Training Wheels Are Coming Off!

The training wheels are coming off at Runamuk Acres! For the last 3 years, I’ve generated some part of the farm’s income from the rental of 2 of the bedrooms in my big old farmhouse. However, when my current housemate gave her 30-day notice recently, I knew those days were behind me. I just can’t do it anymore. It’s time for Runamuk to stand on it’s own. To that end, I am gearing up for a Big Year on the farm.

No more training wheels at Runamuk!

When I first bought the farm, 3 years ago, I was still working part-time at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It quickly became apparent that I was going to need to be here full-time if I were going to make any headway. Though the Farm Service Agency tried to discourage me from giving up that dependable income, I forged ahead resolutely. To offset the loss of my income from Johnny’s, I opted to rent 2 of the 6 bedrooms in my house.

Room Rentals

At first I tried renting through AirBnB, offering a bed-and-breakfast to skiers and hikers of Maine’s Western Mountains. That worked okay for a while, but I found it difficult to manage the farm and maintain my common spaces (kitchen, dinning room, and bathroom) to meet AirBnB’s standards. When covid hit, I decided to take on long-term housemates instead, to reduce the potential risk of spreading the virus to my customers.

Room-rentals worked okay for a while. The rooms here are laid out in such a way that I could keep the guests at one end, while maintaining some semblense of privacy at the other end of the house.

Guest room #2, during our AirBnB phase.

Sifting through prospective candidates to find housemates I could tolerate sharing space with was always a pain. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t actually read the details before reaching out. There were seemingly endless inquiries from people who thought that “New Portland” was some sub-set of the city of Portland, some 2 hours south. People who wanted to bring their entire family to live in a single room. There were people who would ask if they could have their menagerie of pets, even though my advertisement clearly said “No Pets”. This is a working farm and I’m not willing to risk the well-being of my livestock, or add additional stressors to my own pets for the sake of a few hundred dollars.

I always insisted on meeting potential new housemates before agreeing to allow them space in my home. That seemed to weed out a good many candidates from ever setting foot on my property. The odds were against even those who were actually willing to interview for the space. With my teenaged son in the house, Deron’s teenagers occasionally at the farm, and my business to protect, I was super critical of who I brought into our lives. Unfortunately, even that didn’t save us from a couple of bad apples.

Most of the individuals I allowed to rent my rooms, were good and honest, hardworking young people just trying to get ahead in life. They liked the novelty of living on a farm, but none of them were really here to be a part of anything Runamuk-related. Most of them, I doubt, ever looked us up online to learn more about what we do or what we’re about. Certainly none of them tried to get involved, and I can only think of one that tried to lend a hand. They went to work, came home and slept, then did it all over again. That suited me just fine.

Trouble With Housemates

The trouble with housemates, it that it’s hard to really know the quality of someone’s character from one 20-minute encounter. There were at least a couple of housemates that caused significant disruption here. One came between my sister and I, seriously damaging a most precious relationship in my life. Another was prone to some unsettling mood-swings, that made me uneasy with his presence in the house. Something wasn’t right about him…

Eventually, he put me in the position of having to ask him─in no uncertain terms─to find somewhere else to live. It takes quite a lot to push me to that point, but after having worked so hard for this farm, I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow anyone to threaten it─in any way, shape, or form. After he’d departed, we found evidence of cocaine-use in his room. My gut instinct about the guy had been 100% correct.

This baby gate did not hold Beebe back once she realized she could jump…

Beebe brought a whole new source of anxiety to the situation, when she arrived on the farm. Slow to warm up to strangers, I was forever rushing to restrain her whenever one of my housemates needed to access to the bathroom. For her own protection, I asked Deron to build a half-door off the dinning room to keep Beebe out of the common spaces. She does eventually warm to new people, and once she does she is the biggest baby, wanting only love and tummy-rubs.

Incidentally, she never warmed up to the crack-head. She made it unmistakably clear that she viewed him as a threat, and I will never discount Beebe’s judge of character ever again.

Mainly, it’s just awkward trying to farm and share space with strangers. The first-floor guest room is right off the main entrance to the house, so I am forever anxious about making too much noise when we are doing our twice-daily critter-chores. That same room is directly on the other side of the kitchen, which means I worry about banging cupboards too loudly, or playing my music too loudly on Baking Days.

Those days will very soon be over, though. I’ve had my fill of trying to share this sanctuary of mine. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to move on.

The Training Wheels are Coming Off!

The scary part is that I am still very much dependent upon the income from those room-rentals. While the CSA generally pays for the farm, the income I’ve generated through renting those 2 rooms has been paying for the house. They cover the electric, water, and phone utilities, along with household supplies like toilet paper and laundry detergent. To make up the difference, I’ve decided to re-invest in Runamuk’s “Farmstand-on-the-Porch”. The time has come for Runamuk to stand on it’s own. The training wheels are coming off!

Beginning Monday, March 14th, the farmstand will be open 6 days a week. I’ll stock it with my own handmade bread baked daily in Runamuk’s licensed kitchen. There will also be an assortment of delectable goodies: muffins, cookies, my “Fantabulous Granola Bars”. Our fresh microgreens and eggs will stock the shelves, too. Then, later this season, local patrons will have access to a full gamut of vegetables. Customers should check in with us for seasonally available products like our raw honey, pork, and lamb.

Previsouly, when I tried to keep a farmstand going here, there was some confusion about where it was located, and how it worked. One of the many projects I am currently working on are some new signs to eliminate confusion for customers. Our farmstand is located inside our enclosed porch, and is self-service. Usually, BraeTek or I are kicking about the farm somewhere, but with just the 2 of us to manage things, we cannot drop what we are doing to wait on customers, else nothing would never get done, lol. That being said, I never discourage visitors from seeking us out if they have questions or need help.

Fantastically Foolhardy?

At the moment, I’m not sure if giving up the room rentals is a fantastic idea, or a foolhardy one. Likely, it’s both: “fantastically foolhardy“.

I admit that when I stop to dwell on the matter, the idea of trying to get by without that income twists my gut with fear. The electric bill is already past-due, and the water is in arrears─if I could get off those public utilities, that would be a game-changer! The car needs work to take a sticker, and the truck needs parts just to be useful. Doing this kind of work, I’ve worn through every pair of jeans I own─I’m down to my last pair, which I keep washing and re-washing. I did splurge recently on a package of underwear, lol, but I have just 1 bra left─which is missing 1 of it’s 3 hooks to hold the thing on my body (insert facepalm here)! I could go on, but I think you catch my drift…

It’s downright terrifying to be letting go of that dependable income. Yet, I am just so damned burnt out on trying to accommodate strangers in my house, that I need to do something different. I make money with my hands. I literally grow it in the ground! Whoever said that money doesn’t grow on trees, definitely wasn’t a farmer…just sayin’. And since when have you ever known me to shrink from a challenge? If I wanted to do things the easy way, I would not be here today, doing this work that I love. No─I think this is the right move, at the right time. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, and hope like hell that it works.

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

Parting Ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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