200 Days

200 days

Today marks the 200th day since I first dropped off my application with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency back on September 28th. 200 days slogging my way through the red tape associated with the government-financing process in hopes of one day owning my own forever-farm. Everyone wants to know what’s going on─have we Closed yet? when do we move??? My perpetual answer seems to be “Not yet.”

runamuk apiaryPermanently Part-Time at Johnny’s

Farmers everywhere are gearing up for the season ahead. At Johnny’s Selected Seeds, most of the seasonal employees (local farmers like me, hired to help man the phones in the Call Center during their busy season) have returned to their farms. It’s bittersweet to watch my colleagues depart one by one. I’m happy for them to be able to do the work they love because I know all too well how farming can consume the soul, but I’m a little envious that I can’t go too.

Originally I was hired as a seasonal employee 3 years ago, but following my divorce I’ve required the stability of a dependable paycheck year-round. What’s more, with a new mortgage I expect to continue to need supplemental income year-round for another 2 or 3 years, so I’ll be there in the Call Center 2 days a week all season. Permanently part-time…ouch.

It only stings a little though, because I’m finally buying a farm! Squeeeeeeee!

Guesstimated Closing Date

No, we have not moved yet, and we don’t even have a date for Closing. My agent at the FSA (Farm Service Agency), Nathan Persinger, likens their loan process to an iceberg…what you see above the water is nothing compared to the mass of ice below the water, and it takes a long while to navigate a safe path for your ship.

The good news is that my loan request was approved, and I’ve received word that the job for the Appraisal was accepted by Farm Credit East, who states they will have it done “on or before May 11th”. That’s much sooner than Nathan had expected; officially they have a full 90 days to get the Appraisal done, and this is a busy time of year too, so I was very lucky to get it scheduled so soon.

Once the Appraisal is done that just leaves the Title Search between me and Closing. So long as nothing pops up in the county registry regarding the Deed’s legacy, then the FSA will schedule a date for Closing. Typically once the Appraisal is done, Closing can happen within a couple of weeks.

I have this gut feeling that the Appraisal will be completed before May 11th, and so I’m guesstimating that Closing will take place somewhere around May 18th.

OMG that’s just 4 weeks away!

Validation

200 daysTears sting my eyes whenever I think about signing those papers at Closing. When I was young, my family moved around a lot… We never left Maine, but we moved from Anson to Madison, to Skowhegan, to Salem (Maine), to Kingfield, North Anson, and then back to Anson/Madison again. I thought when I became an adult I would finally be able to set down roots somewhere, and while I came close a few times, I have yet to gain that sense of permanency that my spirit craves.

It was 9 or 10 years ago, following a move that was particularly difficult for me, when I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I was a stay-at-home homeschooling and homesteading mother and wife, and while I didn’t want to give that up, I came to realize that in order to buy a home and put down roots I would have to have an income of my own─my husband’s paycheck alone was not sufficient to buy the home I’d long envisioned. And so I set out to generate an income for myself. I decided I could use the skills I’d learned as a homesteader to make money while I continued to stay home with my children: I became a farmer.

Since Runamuk’s inception, I have experienced many ups and downs along my journey as a farmer─even some serious set backs that might have caused a lesser woman to abandon the path for a smoother road altogether. For better or worse I have kept on and soon my life-long dream for a home─a farm of my own─will become reality. Soon, so many hardships and sacrifices will be validated. When they put those keys in my hand every struggle will have been worth it.

Note: I plan to Facebook Live the contract signing, so stay tuned for details on when Closing will take place; you won’t want to miss this monumental occasion!!!

Ramping Up at Runamuk

Meanwhile, being permanently part-time at Johnny’s does not mean I’m only farming part-time. No, I’ll continue to farm full-time in addition to my off-farm employment, and─like my seasonal colleagues who are departing the Call Center─I am ramping my farm up for the season ahead of me.

This season, for the first time ever, Runamuk will be attending 2 farmers’ markets. I’m pretty stoked to say that we’ve been accepted into the Gardiner Farmers’ Market, which is held on Wednesdays from 3-6 throughout the summer months. The Gardiner market will hold an extended market from 3-7 once a month, and this is when you will find Runamuk there with our raw honey, beeswax products, and GMO-free eggs. It’s going to be a long haul for me from New Portland (where the new farm is located) to Gardiner, some 65 miles south, and since customers don’t necessarily need to buy products like honey and soap on a weekly basis, I’ve decided it will work best for me and my family to only make the journey once a month.

To prepare for the season ahead, I’ve been busy making soap─so much soap! All the old favorites: the Randy Lumberjack, the Girl Next Door, and the unscented Honeybee soap; the seasonal fragrances, including the ever popular Lilac-scented spring soap. Some of last year’s trial varieties will be returning: Maine Lobstahman, Caribbean Escape, and Hazelnut Toffee, and there will be a few new fragrances too: Strawberry-Rhubarb (you won’t believe how yummy this smells!), and Lavender─by popular request.

forum onion crop
I sold my onions in bunches of 3 and 4 at the farmers’ market. They were a big hit!

I’ve got 50 new egg-laying chickens that will be 16 weeks old and about ready to start laying when I pick them up on May 15th. I’ve made my pre-season supply purchases: seeds (because you can’t work at a seed company and NOT buy seeds in the spring lol), onion plants and onion sets, seed potatoes, new beekeeping gear, wooden-wear for new hives, and candle molds and supplies for candle-making. I’m planning to debut my first beeswax candles this year.

Naturally I’ve got more bees on order, and even some new Queens from Hall’s Apiary in New Hampshire. I fully intend to raise some of my own Queens, but with the new farm I really want to boost my hive numbers in a big way this year─and buying in additional mated-Queens to make my own nucleus colonies is a sure-fire way to do that. Over the next few years I will be working hard to increase the scale and productivity of my apiary; the plan is to scale up to 40 honey-producing colonies by 2021, and to focus more on raising lots and lots of nucleus colonies, both to replace hives lost in the winter, and to be able to offer overwintered nucs for local beekeepers. So many bees!!! I can’t wait!

200 Days and Counting

follow runamukThe long process to Closing on a real estate loan with the FSA is one of the major reasons why more farmers aren’t utilizing this avenue to farm-ownership. Even with a Sale Agreement and Approval for the loan, nothing is certain until you’ve signed that contract at Closing. It’s months and months of anxious uncertainty to gain the keys to your home and place of business. Only the most determined farmers will successfully navigate their ship through the iceberg-infested waters that is the government process.

I am that determined. I will have a home and forever-farm.

What had initially begun as a means to an end, has consumed my soul; I am a farmer, through and through. I have such love for the Earth and the natural world around me─like a clean, clear mountain spring that wells eternally from deep inside me, driving me to this work─compelling me. I am a producer and I will feed my family and my community─nurturing their bodies and their spirits with my labors of love.

The end is in sight!!! Check back soon for news of Runamuk’s Closing Date! Be sure to like Runamuk Apiaries on Facebook so you can watch me sign the mortgage contract via Facebook Live!

FSA Loan Request Approved!

Yesterday I received word from my FSA agent that my loan request has been approved. It shouldn’t have been in question, but until I had that Approval letter in my hand I just couldn’t breathe easy. I was approved the first time around─when I applied for financing to purchase the Swinging Bridge Farm; but what if I didn’t get it the second time around? What if that was my one and only shot?

I am so relieved to be able to say that my numbers and business plan are solid enough to qualify again─this time for the purchase of the Hive House.

Nathan Persinger, my FSA agent, has been really great throughout this entire ordeal. When I first spoke with him back in October he told me he was there to act as my liaison to the Farm Service Agency, to guide me through their monumental loan process, and that he wanted to see my dream of farm-ownership come true.

I’m sure it was as hard for him to give me the news on the fate of the Swinging Bridge Farm as it was for me to hear it; we’d both worked hard on it. When I told him I was going to go after another property instead, he promised to do everything in his power to speed this second round along for me and he meant it! Compared to the length of time it took the first time around, my loan request is fairly flying through the FSA this second time─check it out!

It’s not over yet though. The FSA requires an appraisal to ensure the value of the property, and I’ve already been informed that appraisors are booked into May. Then my lawyer will perform a title search, and finally they’ll schedule a date for Closing. If the Swinging Bridge Farm has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is certain until you’ve signed that contract at Closing.

Once the appraisal is done everything happens pretty quickly, so I expect we’ll be moving late May or early June─in the middle of both planting season and swarm season lol. Go big or go home, right?

These last few weeks of uncertainty have left this farmer feeling somewhat suspended in animation. All around me my farming comrades have started their seasons─sowing seeds and nurturing tender little seedlings in their homes or heated high tunnels. With a potential move on the horizon and currently cramped living quarters, I’ve decided not to start seeds this year and without those bright green plant-babies I feel much less the farmer.

It’s difficult to plan for a farm season if you’re not sure whether or not you have a place to farm, and continuing as a landless farmer is no longer an option: I need a home─for my kids, for me, and for Runamuk to continue to grow.

At the same time, in the event that this actually happens I want the transition to the new farm to go as smoothly as possible. I need to ensure that Runamuk hits the ground running─I’ll have a mortgage to pay afterall. So I’ve been making soap and ordering equipment for the apiary─Queen-rearing supplies mostly, though I invested in a number of candle molds; I’ve decided it’s time to add handmade beeswax candles to my product line.

Next week I have a meeting with the members of the Gardiner Farmers’ Market where I’m applying as a honey-vendor. This will be our second market and it’s a pretty big deal for Runamuk. I have to admit I’m a little nervous about it; I’ve never actually applied with a market before, since Runamuk was a founding member of the Madison market. Gardiner was eager to have me though, and I work with 2 of their vendors at Johnny’s, so I expect it will go smoothly.

At this point there’s no reason to think this sale won’t go through. I’ve covered my bases, had the house inspected before we got too far along this time, and my realtor, Leah Watkins, believes that these Sellers are not asking too much for what I’m getting so the Hive House should appraise at or above the $179.9K I’ve offered for it. Hooray for being approved! (again!)

Check back soon for more updates from this Maine farm and apiary! Subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly in your in-box! Or follow us on Facebook or Instagram!