.

First Sign of Fall

“Look,” said John, bagel-baker at West Branch Bakery. He was pointing to something in the sky outside the little barn at Rolling Fatties. We─the producers who vend there, together with the local patronage─were congregated for the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, with glasses of local craft beer in hand as we enjoyed the live music on that Friday evening in late summer.

friday night at rolling fatties kingfield
The Friday night scene at Rolling Fatties in Kingfield, Maine.

My gaze followed his, searching, til I spotted the distinctive orange blush to the crown of the tall oak outside the Rolling Fatties farmhouse.

“The first sign of fall!” I exclaimed, suddenly giddy with excitement.

Despite the work of winter preparations, and the impending cold and snow that will follow on it’s heels, Autumn is one of my favorite seasons. It’s the harvest season, a season of plenty, and the season for dry, crunchy, fragrant fall leaves. Autumn marks the start of a season for tradition and family, for drawing together and celebrating. It’s also a season for self-reflection, and when I saw those fiery orange leaves on the oak outside Rolling Fatties, I suddenly knew what I had to do.

I leaned in.

Like I’ve done so many times before. I leaned into the storm, put my weight into it, and embraced the work and the isolation. Time alone is actually really good for creative types; and it’s not like there isn’t enough to keep me busy and occupied in my sequestration.

A Rogue Chicken

Somewhat belatedly, I realized that I’m rather like my rogue chickens─who are happier risking their lives outside the protection of the fence, than living with the rest of the flock inside it. That’s why I’m not happy with a regular job and regular hobbies like the vast majority of society; I’m a damned rogue chicken!!!

rogue chickens
Rogue chickens at Runamuk.

At length, it dawned on me that I’m actually fairly content being here and doing this on my own. It allows me the freedom to be me without restraint. What’s more, doing this alone allows me to build my farm up the way I’ve always envisioned─without having to make compromises to satisfy a partner. Maybe that’s a little selfish, but after 10 years working toward this goal─researching agriculture and planning every minute detail of the Runamuk farm─it’s hard to make concessions.

I remembered, too, that it’s not the critic who counts. It doesn’t matter what they say. I’m here now. Against all odds, this girl from the backwoods of Maine, who comes from a dysfunctional, blue-collar family, without a penny to her name, and no agricultural lineage to speak of─managed to buy herself a farm. I did that.

daring greatly_theodore roosevelt quoteGoing through the FSA was probably the smartest thing I could have done, too. The government doesn’t want the farm back; the $180K this property cost is just a drop in the bucket to them! Hell─there are probably politicians with toilet seats that cost more than that! And there are certainly politicians who spend more than that on golf-trips…

The FSA, with the programs and resources they offer farmers, has really allowed me the flexibility I need during this phase of the farm, and I wouldn’t be doing even half so well if it weren’t for that support. If you’re reading this blog trying to figure out how to emulate my success, I would urge any beginning farmer to reach out to their local USDA branch to begin exploring the options available to you.

Feeding Households

We came to do our grocery shopping for the week with you.

These are probably the sweetest words any farmer can ever hear, and something I take as a huge compliment.

It was Friday night and Runamuk was set up at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market once again. I recognized the couple─they’ve come through the farmers’ market before, I think…or maybe they stopped by the farm? I couldn’t remember their names, but they remembered me enough that they made it a point to bring their reusable cloth shopping bags.

kingfield farmers' market
At the Kingfield Farmers’ Market

crumb again and runamuk
Runamuk (left) and Crumb Again Bakery (back corner) at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market.

Later in the weekend, on Sunday, I bartered $150 worth of Runamuk’s finest produce for a set of bunkbeds to expand the farmstay. I was brave enough to ask if they’d consider a trade, and these folks were happy to have the fresh, locally produced food, so it worked out well for all of us.

And on Monday, when the guests Runamuk had hosted over the holiday weekend made ready to depart, they bought their groceries for the week to take home with them.

What a rewarding feeling to know that I am feeding these households this week!!!

I am Woman; Hear me Roar

I remember feeling rather as though I was standing on a precipice last year as I counted the days to Closing. Buying a farm requires a leap of faith. You hurl yourself off that cliff hoping against hope that your belief is strong enough to carry you through to success and safety. For me, with no formal education, no agricultural legacy, and no partner─it was a huge leap.

Picture me, if you will, with the comically overburdened ruck-sack that is my farm. My 2 kids are clinging to me like baby sloths─or opossums? No─my boys would be something akin to baby orangutans who are fighting at each other with their long-ass arms as I attempt to bridge the gap. My own arms and legs are flailing as I sail through the air, reaching for that ladder across the way, trying not to look down at the Gorge of Doom far below us. Somehow I managed to grasp the very last rung of that rickety old ladder, and now I’m fighting to pull us all to safety.

Summoning every last ounce of strength, she reached for the next rung on the ladder; she would not give up. Sheer grit and determination fueled her climb. Straining she pulled for all she was worth, muscles bulging, gaining first one rung and then another. Under the heavy burden of farm and family, the Earth’s mighty warrior priestess climbed slowly, pulling herself one rung at a time out of the Gorge of Doom….

They say mentality is your biggest asset, right? 😉

i am woman. hear me roar.Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe to receive the latest posts from Runamuk directly to your in-box! OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a daily glimpse into life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

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.

 

Talisman

talisman

My farm is a wondrous and enchanting place that has fast become my magical talisman. Like a romantic fantasy-land come to life, complete with bewitching fawna, otherworldly creatures and an energy running through it that both captivates and mesmerizes. She is beautiful, so vibrant and full of life. With every caress of wind on my skin, every soothing rain shower, each misty morning and the constant trilling song of crickets, She has seduced me.

Maine’s Bigelow Mountain Range lies just outside my backdoor, and Black Hill looms out the front. Runamuk’s forever-farm lays in a valley that Gilman Stream runs through on it’s way to meet the scenic Carrabassett River─maybe a mile away as the crow flies. Numerous white-tailed deer and a flock of wild turkeys frequent the back field, and I’ve seen turkey vultures, eagles, hawks and a variety of songbirds on the property too. This part of Maine is decidedly more rural than the southern and eastern part of the state; vast swaths of wilderness still exist here and it makes my heart sing to be immersed in such a wonderland.

As a single woman, the sense of permanence and security that comes with home-ownership is tremendously liberating. I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted from me; finally I have the chance to be the master of my own life, Queen of my own empire. I have been waiting my whole life for this chance, and now that it’s here I am giving myself over to it wholeheartedly.

talisman

Something has shifted inside me─the old sense of sad longing has gone, replaced by nothing more than simple, unadulterated happiness. What’s more, my confidence level has been boosted. I accomplished this monumental thing, and while I had help along the way, it’s my name and mine alone on that FSA mortgage. Happy + Confident: that’s a powerful combination that I fully intend to make use of. Watch out world! Here comes Sam!

I’m Writing a Book!

It’s been a month since my last post. Life is a little hectic; I feel as though I am always running from one project or activity to the next (that’s not a complaint-I absolutely love having projects to do). Not only am I busy settling Runamuk in here: establishing next year’s garden, building compost bins, setting up work-spaces, and constructing a winter chicken coop. I’m also working on─not 1, but 3 books!

That’s right! I’m super inspired, and with my talisman and this newfound sense of security I’m more motivated and determined than ever to take the next step as a writer. This fall is all about cranking out the words, so if you see me posting a little less, know that everything is going well; I’m just dedicating more time to writing these stories that I want to share with the world.

And because I know you’re curious lol, I’ll even tell you what I’m working on….

Book #1: Memoirs of a Landless Farmer

At first I was apprehensive about the idea of writing a memoir─no one wants to come off as conceited. Yet this is the story I’m most inspired to write and it’s my own story of how I became a farmer and the journey my life took to make my own dream of farm-ownership come true. You may have followed the blog the whole way, but this book will be much more in depth and personal. I’ve been reviewing my old journals (I knew I kept them all these years for a reason!!!) and mapping out the storyline, researching how to write a good memoir and how to make it really meaningful and compelling for readers.

old journals
My old journals─spanning 1997, when I was a senior in high school─to the present day. What a long strange trip it’s been!

It’s definitely scary to think about sharing the full story behind some of my experiences and to reveal how they shaped my farming journey. I’ll be brave though, and put it into words because I truly believe this story will inspire others to either: a) follow my lead and take up an agrarian lifestyle in some form or fashion, or b) follow their hearts to pursue their dreams in spite of the obstacles in their way. Both of which I believe we need more of in this world.

The ultimate goal for this book is to have it professionally published by Chelsea Green, an American publishing company which specializes in non-fiction books on progressive politics and sustainable living. I’m planning to have the first draft of this manuscript finished by New Years’.

Book #2: How to Buy a Farm With the FSA

After going through the process of buying a farm using the FSA’s loan programs for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, it only makes sense that I should share that experience and all that I learned through that process. In hopes of helping other beginning farmers find their way to farm-ownership, this will be a non-fiction, how-to eBook covering topics like:

  • Benefits & disadvantages of working with the FSA.
  • Building your income from farming (in order to justify investment in real estate).
  • Preparations: recordkeeping, taxes, writing a business plan, etc.
  • The Farm-Search: things to consider and look for in your potential farm-property.
  • Making an Offer: getting the landowner on-board.
  • Working with the FSA: the loan application, forms, and the lengthy process.

This one won’t be finished til sometime next year. It will be available as an eBook for purchase at Amazon.com, and here on the Runamuk website as well.

Note: I’m looking for a few farmers who have also purchased their farms using the FSA’s farm-loan programs. If you or someone you know went that route and would like to be interviewed to be included in this book, feel free to reach out to me by email or by direct message on social media.

Book #3: Farmer-Smut Story

Long-time followers might remember the “So You Think You Can Write” contest I entered back in 2014. If you’re new here─I was a top 25 finalist is Harlequin’s international writing competition that year, but because my father died in the midst of the competition I didn’t finish the manuscript and I definitely didn’t win the prize. *If you’re interested you can check out the story of “Sheep in the Garden & a Writing Contest” here.

Yup! I write fictional romance stories. Not just any romance─but agricultural and environmentally themed romance. My girlfriends and I have laughingly dubbed this the “Farmer-Smut” genre.

That aspect of my writing life has been sitting on the back burner while I’ve been focused on gaining farm-ownership these last few years. Now that I have some stability in my life, and this amazing muse in the form of my very own farm to inspire me─the ideas and possibilities are flowing and I am once again inspired to write about love and farming, nature and environmental stewardship.

It’s always been a fantasy of mine to have one of my romance stories published by Harlequin. 70% of romance stories are now sold as eBooks, so I’m leaning towards self-publishing in electronic format initially, in hopes that my story will get picked up later on by a professional publishing house like Harlequin, who wants to put it into print. I plan to have a manuscript ready within the next 2 years.

Check Back Soon!

Right now it’s the farm that’s taking up the majority of my time, but I’ve managed to make time for writing by burning the candle at both ends: up by 3:30 or 4 each day most days, and working til 10 or 11 writing at night. I’m really excited about publishing my first book, but I definitely have some articles in the works for the blog. I intend to bring back the Winter Growing Challenge too, so check back here soon! Jf you’re really missing me however (that’s really sweet of you by the way), you should follow our Instagram feed. I’ve been making a point to post there daily, sometimes multiple times a day, with glimpses into what #farmlife looks like at Runamuk now that we have a #foreverfarm home. Check it out!

Thanks so much for following along! I hope you’ll continue to join me on this new leg of our farming-journey! Be sure to subscribe to receive the latest posts from Runamuk directly to your in-box!

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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The #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter

Land-access is one of the biggest challenges facing beginning farmers today, and one that I have certainly struggled with as I’ve worked to build my income from farming. Runamuk has moved a number of times and it is always such an ordeal that─to make light of the situation─I’ve come to refer to these transitions as the “GreatFarmMove”. I am overjoyed and hugely relieved that this #GreatFarmMove will be my last, and so this particular “moving of the farm” also gets the hashtag: #finalchapter.

Moving a Home VS Moving a Farm

I’ve never met a person who liked moving. It’s a big undertaking for anyone, whether you’re moving from one apartment to another, or from one home to another. First, you have to get the boxes and organize and pack all your belongings. You have to make sure the fragile things are protected and that the boxes are labeled. Then you have schedule to have the utilities and communication services turned off at the old location and scheduled to be turned on at the new location. You need to get forwarding forms from the post office and update your mailing information for all of your banks and credit cards. And finally, there’s the actual moving of all your stuff. Hefting each box and loading it into the moving truck or your buddy’s pick-up─and don’t forget the furniture!

When a farmer moves, they have all the tasks you’re already familiar with, along with the added responsibility of farm tools, equipment, and livestock. Tools and supplies have to be brought in from the fields and gardens, equipment has to be prepared for road-travel, and the relocation of livestock needs to be carefully orchestrated so as to cause as little stress to the animal as possible. Sometimes fencing needs to be taken down, or livestock housing needs to be moved too. Even compost and manure piles need to go, as those are valuable resources to the farm. It’s quite an ordeal.

Before I can even think about moving the Runamuk chickens to the new property, I have to set up a space in the barn there for them: construct roosts, nesting boxes, and a pop-hole, set up a fence. Ultimately the plan is to have them in a moveable chicksaw, but I’ll need a place for the ladies to land before I’ll have time in my schedule to construct anything as elaborate as a chicksaw. For the time being they can occupy the stall in the back corner of the barn at the Hive-House, which I’ve already decided will be their winter coop.

The Plan for the #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter

Closing is scheduled to take place at 9am on Wednesday, June 27th, at the Somerset County USDA office in Skowhegan. I’ve scheduled the #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter to run from June 27th through July 3rd, and I’ve almost got all my pieces in place to make the transition as smooth as possible.

I’ve already contacted the utility companies, the phone and internet service provider, and sent out my change of address forms. I’ve been packing slowly but surely for the last month and a half, and I put up a simple shed made of pallets, electrical conduit, a tarp, and some of the snap clamps that are sold by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. This simple structure allows me to begin moving stuff out of the cramped one-bedroom trailer, collecting all of my belongings into one central location.

My friends and long-time supporters of Runamuk, the Hiltons, are loaning me the use of their horse trailer─again. They’ll deliver the trailer to my current location Tuesday night. Wednesday, Thursday, and probably Friday too, the boys (who are now on summer vacation) and I, along with some help from Paul, will load Runamuk into the the trailer, and Saturday evening the Hiltons will hook onto it and tow it the 19.5 miles from my current location in Norridgewock to New Portland─a 30 minute drive northwest.

#greatfarmmove horse-trailer
The Hiltons also allowed me to use their horse trailer in Oct 2016, when I moved away from Starks.

I am blessed with some really wonderful friends. Friends who have encouraged me along my way, who have supported me, or lifted me up when I was down; they kept me going when times were tough. The closest of these friends will be on hand Saturday evening to help unload the horse trailer. I’ve promised the customary pizza and beer, along with their first look at Runamuk’s new #foreverfarm and the opportunity to celebrate with me.

Sharing the Joy

Yesterday Nathan (my FSA agent) contacted me to let me know that he delivered my loan documents and the FSA’s closing instructions to the title company who is finalizing the transaction. He said they are in the process of advancing my loan funds to the title company’s escrow account where they will be held til closing. Eeeeeeeeeeek!

Nathan will be there Wednesday morning at the Somerset County USDA Service Center for Closing, as will Janice Ramirez─the Somerset County FSA Farm Loan Officer that I originally saw when I first approached the FSA─and Andrew Francis, Somerset’s FSA Program Technician, who has also helped orchestrate my farm purchase. They are all so happy for me and it feels right to have them there to share in the joy of this accomplishment; really, when you think about it, my victory is their victory.

And I can say that of all my friends, and of the community which I serve and which serves me. There have been so many people who have helped me make this happen who all deserve to share in this victory─I’ll have to write a post exclusively dedicated to calling out these amazingly wonderful people who are a part of Runamuk’s story, because there are just too many to attempt doing it here and now. You all know who you are, and if you’re reading this, please know that─with all my heart─I am so grateful. Truly.

Days Away

Closing is just days away now. The #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter has been organized, help has been recruited, I’ve scheduled a Saturday off from the farmers’ market and even taken time off from Johnny’s. I have about 9 days to make the move and settle in at the Hive House. I’m calling this my “Honeymoon”. A time to get acquainted with my new farm, to settle my kids in there, the chickens, Jules the old fat-cat and my dawg Murphy. I can’t wait to walk the property, cleanse the house with sage, and set up the first hives at this permanent location.

It’s really happening folks! Check back soon for more updates coming soon! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox!

State of the Apiary Address

nucleus colonies

Beekeeping in today’s modern environment is probably one of the hardest forms of agriculture that exists. If you can think of a worse one, by all means leave a comment below to share with us lol. Meanwhile, the 2017-2018 winter was another rough winter for beekeepers here in Maine; many beekeepers lost a lot of hives─myself included. At first, with so much riding on the apiary I was afraid to tell anyone, but the fallout from those losses has not been as bad as I had feared and so I bring to you now a sort of “State of the Apiary Address”.

runamuk apiary_may 2018
The Runamuk Apiary, May 2018.

Another Rough Winter

Over the course of the winter this year I went from 21 hives to 1. After working so diligently to build my apiary last summer it was a huge disappointment that led me once again to question myself, my abilities, and my path as a farmer. What’s more, with my impending mortgage largely dependent on the success of my apiary, I was terrified that the losses would put an end to my farm-purchase. Both Runamuk and my family desperately need a home to call their own; my days as a landless-farmer have run their course and it is now taking a toll on us all. What would happen if the FSA knew I’d lost 20 hives?

I wasn’t the only one who experienced significant hive-losses, however. The brutal cold Maine experienced in late-December and early-January tested even the strongest hives and beekeepers across the state suffered losses.

Note: For more about the impact of the 2017-2018 winter on Maine bees, check out “It’s been a rough winter for bees” from the Bangor Daily News, written by Peter Cowin─Maine’s own “Bee-Whisperer”.

Telling the FSA

Word of the impacts of the winter on the beekeeping industry eventually reached the USDA and FSA offices and I got an email from Nathan Persinger, the FSA agent who has been handling my loan, asking how I’d made out.

Honestly, there was a moment of utter panic. I was so terrified that if I told him the truth I would lose my chance to buy a farm and secure a home for my family. But I’ve made honesty and transparency a policy in my life, and not telling Nathan the truth was not something I wanted on my conscience─though I admit it totally crossed my mind.

If I’m going to have a relationship with the people at the FSA for the foreseeable future, I want that relationship to be a good one. So far the people I’ve worked with at the government office have only ever tried to help me. They have these resources available to help farmers and they want to do just that─help farmers; even if they are required to abide by the regulations and stipulations mandated by our bureaucratic government.

Besides that─if other beekeepers were sharing stories of loss and I came out with none, how would that look?

When I initially submitted my application and business plan to the FSA back in September, I had included for them a brief report on the nature of beekeeping. It is not common for a farmer to specialize in bees, and I wanted to help educate the FSA staff so that they would understand how a beekeeper can grow their apiary fairly rapidly just by making splits and nucs, and by raising their own Queens, which I am learning to do. I wanted the USDA representatives handling my case to realize that-yes, annual mortality of hives may be high─between 30% and 37% depending on the statistic─but the nature of beekeeping allows savvy beekeepers to rebound from annual losses and still continue to have hives and grow a business.

Once the shock regarding the severity of Runamuk’s winter losses wore off I had devised a plan to recover the apiary. I ordered a combination of packages for honey production, nucleaus colonies for kick-starting my breeding operation, and a dozen Saskatraz queens (Bred in Saskatchewan!!! Should be hardy in Maine, right?). And I still intended to produce at least 20 viable Queens to overwinter as nucleus colonies.

Even with this strategy under my cap, and knowing that I had good people on my side at the FSA, and even knowing that those people had accepted the education I’d offered and had even taken it upon themselves to learn more so as to be best able to help me─I had to have supplemental encouragement from some good friends before I could respond to Nathan’s email about my winter-losses.

I admitted that I was down to 1 hive, and presented my plan for recovery. My heart was in my throat when I hit the send button on that email, and I awaited Nathan’s response in a state of hyper-anxiety─fearing the worst.

Lol, I needn’t have worried. Nathan accepted the facts and was confident that with my strategy the Runamuk apiary would recover and go on to meet the goals I’d projected in my business financials. He merely suggested that I apply for the ELAP program for reimbursement of those hive-losses.

The ELAP Program

usda_somerset county
USDA Service Center for Somerset County, located in Skowhegan, Maine.

The ELAP program─or “Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish”─provides emergency assistance to eligible producers for losses due to disease, weather, and wildfire. It turns out that the severe and prolonged cold spell Maine experienced in December and January qualified beekeepers for reimbursement of hives lost as a result.

So I went to see Scott Speck at the Somerset County USDA office, who is the County Executive Director. At this point I’d met everyone in the office but Scott, so now I am fully acquainted with my local USDA/FSA staff─yaaay! Scott gave me the details on the program, we filled out the application and he sent me off with some homework.

Note: For more information on the ELAP program, check out the USDA’s ELAP Fact Sheet.

To qualify for the ELAP assistance I needed to be able to show some record of the existence of said hives─which was easy to do since Nathan had documented and photographed those same hives last fall for the purpose of my farm-loan. But I also needed to have my hives inspected by the Maine State Apiarist: Jennifer Lund, to ensure that “Best Management Practices” had been followed and that the cause of death was actually due to the severe weather conditions.

State Apiarist Visits the Runamuk Apiary

In my nearly 10 years keeping bees I had never once had the state apiarist come to my apiary. Thanks to my volunteer work as the president of the Somerset Beekeepers (formerly), I was involved enough to know what sort of issues were facing the majority of  Maine’s beekeeping community. Any additional problems I encountered I’ve been able to turn to a variety of more experienced beekeepers with whom I am acquainted, so having the state apiarist come solve my problems was never really necessary.

Again I was filled with anxiety─I knew I’d been following the “Best Management Practices” as laid out by the Maine Department of Agriculture, but what if I’d missed something? What if my timing had been off in applying the oxalic acid? Maybe I should have treated just one more time? I didn’t think I’d taken too much honey from the hives, but what if I was wrong? And what if Nathan had suggested the ELAP program as a justifiable means of having my operation assessed before the FSA committed the funds to my farm purchase???

I needn’t have worried; everything turned out fine.

Jennifer Lund met me at the Runamuk apiary located at Hyl-Tun Farm on route 43 in Starks on a dreary grey day and we proceeded to go through the dead-outs on-site there. Jennifer is probably about my age; she studied at the University of Maine alongside Frank Drummond─one of the leading scientists performing research on native bee populations for the USDA. When Maine’s veteran State Apiarist, Tony Jadczak retired a couple years back, Jennifer applied for the job and got it.

Since she’d been awarded the position I’d been wracking my brain trying to figure out why her name rang a bell in my head. We chatted as we surveyed my deceased colonies, and it turned out I had invited Jennifer to come to speak to the Somerset Beekeepers years ago! Mystery solved!

Jennifer checked my dead-outs to see the size of the cluster and their position within the hive, the amount of honey and pollen stores in the hives, along with signs of disease and mite levels among the population of bees. An alcohol-wash sampling revealed that mite levels were within reasonable range, and Jennifer concluded that in a normal winter even the weaker of my colonies likely would have survived. Cause of death was attributed to the weather conditions we’d experienced this year, and I was validated as a beekeeper.

With so many losses each winter it’s natural to wonder if you’re doing it right, and whether it’s worth the hassle and heartache. Jennifer put my mind at ease, and my ELAP application is moving forward at the FSA. I should receive a check towards the end of the season, which I intend to use to reimburse myself for some of the replacement bees I purchased this spring.

It’s Bee Season!

back of a beekeeper's car
Some of my favorite days are when the back of my car looks like this!

The season is well underway now. Runamuk’s replacement bees came in several waves: I picked up the first 5 packages on May 12th from Peter Cowin in Hampden, then went back on the 29th for another 5 packages. These will be my honey-producing hives, since the southern bred Italian packages tend to rev up fairly quickly they will ensure that I have honey available to sell and enable me to meet my financial targets.

On June 8th I fetched 3 nucleus colonies from Bob Egan’s Abnaki Apiaries in Skowhegan, Maine. I’d had 5 on order with Bob, but as a result of the harsh winter Bob was low on numbers. Having suffered significant losses myself I couldn’t hold that against the veteran beekeeper─we’re all in this together really. Bob raises a gentle strain of Carnolian bees that I’ve always had good luck with, and whose genetics I want as part of my breeding stock.

The 12 Saskatraz Queens are coming again from Hampden and Peter Cowin. They’ll be mated and ready to start laying when I bring them home the first week of July; the plan is to pair each Queen with 1 frame of brood taken from the existing hives and place them in a nucleus box with 1 frame of empty comb, and at least 1 frame of honey/pollen stores.

I’ll have to manage them fairly fastidiously so that I can overwinter them as nucs, so I’ve delayed pick-up of the new Queens til I can set them up at the new farm where I’ll be able to check on them more frequently. Ultimately, I’d like to have all the nucs and Queen-production happening at the Hive-House, while honey production will continue to happen at Hyl-Tun Farm where the Runamuk hives have miles of prime bee-forage in every direction.

Long-Term Apiary Goals

grafts 2018
My first grafted Queen-cells!

The end-goal I have for the Runamuk Apiary is to make the operation sustainable for the long-term viability of my farm. Though I have supporting ventures diversifying Runamuk, bees are the main focus of my farm-business and to truly be successful over the upcoming years I need to reduce inputs and expenses while continuing to expand the apiary.

To do that I need to be able to raise my own Queens and overwinter them as nucleus colonies that can replace the inevitable annual losses. Once I can ensure the continued survival of my own apiary, I can start selling nucs and mated-Queens raised from hardy Maine stock to local beekeepers.

Grateful for This Life

beekeeper profile
Accidental matching uniform at the apiary!

When I look back on the journey of my life I can’t help but marvel at the path that’s led me to this place in time. I did not set out to be the person I am today: female farmer, lady beekeeper, blogger, local food activist… I did see myself as becoming some sort of environmental activist however, and really everything I am stems from my love for the Earth and nature.

That love, along with a more recent commitment to be true to who I am and owning my story, has brought me here─doing work I love to do and paying my bills that way, on the precipice of purchasing my very own #foreverfarm and looking forward to bringing my vision for a pollinator conservation farm to life.

Yes, beekeeping is hard, and I’ll never be well-off as a farmer, but when I open a hive and the fragrance of warm beeswax and honey washes over me─or when I’m on my knees in the garden surrounded by plants and insects under the bright sun─I am filled with gratitude that I am able to live a life I love─one which brings meaning and purpose to my existence. Now that I’ve tasted this kind of wholehearted living, I could never give it up.

Thanks for reading and following along with my story! Feel free to share any thoughts, questions or comments below!

Official Closing Date

At long last I have an Official Closing Date on my #foreverfarm! We have overcome every hurdle─Runamuk and I, and this property I’ve affectionately dubbed “the Hive House”─in order to come together to form this union between farmer and farm. There’s no going back now; it’s only a matter of time before I finally have a permanent location for my farm and family.

Everything that I am, and everything that I have ever done in my life, has been leading me to this moment. It has taken everything I have to get here─years and years of hard work, determination, and sacrifice. Now I am exhausted from my long journey, and I’ve reached the end of my proverbial rope.

This week, my agent at the FSA, Nathan informed me that the title search had come back clear and as such has been approved. They’ve ordered the title insurance─the last piece of the FSA loan puzzle. Nathan was about to schedule Closing for next week, when we discovered an unexpected speed bump.

beeswax soap at amrket
Some of Runamuk’s beeswax soap on display at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

Up til now we’d been operating under the impression that Closing would happen just as soon as all of the hurdles had been overcome and the paperwork could be ready. However, to allow enough time for the FSA’s interminable loan process we’d sited on the Sale Contract that Closing would occur on or before June 29th. Since this was my second time through the process, Nathan has been pushing my paperwork through as quickly as he could, but we learned this week that the Sellers will not be ready to Close before the June 29 deadline.

In order to Close early both parties have to agree, and that is not going to happen in this case.

I was shocked. I had not entertained the notion that it could possibly take til the end of June to resolve this part of my life and move onto the next. What’s more, it’s become increasingly difficult to live and farm under my present circumstances. These temporary lodgings have served their purpose─this tiny trailerstead in the backwoods of central Maine has been the stepping stone I needed to make Runamuk’s farm-purchase happen─but I was aghast at having to live and farm 5 more weeks under these conditions.

Runamuk needs the proper infrastructure to be able to function successfully. I need a proper home for myself and my family, and space to do my own thing. In these temporary conditions I’m lacking space to assemble and store hive equipment, I have no place to dry the herbs used to make Runamuk’s various beeswax salves, there isn’t space to extract the remaining honey that I have still waiting in combs from last fall’s harvest, and I am lacking pasture to move my new pullets onto so they’re eating way more of that expensive organic grain than they otherwise would be.

What’s more, while I was able to plant my potatoes, onions, and garlic at this temporary location, I was intending to plant the remainder of my garden at the Hive House. With a Closing Date of June 29th I’ll have to abandon many of the full-season crops I typically plant: the tomatoes and winter squashes etc, which directly impacts my ability to produce food to store to see my family though the winter.

All of this will affect my farm-income and I’m concerned about being able to meet the financial projections I forecasted for the FSA when I assembled my paperwork for this loan. Unfortunately there’s really nothing to be done for it. Legally the Sellers are within their rights. If you look at it from their perspective, you can imagine what it might be like to have to say goodbye to the home they’ve known their entire adult lives. I’m sure that’s not easy either.

limited availability
Signage at farmers’ market explaining the sparseness of Runamuk’s booth; currently I’m out of honey, and since the new flock has not yet started laying, I don’t have eggs either.

Since there’s nothing to be done for it, I’ve accepted this year for what it is─a year of transition for Runamuk. I’ve decided to take it easy on myself; buying a farm through the FSA is a daunting prospect even under the best of circumstances. Moving a farm is challenging for any farmer, and trying to continue farming while relocating your operation is an ambitious proposition for even the best of us. I’m doing good just to be at market, to still be making soap at all, and to be working with bees even as a landless farmer.

I’m incredibly stressed and anxious about the whole thing, and these last few weeks I’ve just been trying to hold on til Closing. When I learned I would have to wait 5 more weeks I wasn’t sure I could make it. But when I posted to my facebook community expressing my concerns, a wise friend (thank you Janet!) quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt:

tie a knotIt brings to mind this mental image of myself clinging to the knot at the end of my rope, hanging on for dear life while the Journey finds me whipping in the wind and rains like a ragdoll. And I just keep telling myself “Don’t let go!”

Come June 29th the Hive House will be mine and Runamuk will finally have a #foreverfarm. It’s a huge relief to know that everything is a GO─nothing can stop this sale now. If I can just tough it out a little longer I will soon be moving Runamuk and my family HOME. Check back soon for details regarding our upcoming Farm-Warming Party!!!

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FSA Appraisal is Back With a Good Report!

william likes chickens

On Thursday the FSA’s appraisal of the Hive-House went to the FSA and on Friday I received news of the property’s good report.

william likes chickens
William likes helping with the chicken chores.

The appraisal is a critical step in the FSA’s loan process because they need to be able to validate the loan, as they are funded by tax-payer’s money─they can’t pay more for the property than what it’s valued at. I had agreed to pay $179.9K for the house and 53 acres, so I needed the appraisal to come in at-or-above that figure for this whole thing to work out.

My realtor, Leah Watkins, reminded me that the house and the 3 acres it sits on was appraised at $139K when the seller first put it on the market; we were fairly confident that with another 50 acres on top of that the Hive-House would appraise where we needed it to. Still, it was a huge relief to have it confirmed and to know for certain that we could move on to the final stages of buying a farm: Closing.

The appraiser valued the property at $195K and sited the house as being is average-to-good condition. I am so stoked!

The final stage of the FSA’s interminable loan process involves some legal research and the drawing up of legal documents necessary in the sale and conveyance of real estate. My lawyer needs to research the Deed associated with the property at 344 School Street to ensure it has a clean title so that no one else could possible lay a claim to it, title insurance will be purchased by the FSA, and the Mortgage Contract will be put together. Once all those things are in place the FSA will schedule a Closing Date.

As far as what that date might be, I have absolutely no idea. I know that once the Appraisal comes back things generally happen fairly quickly, and I’d like to think we’ll Close by June 1st (a week and a half away at this point), but I also know we are now well into the FSA’s busiest season and my poor agent, Nathan Persinger is right out straight. The FSA is very tight-lipped on the subject of a Closing Date, and I suspect I won’t learn exactly when Closing will occur until practically the last minute.

Stay tuned for more updates coming soon! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly in your in-box!