Hard Lessons

Your friendly neighborhood farmer has learned some hard lessons in animal husbandry over the past three weeks. Since I last posted, all of my ewes have delivered with varying degrees of success. Of the fifteen lambs born to Runamuk this season, two lambs perished, and I have two in the house at this very moment. All of the others are strong and healthy, growing just as they should, without care or concern. I invite you to join me on the farm now, as I share the story of this farm’s 2022 lambing season with all it’s highs and lows.

I Love My Finnsheep!

Let me start off by saying how much I love my Finnsheep! I thank my friend, Kamala Hahn at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, for indoctrinating me into the Finn fan-club. A hardy breed, originating from Finland, Finns are not the largest of sheep, making them easier to handle. Their wool is next-to-skin quality, oh-so-soft, in a wide variety of colors, and their meat is reknown for being some of the most flavorful lamb you can get. Finns are relatively easy keepers, friendly and personable, with lots of character. The ewes are generally good mothers, known for producing litters of multiple lambs without fuss. After two easy lambing seasons, I felt fairly confident as I came into my third year as flock-keeper.

Up til this year, my ewes had thrown only twins and single lambs. I was looking forward to a larger set, and hoped this would be the year. In that regard, I was not disappointed. On a Saturday night, two weeks back, one of my ewes by the name of Maleficent, gave me my first-ever set of triplets. An hour later, Fiona produced a whopping set of four lambs! The following morning upon waking, a visit to the Ewe-Shed found a third mum had produced a set of twins in the wee-hours of the morning. What a night! I was beside myself─overjoyed with the productivity of my flock.

Everyone looked good to this novice’s eyes. Mums all came through with flying colors. Babies were all in tact. Though the lambs of the litters of three and four were all very tiny, I’d had some smaller ewes produce very tiny lambs before, so I didn’t think much of it. I made sure each lamb got latched onto it’s mum’s teat for a good feed of the critically important colostrum, and checked on them frequently throughout the day.

This particular weekend happened to be the first in two years that my sweetheart, Deron, could not be with me for our regular visit due to a family crisis. Typically he spends Friday and Saturday nights at the farm. Then, on Sundays, I join him at his parent’s home for a family supper, then spend the night at his place in Solon. Since everyone seemed to be doing well, and with the lamb-cam to spy on any new deliveries, I caved to my longing to spend just one night with my huny. I left the farm late that Sunday afternoon.

Hard Lessons

Of course I checked the lamb-cam while I was off the farm that Sunday evening─repeatedly. I even woke periodically during the night, pulling the app up on my phone to make sure all was well. Unfortunately, with so many little lambs, it’s hard to see some of the finer details from a distance like that. It wasn’t until I was back on the farm the next morning that I realized one of Maleficent’s three babies was missing. I released the ewe from the confines of the lambing pen, and only two lambs tottered out after her. Where was the third???

I checked behind the water bucket, and under the hay-net, to see if the poor thing had gotten trapped there. No lamb. Panic welled in my throat─where could it be? What could have happened?

When I spied a telltale tuft of white fuzz peeking above the litter of the lambing pen, I felt sick to my stomach. What had I done?

The ewes will often kick up the bedding material in the shed, and in their lambing pens too, to make a sort of nest for themselves to lay in. This tiny, little lamb had gotten buried in the litter. Whether or not it was intentional on Maleficent’s part, I cannot say. Sometimes, ewes will reject a lamb if there is something wrong with it, or if they feel instinctively that they cannot provide for that mouth. Even if the lamb was destined to be rejected by her mum, I feel fairly certain that if I had been on the farm to check on the lambs in person, I could have at least saved it to be a bottle baby.

To make matters worse, another of Maleficent’s babies took a chill that night. Concerned, and not wanting to lose any more precious babies, I corralled the ewe back into a lambing pen with her two remaining lambs. Thanks to my two previous “easy seasons”, though I diligently monitored the situation, I did not recognize the danger the poor fellow was in. He was nursing periodically, but sleeping more and more. The following morning when I went out at sunrise, the lamb lay sprawled, all but lifeless, on the floor of the lambing pen.

Near to tears with the shame of my failures, I immediately took the lamb into the house. I made every attempt to rescue him, but it was already too late. He slipped away from us. It took a few days before Maleficent finally stopped crying for her lost babies, her eyes pleading with me to return her lambs to her.

Maleficent and her remaining baby are doing well now.

I know that it’s entirely possible those two lambs might have been doomed with or without me, yet the pain of those losses lingers in my heart. I blame myself. You can be sure, the hard lessons those two babies taught me will not be forgotten. Larger litters of multiple lambs are a wonderful thing, but just as triplets and quadruplets born to humans, multiples of sheep are so much smaller and frailer than a single baby, or even twins. They require much more diligence from the farmer. Finnsheep may be fantastic mothers, but that many mouths are harder for them to keep track of. Perhaps most importantly, newborns require my vigilance for the first forty-eight hours─minimum. I can’t be caving to the longings of my heart for the nearness of my boyfriend. No matter how sweet he is to me, nor how much I miss him. Farmers do not have that privilege.

Rejected

It was a little over a week following the loss of Maleficent’s two babies that my last ewe finally went into labor. “Baby” was last year’s bottle baby, whom I never really gave a name. Laughingly, I tell people that she was named after the main character from the movie Dirty Dancing (“nobody puts Baby in the corner”), but the truth is─she was my baby, and I’ve just always called her Baby, lol. She is a very small ewe, from a very small mother. I hadn’t intended for her to be bred, but I guess my ram had other ideas…

I worried about Baby’s birthing prospects, and stayed with her through the entire ordeal. Indeed, she did struggle to bring forth the single lamb she carried. It was a long labor, and the lamb’s legs were not in the right position. Once the little guy had emerged, Baby was less than impressed. It was hard to watch as she head-butted the tiny lamb, pawing at him with her front hooves, and attempting to cover him over with the litter at the bottom of the lambing pen. I toweled him off and tried to get Baby to allow the newborn to suckle at her teats. Unfortunately, Baby wanted no part of this creature that had caused her so much pain and difficulty. She was still very young, and not ready to be a mother.

The shenanigans start at an early age…

Fearing for the lamb’s life, I made the call to take the rejected lamb from the ewe. I refused to allow another lamb to perish on my watch. For the last week and a half, the little ram has been living inside the farmhouse. He eats from a bottle, and sleeps in a playpen I scored for $5 last year at the Embden Community Center’s thrift shop. After such an awful entrance into the world, I thought the little guy needed some kind of empowering name, so BraeTek dubbed him “Big Man”. Mercifully, this little lamb is thriving under the care of his farmer.

Perks of the Job

Our young CSA member, Saffron (in pink), shares her farm with her friends.

One of the perks of the job is being able to share bits and pieces of farm-life with the public. Initially, the lamb was eating every two hours, so when I left the farm last Friday to make my CSA deliveries, I couldn’t just leave the infant at home alone. I put him on a towel in a wooden apple crate and placed him on the passenger seat of my Subaru. He traveled that way, making the Madison-Solon loop with me, pausing at Deron’s long enough to feed him another bottle before we continued on to Harmony to make our final delivery. On our way back to New Portland, I stopped by the Solon Corner Store to pick up some weekend provisions. Reluctant to leave Big Man alone in the car, I tucked the four-day old lamb under an arm, and took him into the store with me.

My friend, Trin, finds spending time with the lambs to be very healing.

Since Deron’s home is located in Solon, I am frequently in and out of the Solon Corner Store when I go to visit my sweetie. The clerks there have come to recognize me, and know something of my farm. They all knew I’d been welcoming new lambs to the farm, yet these ladies fairly melted at the sight of Big Man! I wish I could have gotten it on video to share with you.

Heedless of the other customers waiting to check out, Gayle came around from behind the counter to get a closer look. I placed that bundle of legs and wool in her arms for a few moments, allowing the cashier to gush over the lamb. She brought him close for a handful of other shoppers to pet him, before relinquishing Big Man back to my care. Needless to say, there was quite a line behind me once I’d finally checked out with my things, lol. And then Gayle offered to carry my bags out for me hahaha!

No one complained though…it’s not every day you get to see a teeny tiny baby lamb in the grocery store.

Quasimodo

It was the day following the grocery store scene that I realized something was not right with one of Fiona’s quadruplets. Again, with so many mouths to feed, it’s harder for the ewes to care for their offspring appropriately. Concerned about the runt of the litter, who was all hunched over and pitiful looking, I’d taken to bottle feeding him in the Ewe-Shed. Over the course of the week, I was trucking out there several times a day with a bottle for the lamb I called Quasimodo, the hunchback of Runamuk Acres (I know─not funny, but funny. What can I say, lol, I have a perverse sense of humor.). I had hoped that the bottle feedings would bring an improvement in the little guy. Unfortunately, on that Saturday morning Quasi was looking particularly cold and pathetic, so I made the calldecided to bring him inside for some extra attention.

That’s when I realized just how much Quasimodo struggles to move around. I did some research and found that sometimes babies of large litters can be born with under-developed hind legs. This can be due to a nutrient deficiency, or because of the cramped quarters in-utero. I believe that is what is going on in Quasimodo’s case, and have given him a selenium/vitamin E supplement, as well as an injection of vitamin B. Though I have seen some improvement, and overall he is content enough to keep Big Man company here inside the farmhouse, it will take time and exercise for his muscles to develop properly─if at all. Another of Mother Nature’s hard lessons in animal husbandry this year.

New Donate Button!

Pan, the Lamb.

On a completely separate note, I would like to take this opportunity to point out to followers the new Donate button in my website’s sidebar. I’ve fielded a number of requests for a Wish List on Runamuk’s website. Folks want to know what it is we are needing here, so they can donate items if they have something they’re no longer using that might help our cause. I have had one listed, but it’s rather buried amid the other pages listed on the drop-down menu under the “About Us” tab. This Donate button will now take visitors directly to that page. Woot woot!

Donations have come to Runamuk in many forms─monetary donations, yes, but also donations of materials, equipment, and supplies. I’ve even had folks volunteer their time and energy to lend a hand on the farm for a day. I also barter for the things we need, trading farm-goods at a fair market value for the item being traded to the farm. There is a PayPal button on that page for those who are able and inclined to donate funds to this farm, but donations come in many forms, and cash is not the only means of greasing the wheels here. Every donation makes a big difference in this mother-and-son driven farm. I am always grateful for every gift or trade, small or large, because they allow me to keep doing what I do─nourishing and educating my family, and my community. That’s what it’s all about, my friends.

The Life of a Farmer

Mother Nature is a beautiful─but sometimes ruthless─mistress. With these hard lessons, She’s reminded me this year that it does not do to grow complacent in Her presence. As a farmer, I must always be vigilant for the lives I am responsible for: human, plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, fungal or microbial, wild or domesticated. This is the life I have chosen to live─the life of a farmer. While there are certainly a great many blessings to be thankful for, there are equally as many burdens associated with it, and I must bear them. Come hell or high water, this farm must thrive.

Thank you 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!

Farming Full-Time!

what can you do for your planet

It’s both exhilarating and terrifying to say that I am now farming full-time─with no off-farm income. No safety net. Nothing. It’s sink or swim; do or die trying. For better or worse, my income is now generated exclusively by this property. My life (and my finances) are in my own hands.

Parting Ways With Johnny’s

These last 4 years I’ve made the best of my situation as a single mom, working part-time off the farm in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, while still farming full-time. I gained many advantages working at Johnny’s, but it wasn’t easy trying to do both, and in some ways it really hindered Runamuk’s progress. Even still, I’d intended to continue working part-time for another couple of years to supplement the farm’s income. However, over the course of the last winter, it became increasingly apparent that after 4 years, Johnny’s and I had outgrown each other, and in May we parted ways.

rooster_barred rockI thought I might find something closer to home, and take a housemate to help cover the monthly bills. However, with a special needs son who requires my supervision 3 days each week, a farmers’ market on Friday night, and the Runamuk farm-stand on Saturdays─my schedule is fairly limited.

What’s more, with a large garden, 150 chickens and 4 sheep to rotate around the pasture, 20 beehives, new apple trees and perennial food plants in the ground this year, plus the household and my children to manage─Runamuk has reached the point where it really needs it’s farmer every. single. day. The time has come for me to be fully committed to the farm. Right here. Right now.

Not having that safety net, though, is pretty terrifying. To make matters more difficult, Runamuk has been suffering an egg-shortage. Production from last year’s flock is going downhill, and we’re still waiting for the new flock to start laying. It’s a little painful having to tell people I don’t have eggs for them.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to cover the financial shortfall with produce from the garden, allowing Runamuk to cover the cost of all the animals here. I sold a few hives this Spring, and a couple of Queens, and mercifully, was able to take a honey harvest last week. Runamuk is treading water and I’m keeping my head above the surface─but it’s a good thing I’m a strong swimmer!

It’s Happening

Our presence in the community is growing; it’s really happening. Folks stop by, saying they saw the signs on Route 16─or they saw my post on Facebook and wanted to check us out. Runamuk has gained a number of regular patrons, and I’ve gained some new relationships with locals here. Like Steve─the kindly, white haired retiree who always has 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5!) peanut butter dog biscuits in his pocket when he comes for eggs.

murphy_summer 2019
Murphy!

Okay, maybe that’s Murphy’s relationship, lol, but there are plenty for me!

It is happening; Runamuk is cultivating those relationships, nourishing it’s community, and growing into the farm it was always meant to be. Yet with winter coming on, I know the household still needs some kind of supplemental income─you know-if we want to be warm. I wasn’t having much luck finding a housemate, and I refuse to take a boyfriend for the financial support alone, so a friend suggested I try listing my spare room with AirBnB.

AirBnB

AirBnB has been mentioned before, but in the past I’d always resisted the idea. I didn’t like it─partly because of William’s difficulties with new people, but largely because I was uncomfortable with the idea of having strangers stay overnight in my house. I’m friendly and sociable enough, but I’m also an introvert with reclusive tendencies─and, like many farmers, I relate better to animals than people.

Over the course of the summer, though, I’ve become rather accustomed to strangers dropping by. Sometimes it’s just to buy eggs or swiss chard. Other times they’re interested in a tour of the property. And sometimes folks are hoping for a peek at this old farmhouse. I am always grateful for a visit, and happy to oblige; afterall, I would not have this farm without the support of the people. So this time when it came up, I didn’t have that same guttural reaction to AirBnB that I’ve had in the past, and I gave it more serious consideration.

Note: For those who aren’t familiar with it, A‌i‌r‌b‌n‌b‌ is an online marketplace for arranging or offering lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences. The company does not own any of the real estate listings, nor does it host events; it acts as a broker, receiving commissions from each booking.

Locals don’t really want to live in New Portland, Maine (except me, apparently!). It’s kind of in the middle of no where. You really  have to commit to the idea of driving to get anywhere from here, and most rural Mainers do not want to have a long commute. Hence the difficulties finding a suitable housemate.

For outdoor enthusiasts, however─tourists enjoying Maine’s rugged wilderness─or travelers journeying to or from Canada, New Portland is a plausible destination. The tourism industry drives this region of Maine; I could see how I might tap into that and use it to my advantage.  I did some research, and when I found several articles indicating a popular trend toward farmstays, I made up my mind. I listed Runamuk’s spare room, and, almost as proof of concept, I had 3 reservations within the first 48 hours!

The Guest Room @ Runamuk

the guest room
The Guest Room @ Runamuk Acres

I didn’t give it a fancy name, just “The Guest Room”, but it’s a pretty sweet space, I think.

A newer, first-floor bedroom rather separate from the main house, but still readily accessible to the bathroom and other common areas. The room has been repainted to brighten the space, and decorated in what I hope comes across as “farm-like”, with an old quilt, handmade quilted pillows, and original Common Ground Fair posters given to me by a former colleague at Johnny’s (thank you, Tom!).

The Guest Room is sparsely furnished, but there’s a desk and upon it I’ve organized a few of my favorite books related to food and agriculture. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and “In Defense of Food”, by Michael Pollan, “Food Not Lawns”, “Locally Laid”, and a copy of “The Maine Birding Trail”. Included in a stay at Runamuk is a complimentary farm-breakfast made with our own eggs, which seems to be a popular selling point so far.

At the foot of the Bigelow Mountain Range in western Maine─Runamuk is just 10 minutes to the historic Wire Bridge in West New Portland, 10 minutes to Kingfield, 20 minutes to Carrabasset Valley, Sugarloaf, and the Maine Huts & Trails. And the farm has direct access to the ITS 84 snowmobile trail. So in addition to the farm and Runamuk’s own events, workshops and classes, this area offers plenty of other activities: hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing (cross-country or downhill), snowshoeing and ice skating, golfing, and snowmobiling. It’s basically a four-season playground.

Here’s the listing on AirBnB: Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm-Guest Room, feel free to share with friends and family who might be visiting the area, or who are interested in an up-close and personal farmstay at an authentic working Maine farm!

Farming Full-Time

And just like that, I’m farming full-time!

Leaving Johnny’s to be a full-time farmer wasn’t the plan for 2019, but over the course of the summer I’ve come to realize that this is exactly what needed to happen. Runamuk has reached the point where I just cannot do any more if I’m giving my time and energy to another company. I’m one person, farming alone, and I’m needed here. AirBnB is going to allow me to be on the farm full-time, working to grow Runamuk, while still earning that supplemental income we require at this early stage. I decided that William and I are just going to have to get used to hosting guests here─and who knows? maybe it’ll be good for us.

When the Fates Decide…

It’s a wonder to me, how sometimes we can make very deliberate choices for our lives, while other times it seems as though the Fates decide for us. Looking back at some of the doors that have opened and closed for me along the way, steering me further along my journey into farming and wildlife conservation, I can’t help but marvel at how many of my choices were made for me─by circumstance.

what can you do for your planetWhen I look at it that way, how can I not feel as though this is where I was always meant to be? that this work is what I was put here to do? And how lucky am I that the Fates ordained to make my dreams come true, when there are so many out there still waiting for theirs to be made reality?

Every day in this beautiful, marvelous place is a precious gift. Even on the worst of days, I am grateful to be here and to have this opportunity. You can be sure that I will not squander what I have been given. I am giving everything of myself to make it work. Pouring my time, money, energy─my very soul─into this property, growing my farm and feeding my community.

I am a farmer, and this is my story. Thank you for following along.

Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box; OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day-to-day goins-ons of this bee-friendly Maine farm!

The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution; Review & Giveaway

The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution is an eye-opener for the gardener, farmer, or homesteader, who seeks to cultivate soil health wherever they grow. Andrew Mefferd was most obliging to send me a copy of his latest book for review and giveaway. It is my privilege to be able to offer you the chance to win a copy for yourself.

What is No-Till?

No-till is exactly what it sounds like: reducing or avoiding tillage in the garden or crop field. No-till is is about climate change, soil health, and farm profitability─it’s a way to improve all three at the same time. In the introduction of “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution”, Mefferd states:

Ultimately, no till is about the soil, and how improving soil health can also improve atmospheric health and farm bottom lines. Any one of these issues by itself is compelling enough to make us want to try no-till. The fact that no-till makes the connection between all three issues is what makes it so timely.

For example, if you only cared about farm profitability, and didn’t care about the soil or atmospheric health, no-till would still be worthwhile for improving farm efficiency and profitability. Growers who are happy with what they are earning, but want to grow in a more ecological method, will also be interested in no-till.

Avoiding tillage preserves soil structure and protects the soil by leaving crop residues on the soil surface. The improved structure and soil cover increase soil’s ability to absorb and infiltrate water, which in turn reduces soil erosion and run-off, and prevents pollution from entering nearby water sources. This creates an ideal environment for microbial life.

In “Cultivating Soil Health“, the first article in this series on soil, we discussed how plants use sunlight to convert carbon and water into carbohydrates. They use the carbohydrates to grow their roots, stems, leaves and seeds, and then exchange surplus carbohydrates for minerals and nutrients mined from the soil by the microbial life-forms. Carbon is the fuel source driving these interactions. By bolstering soil-life we’re effectively promoting the health of the crops we plant there, which means we can grow bigger (and more nutritious) vegetables and fruits, and we’ll have healthier, more disease-resistant crops.

No-till even lowers the barriers to beginning farmers, making it possible to start a farm without a tractor or even a rototiller. Runamuk is living proof of that. I don’t own a tiller and after buying Runamuk’s forever-farm I could not afford to pay someone to till a plot for our garden here. Yet through a combination of rotational grazing, occultation, and cover-cropping, I’ve managed to establish a fairly sexy 60ft x 100ft plot. If I can do it, anyone can.

Who is Andrew Mefferd?

Click image to purchase with Amazon.

Andrew Mefferd is a Maine farmer who spent 7 years in the research department at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. As part of his job there, he traveled around the world to consult with researchers and farmers about the best practices for greenhouse growing. From Johnny’s, Meffered moved on to become the editor and publisher of Growing for Market magazine. His first book was: “The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook“. Now he’s published a second book, entitled: “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution; High Production Methods for Small-Scale Farmers”.

About the Book

Mefferd has written this book in a laid-back conversational tone, much like the way I write my blog-posts and articles. You feel as though you’re having a conversation with a friend or colleague, or sitting in on a presentation at an ag-conference. In the first part of the book, Mefferd has explained what no-till is, and all of the benefits and disadvantages associated with this method of growing. The second part of the book consists of the case-studies of 17 different farms who are using varying no-till techniques. It’s organized into chapters according to methodology: mulch grown in place, cardboard mulch, deep straw mulch, and compost mulch. Mefferd also highlights the use of plastic for occultation and solarization.

My Opinion

I really appreciate the way Andrew Mefferd has done the leg-work of visiting these farms to interview the farmers about their methods. In my own farming-journey, I’ve often found that learning from other farmers is a very powerful resource. Talking and discussing ideas with other farmers helps me improve my techniques or learn new skills. Sometimes, bouncing ideas off a peer helps me to muster the courage to try something new, or to take on a more intimidating project. While this book is not a step-by-step how-to manual, I do feel it’s worthy of a place on your shelf. What’s more, I feel this book should be shared with as many people as possible in order to spread the word about no-till farming and regenerative agriculture.

The Climate Solution

Regenerative agriculture has the potential to not only mitigate, but actually reverse global warming. At the same time, it provides solutions to other burning issues, such as poverty, public health, environmental degradation, and global conflict.

Read that last paragraph one more time, if you would─and think about what that means….

Regenerative agriculture is THE answer to all of the really big and burning problems humanity currently faces.

regenerative agriculture_definitionScientists have come to recognize that healthy soil plays an essential role in drawing down and sequestering carbon. According to the Rodale Institute, adopting these widely available and inexpensive organic management practices (deemed “regenerative agriculture“) would allow us to sequester all of our annual global greenhouse gas emissions (roughly 52 gigatonnes of CO2). These practices work to maximize carbon fixation, while minimizing the loss of carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.

Rodale states that changing farming practices to organic, regenerative and agroecological systems can increase soil organic carbon stocks, decrease greenhouse gas emission, maintain, yields, improve water retention and plant uptake, improve farm profitability, and revitalize traditional farming communities, while ensuring biodiversity and resilience of ecosystem services. Rodale even goes so far as to say that regenerative organic agriculture is integral to the climate solution.

If you think this seems unlikely and impossible, Rodale has 3 decades worth of scientific data verifying these practices.

The Giveaway

Enter to win this copy of The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution! For 2 weeks, beginning Monday, July 22nd and ending at midnight on August 5th, I’m offering Runamuk followers the opportunity to win this book.

Regardless of where in the world you live, I am willing to send Mefferd’s book to you for FREE, because I want to share it with other growers. I want to inspire you, and the growers around you, to join the regenerative movement. No-till is an important tool in our arsenal of resources, and regenerative agriculture is how we ensure our children’s future on Earth.

Legally, participants must be at least 18, so if you’re younger, please recruit help from a parent or guardian to enroll. The winner will be drawn at random by Rafflecopter, who is hosting this giveaway for Runamuk, and announced on Wednesday, August 7th. No purchase necessary to play.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Possibilities

Andrew Mefferd’s “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution” introduces growers to the possibilities that no-till offers. It opens the door for new farmers, and advocates the sequestering of excess carbon to the soil beneath our feet as the solution to the climate crisis. Through regenerative agriculture we can avert global warming, improve our own existence, and preserve diversity on our planet for all creatures, great and small.

regenerative agriculture shifts the paradigmFarming can save us, folks. But not the kind of industrial farming we’ve been practicing these last 100 years. If we hope to leave our children any kind of legacy, we need farmers who are practicing these methods of regenerative agriculture. With only 2% of the population currently serving as “farmer”, we need lots and lots more people to step up and take on that crucial role. Read “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution” and join the movement today.

 

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the organic no-till farming revolution_review and giveaway

Happening at Runamuk in 2019

runamuk queen

Some pretty exciting stuff’s happening at Runamuk in the 2019 growing season: new gardens, new growing structures, upcoming events, and even more critters! Farmers across the state are gearing up for the coming season and I’ve dropped to 2 days per week in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected seeds. I’m back on the farm full-time, with a long list of chores and projects to prepare Runamuk for the impending 2019 growing season. There’s a lot going on, so go get yourself a cuppa coffee or tea, and sit down with me for a few minutes to read all about it.

Traditionally, following my end-of-year review (click here to read my 2018 review), I post the farm-plan for the upcoming season, but this year─between my responsibilities on the farm and my 4 days per week at Johnny’s, I have not had the time to do that. Dedicated readers to the Runamuk blog may recall that I’m a big advocate for a good 5-year plan; last year I laid out the details of my plan for Runamuk at it’s new #foreverfarm─right before I found out that the Swinging Bridge Farm was a no-go. Feel free view that 5-year plan here, but keep in mind it’s been modified to suit the property at the Hive House.

Our first year at this new and permanent location was about settling in, establishing the infrastructure and livestock accommodations that we require to operate, and preparing the garden for planting. Even with only half a season last year, we managed to do those things and Runamuk is now set up and ready to dive headlong into the 2019 growing season.

Garden, Orchard & Soil

This year is largely about the garden, and I intentionally did not invest money into expanding the apiary so that I could use those funds for the garden, orchard plants, and in-puts for soil remediation.

cover crop
Garden cover-crop October 2018.

If you recall, I cover-cropped and expanded the existing vegetable garden last fall, so that I now have a space approximately 60′ wide and nearly 100′ long. The Runamuk garden is something of a cross between an intensive market-garden and a homestead production-garden─to feed my family and a few others. As soon as the snow is gone and my soil is workable, I’ll be out prepping beds and starting the first crops: peas, greens, brassicas, onions and potatoes.

Establishing perennials is at the top of my list: apple trees, blueberries, raspberries, and a long list of perennial flowers and herbs are going in the ground here. I sent in my Fedco order back in February, and I’m eagerly awaiting their big tree sale to go pick up my plants (check out this post about the Fedco Tree Sale that I wrote a couple years ago), and perhaps get a few more on sale (when I say “perhaps”, I really mean “definitely” lol). I’ve also started many of my own perennial herb and flower seedlings─things like echinacea, yarrow, lovage, coreopsis, mint, lavender and catnip, to name a few─since it’s much cheaper to buy seed and raise these plants myself than it would be to purchase them as young plants at a nursery.

Improving soil health is a top priority, and I’ve devised a strategy for the 2-acre plot between the farmhouse and the back-field that includes frost-sowing a cover-crop of clover, and then rotating the sheep and chickens across the earth. A soil test is also on my list of things to do, but the biggest garden-project this season comes in the form of an NRCS High-Tunnel.

NRCS High-Tunnel!

That’s right! The NRCS has officially designated funds for a high-tunnel at Runamuk Acres! Yaaaaaaaaaay!

For those who are unfamiliar with high-tunnels, they are unheated greenhouses constructed with aluminum emt conduit bent into high hoops and then covered with greenhouse plastic. The NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) offers financial assistance for installation of such a growing structure.

I had submitted the application with the NRCS last summer on a whim─I wasn’t even sure I wanted a high-tunnel! That’s a big structure to erect and maintain by myself! What’s more, the NRCS only pays you after construction is completed, so the farmer has to come up with the funds initially, and after buying the farm and making the investments needed to get up and running at this location, I’m financially tapped out until Runamuk comes up to speed.

But it was an opportunity, and I firmly believe that “We miss 100% of the chances we don’t take.”

So I submitted the application, but doubted I’d be approved─vegetable production was a very small part of my plan; surely the NRCS would find other candidates more suitable than an operation geared toward pollinator conservation?

Apparently someone thought Runamuk was very suitable indeed.

I admit that the site is fairly ideal: flat, level ground that drains well, with easy access to water and electricity. Yet it still came as a surprise when Nick Pairitz at the Somerset County NRCS office called to tell me that Runamuk had been approved for a tunnel.

Initially I was rather dismayed; a high-tunnel is a much larger project than anything I’ve ever done, and I am just one person─one woman. Yet, as tender seedlings fill the Alternate Living Room, spilling over onto our enclosed Porch, I can’t deny the benefits of such a growing structure would offer this farmer.

I recalled old Tom Eickenberg, recent retiree from Johnny’s, made it a point once to tell me that he’d put his high-tunnel up on his own, just to see if it could be done, and he’d assured me that day that he believed I could do the same (thank you for believing in me, Tom!!!). And so, I took a deep breath and signed the paperwork. Runamuk will have it’s high-tunnel.

Increased Wholesale Production

After 6 years attending the Madison Farmers’ Market, I’ve decided that my time would be better served by focusing on distributing our products wholesale to established retailers. It was an incredibly tough decision for me to leave the Madison Farmers’ Market, but now that I have a #foreverfarm, I’ve become keenly aware of where my energy is going. It’s a lot for one person to manage, and I cannot yet give up my part-time job at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which limits my on-farm days, and having parental responsibilities is even further restricting. I have to be very careful with my time.

The farmers’ market essentially takes 2 days from my work-week─1 day to prepare product, and another day at market. Johnny’s takes another 2 days. I began to realize last summer that 3 days on the farm was not going to be enough. The point was really driven home, though, when my schedule at Johnny’s increased to 4 long days per week during the Call Center’s busy season. The farm requires more than 3 days per week from me at this point, and if I’m going to grow Runamuk into the kind of educational center that I’ve envisioned, I need to eventually not be at Johnny’s. At all.

Note: To all my Johnny’s peeps who are reading this─don’t panic, that’s still a year or 2 out. I’ll be in the office for my next shift. I promise.

organic eggs
Organic and grass-fed, farm-fresh eggs from Runamuk!

I’ve decided to focus exclusively on wholesale distribution and have assembled a list of retailers I’m hoping to work with. Runamuk’s product list includes our beeswax soaps, herbal salves, candles, uncertified-organic non-gmo eggs, and we will soon have fresh vegetables to offer, as well as raw honey (harvested at the end of July and in September). If you, or someone you know, would be interested in selling Runamuk’s products, email to request our Wholesale Product List for pricing information.

Farmstand

Initially the plan was simply to convert the frame of a pop-up garage into a hoop-house for seedling production and sell bee-friendly plants right out front through the month of May. Now, with the new tunnel coming, and increased vegetable production in the garden, I’ve decided that the porch should be converted into a casual farmstand. To that end, I’m looking for a used refrigerator to hold eggs and vegetables, and I’m considering options for a display of other farm goods, too.

I’m not sure how well a farmstand will go over here in New Portland, but I’m actually only 11 minutes from Kingfield, and route 16 practically goes right by the farmhouse. I’m hoping that with a little promotion (and some creative and colorful signage), I can attract a few locals, and some of the tourists that travel up and down this main thoroughfare.

Beginning in May, the farmstand will be open Thursday through Saturday 8am to 4pm. While it won’t be staffed, operating on the honor-system, I do plan to be largely on the farm those 3 days and I’ll be available to answer questions or offer assistance to customers.

Classes & Workshops

They’re back! On-farm classes and workshops for skill-sharing; I’m offering day-long workshops on beekeeping, as well as classes on bee-friendly farming, basic construction, and gardening for beginners.

There’s plenty of space here, so if you’re interested in participating, but are “from away”, don’t hesitate to email me to inquire about bringing your tent or RV to camp out back.

Check out our Classes & Workshops page to get more details on the programs Runamuk offers.

Selling Bees!

At long last Runamuk has bees available for local beekeepers to purchase! This is a pretty monumental milestone for me and it feels appropriate that it coincides with our first growing season at our #foreverfarm. Even still, it’s hard for me to part with them, lol, and I admit that I would not do so if I did not need the space for this season’s splits and new Queens.

runamuk queen
Runamuk Queens are a cross between Carnolian and Russian genetics that I’ve found to work well here in Maine.

Last season was my second attempt at Queen-rearing and I produced 35 viable Maine Queens from my own stock of carnolian and Russian honeybees. I used those new Queens to replace every single Queen in my apiary, and made as many nucs as possible in hopes of overwintering them. I filled up every bit of equipment available to me, and Runamuk went into winter with 32 hives. It was not an easy winter for the bees, however most of Runamuk’s colonies came through looking strong. If I had wanted to, I could have bought equipment, housed each of these nucs myself and significantly increased the size of my apiary. But because I chose to invest in the garden and orchard this season instead of the apiary, I need to maintain the apiary as it is.

I did not promote it loudly as I have a very limited number of colonies that I’m willing to part with, and I knew the market’s demand would far surpass Runamuk’s supply. Indeed, the 10 overwintered nucs that I had available have already been spoken for and deposits taken.

There’s still opportunity to get a “Spring Nuc” from Runamuk though, or to get your name on the list for one of my Maine-raised mated or un-mated Queens. Check out Our Bees for details and reserve yours today.

More sheep!

The sheep have grown on me, and I really enjoy having them on the farm. Following Miracle’s death, I’ve come to realize that I definitely need more than 2, but I’m pretty adamant about not having more than 5. I see sheep as an integral component in my strategies for improving soil health here at Runamuk, as well a manageable source of meat for my family and a few others.

And so we have the new ram, whom I’ve dubbed Ghirardelli, like the bittersweet dark chocolate, and the new ewe coming soon, and Jack, the wether who’s coming from my friends, Ken and Kamala Hahn. I’m pretty excited at the thought of the new sheep babies we’ll have here at this time next year!

First broilers on pasture

This season I’ll raise my first-ever broilers on pasture─that’s a pretty big deal in my book.

The idea is to put some meat in my freezer, but the broilers tie in well with my ambitions to improve the soil here through rotational grazing. 50 freedom rangers that will be shipped to the farm in July.

Friends have already volunteered to help slaughter and process the birds, and they’re happy enough to be paid in the form of grass-fed, organic chicken for their own freezer. I find it highly satisfying to be able to share such good food with the people I care about.

Camping at Runamuk

Tucked just inside the forest at the far end of Runamuk’s back-field, I’ll eek out two campsites for potential guests to the farm, and travelers seeking adventure in Maine’s Bigelow Mountain Region. A dirt drive runs through the middle of the field, making access by vehicle easy enough, and the ground is level─ideal for tents, but I can also host campers and RVs (though I have no intention of setting up an RV park).

I’ve created a listing for Runamuk on Hipcamp. Hipcamp is an online service connecting travelers seeking campsites with private property owners offering accommodations in a wide array of settings: ranches, vineyards, treehouses, yurts, backcountry campsites, cabins, air streams, glamping tents and more. If you can think it up, someone somewhere probably has those unique accommodations for you.

I’m picturing a picnic table and fire-pit at each campsite, a shared pit-toilet tucked in the back, out of the way, and an outdoor shower if I can manage to devise one. The wooden platform that I hauled out of the coop last summer will become a tent platform at one of the sites.

There will be signs, and some creative touches of whimsy; I want camping at Runamuk to be magical and special. Life is happening here; I want visitors to notice and walk away with a good feeling and good memories of this special little bee-friendly farm in the mountains of western Maine .

maine mountains
The Bigelow Mountain Region of western Maine.

There are a lot of positives about our location here in New Portland, but the fact is─we’re half an hour from the nearest “city”; most people probably drive through the village of North New Portland and don’t even realize it’s a town. Typically, travelers pass through on their way north or south; rarely is New Portland the destination. I plan to put New Portland on the map with my conservation farm, and I’m hoping the on-site accommodations make it easier for people from away to come and visit.

Ready to Go

As you can see, we’ve got a lot of things happening at Runamuk this 2019 season. It’s going to take a tremendous amount of work on my part, but I’m ready to go. Everything I have done, every move I have made─has been to bring me here to this place at this point in time. I’m ready to do the work to grow Runamuk into the conservation farm that I’ve always envisioned. But even I can admit when I might need a little help (though admitting I need help is easier than asking for it, lol).

I’ve had a few offers of help from friends that I intend to call in for bigger projects like the chicken-processing and skinning the high-tunnel, but I’m thinking it may be prudent to organize a spring work-party too. Historically, I have more seedlings than I can manage in the spring and I’ll find myself scrambling in late June to get as many of the remaining plants in the ground as possible before they perish. Now that we finally have a permanent location, I’m growing copious numbers of perennial flowers and herbs to be planted here for the bees and beneficial insects. I may need help to get them all in the ground and─if you ask me─a “Spring Planting Party” sounds like a really great time. I’ll set a date and get back to you on it.

Now if only it would stop snowing so that spring could finally come….

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Sick Sheep Seldom Survive

miracle the sheep

Sick sheep seldom survive; that’s what Gordon Blauvelt told me this week when I stopped in to retrieve 2 more bags of grain for the sheep. Miracle’s second round of antibiotics and all of the extra grain and alfalfa cubes I’d been feeding her had not improved her health or conditioning. Her breathing was fast and shallow, she continued to lose weight─and she had this sickly sweet smell about her. It had gotten to the point that I felt her quality of life was decreasing by the day, and I knew what needed to be done.

Before I could let Miracle go, however, I needed to line up a new sheep to keep Lily company; sheep are gregarious animals and always want at least one or two companions. Thus, I began the search for new sheep to bring to Runamuk.

Finnsheep!

Miracle and Lily are romneys that were given to me by the Blauvelts, and they are beautiful, wonderful animals, but the breed I really want to work with are known as “Finnsheep“. As a conservation farm, I like to focus on heritage breeds and old breeds that are in need of preservation. Finnsheep are a breed of native Landrace sheep of Northern European origin, with major flocks in Finland and Denmark. The breed is several hundred years old, adapted to Finland’s harsh climate and available rough forage. They are hardy creatures with strong maternal instincts that produce a very fine, lustrous wool, and superior meat.

Personally, I prefer breeds that are derived from climates similar to the conditions that I face here in Maine, and I always like to hear the word hardy used when describing an animal or plant. Even still, it was my friend Kamala who sealed the deal for me.

Kamala and her husband Ken, have a flock of Finnsheep that I’ve cared for on occasion for the family, and I’ve found the sheep always to be engaging, full of quirk and personality, enthusiastic─and very outspoken. I also like the way the animals look, and their variety of colors. Ask Kamala why Finnsheep are a good choice and she’ll gladly launch into a matter-of-fact run-down of all the reasons why Finnsheep are the best choice for the small, homestead farmer.

And so I decided that if I were going to invest any money in sheep, Finns were the breed for me.

Unfortunately, they’re not an especially common breed, and time was against me. Miracle was still eating and moving around fine, but her health was going downhill faster every day, and I felt she was really only hanging on for Lily’s sake. I needed another 1-2 sheep as soon as possible so that I could relieve Miracle of her burdens─preferably ***more than 1*** new addition, so that I would never again find myself in a position where someone was sick and needed to be put down, but had to wait for me to find a replacement companion.

Between calls in the Call Center at Johnny’s on Friday I scoured Craigslist, the Uncle Henry’s, and facebook sheep-groups for listings of Finnsheep; I came up with few options. At the urging of another co-worker (thank you Daria!) I checked out Olde Haven Farm of Chelsea, Maine, and beheld the pictures of their beautiful flock of Finnsheep and all the baby lambs.

I was smitten.

A registered purebred is not something I necessarily need for my purposes (mowing and meat), but I like the idea of having just one reliable, high-quality breeder for my little flock of sheep. On impulse I reached out to Pam and Kelby Young at Olde Haven Farm, and reserved myself one of their baby ewes for a June pick-up.

That was super exciting, but it still didn’t solve my urgent need for an immediate companion for Lily, so that Miracle’s fight could be ended.

new ram
Finn ram on Craigslist.

Initially, I’d intended to avoid having a ram on the farm because it adds another level of fencing strategy that I didn’t necessarily need to deal with. Since I have friends with in-tact Finn males, I can easily avoid keeping a ram for my small flock’s reproduction needs; however, I had been eyeing this handsome 1 year-old Finn ram listed on Craigslist, and decided that it really wasn’t a far stretch at this point for me to step up my sheep operation to include a ram, and so I responded to the ad and set up pick-up for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Saturday morning dawned, and as I worked through the usual farm-chores, I noticed that Miracle was spending an increasing amount of time lying down and was seeming to seek more and more comfort from me. I was really feeling like her quality of life was really going downhill faster with each passing day, and I did not feel good about making her wait any longer to end the suffering, and so I left work early to make the trip to Hartford to retrieve the ram.

New-Sheep Expedition

Historically, expeditions for new livestock are always something of an ordeal, involving confusing directions, several wrong turns, and then the ride home with critters packed carefully inside the car with me. This sheep-mission certainly lived up to that tradition.

I don’t pay for an expensive cell-phone package, instead opting for a low-cost tracfone and sacrificing signal coverage to get by. Often, if I am not near a strong signal or wi-fi access, I will not have connection or phone capabilities. With that in mind, I printed the Google maps and directions to the address provided by the woman from the Craigslist ad, and set out from the office bound for Hartford.

I managed to keep the wrong-turns to a minimum, but the directions to the address turned out to be incomplete, and I’d neglected to get a contact number for the woman with the sheep, so it took longer than anticipated to find the location. Eventually though, I made it there and heaved a sigh of relief.

The trials of this quest were not over, however.

Go to any Maine farm during the spring thaw and you will find a similar scene: muck and manure, ice, mud, and snow in varying stages of decomposition. At the farm this ram came from, the gate to the enclosure he was kept in was frozen fast in the ice and effectively immovable. In order to retrieve him, the farmer’s 16 year-old son and I had to corral the animal, and heft him over the fence. The young ram, who was unaccustomed to wearing a halter and being tethered, was already stressed and distraught, and bolted at the first opportunity.

It took a few tries and a fair amount of slipping in the soft, squishy manure (for both humans and ovine) til we were all three covered and smeared in the sweet, pungent smelling stuff. I admit I almost left without him because I was concerned that he would be too wild to be contained at Runamuk, but the teenager wouldn’t give up and we eventually managed to get the sheep over the fence and up the path to my Subaru, where we loaded him into the back of the car and celebrated our accomplishment with a fist-bump.

finnsheep
New Finnsheep ram on his way to Runamuk!

Rather Offensive

The ride home went smoothly enough─aside from a pit-stop at a McDonald’s in Jay to use the facilities. I stood there waiting for my order, when a white-haired little old lady came up beside me to retrieve napkins and uttered something inappropriate as she walked away, I realized rather belatedly that I probably smelled rather offensive. Looking down at myself, I saw that I was covered in sheep-manure up to the knees, my sweater and vest were both smeared with manure, and my fingerless gloves were infused with manure too. I was a sight to behold, yet I couldn’t help but laugh as I walked out of the restaurant to see my car with the sheep poking his head out a window.

Miracle’s End-of-Life Procedure

It was about 6pm by the time I arrived home with my new treasure. Unloading and escorting the young ram to the sheep-shed was a much smoother process than it had been to load him, and the sheep had a brief introductory period before my friends Rick and Megan came with Rick’s shotgun to help me with Miracle’s end-of-life procedure.

Coyotes yipped and barked from the forest at the far end of the back-field and I was a bundle of nerves as Rick, Megan, Murphy and I went out to the sheep-shed in the dark. I was determined to do the Deed myself─Miracle and this farm are my responsibility, afterall. But at the last minute, standing there in the narrow pathway alongside the sheep-shed as Miracle feasted on a bucket of grain, I caved and decided to allow my friend make the shot. Rick obliged me without judgement, and it was done in the blink of an eye.

Miracle’s fight was over, but the job was not finished yet. I still had to move her carcass away from the sheep-shed.

Coyotes

To allow Lily time to recognize that her friend was gone, I left Miracle’s body where it lay as I thanked and bade farewell to my friends. Then I returned to finish the job, bringing with me a tarp and a stout rope; I found Lily standing over the dead sheep, mourning the loss of her friend as the coyotes sang their eerie songs under the starry night sky.

I held her and we grieved together for a moment, the sheep and I, then I set to work tying the rope onto 2 corners of the tarp and spreading it out on the pathway. Trying not to look at the devastation of a shot-gun round to the sheep’s head, I took Miracle’s body by the feet and hauled her onto the tarp before taking up the rope and proceeding to drag/slide her carcass out onto the snow that still covers the landscape at Runamuk.

I was feeling a bit fearful about the proximity of the coyotes as I paused to strap on my snowshoes, but leaving the sheep’s dead carcass where it fell was not an option, so I began dragging it out across the snow-covered backyard, deeper into the dark of night. Even though Miracle’s disease had ravaged her body, leaving her alarmingly thin for a sheep, she was still a good hundred pounds or more and heavy enough that I had to lean into the rope, putting my weight into it to haul her away.

One step at a time, I moved out across the snow in the direction of the tree line about a hundred yards behind the garage. Lily maaa’ed from the sheep-shed as I took her friend away and I knew she knew what was going on; my heart hurt for her. Pausing to catch my breath, I listened to the coyotes─were they closer? or was it just my overactive imagination?

I was halfway between the farm and the forest─halfway between the safety of the farm’s infrastructure and the dangers that loomed within the darkened forest. The coyote noises were definitely closer than before, I decided, and called for Murphy to accompany me.

To my chagrin, Murphy refused to follow me out into the black night to face the threat of coyotes in his master’s defense. He was as scared of the coyotes as I was! In a last-ditch effort, I yelled out into the darkness at the coyotes, “Go away! I’m out here and I don’t want to meet you! Baaaaaaah!”

The coyotes were undeterred. In fact, only seemed encouraged, as their yipping and barking increased, drawing ever closer.

From across the road, the neighbor’s small dog began barking, almost as though communicating with the coyotes, who barked back at him. I couldn’t help but imagine the little pomeranian was informing the coyotes of my location, “She’s over here!” and fear liquefied the blood in my veins, turning my limbs to jello. But I had a job to do.

Firming my resolve, I once again leaned into the rope and moved Miracle’s body farther away from the garage and closer to the treeline. I watched for the glint of eyes inside the forest as I approached the trees, hauling the sheep-carcass on the tarp behind me. I was shaking now, trembling harder with every snowshoe-step closer to the trees that I took. The snow was softer here than it was out in the open, and when my snowshoes began to sink more than a foot into the snow, I pictured coyotes leaping out of the forest, seizing the opportunity to attack.

None did, and at length, I came within range of the trees beyond the garden area. Quaking with fear─almost a hundred yards from the garage and the sheep-shed, and maybe 10-15 feet from the trees─I decided that was close enough, and I left her there for the night. Turning, I made my way back toward the farmhouse, looking back to make sure there were no coyotes sneaking up behind me as I fled.

Surprisingly, Miracle was untouched the next morning; the coyotes had not bothered the carcass. In the early light of day I hauled Miracle’s body farther down the field and into the forest where nature could take it’s course.

The Tough Call

It’s not an easy thing to do to end the life of an animal you care for─but it is sometimes necessary. You can give them every possible advantage: quality food, medicine, time and attention─and lots of love─and sometimes they’ll recover, but sometimes they won’t. When it reaches the point that medical treatments are proving to be ineffective and the animal’s quality of life is degrading with every passing day, it is love that must drive you to make the tough call to end the creature’s suffering.

miracle the sheepMiracle was this friendly and affectionate, graham-cracker-loving, woolly love-a-bug that you couldn’t help but fall for. She taught me more about caring for sheep than I could have learned in any book or YouTube video, and she is the reason I now feel that sheep are an important part of the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm. Miracle will always have special place in my heart; may we meet again on the other side.

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Another Winter Storm

weather warning

There’s another Winter Storm dropping snow on the state of Maine this morning. My muscles and joints have finally stopped aching from the last storm, but I’m ready to go again, shovel in hand, to face whatever Mother Nature has in store for me. This winter has been something of a mixed bag for Runamuk─and for me. Some good, some bad, but I’m facing each day with gusto and looking forward to my first growing season on my new #forever farm.

weather warning
Snow forecast from the local news station; Runamuk is in the 8-12 band.

The Homestead

2019 came in like a lion at Runamuk, with burst pipes and some unexpected repairs to the car  to usher in the New Year. This old house and I are still getting to know one another, and I’m gradually learning how her internal systems work; stuff like: how quickly it uses oil and propane (there is no woodstove or source of wood heat in this old farmhouse─yet), where the drafts come from, and what parts of the roof need help with snow removal. Thankfully I was at home when the pipes gave, but I was beyond mortified to realize I didn’t know how to turn off the water systems in my house. I was in a sheer and utter panic at the time, and had to resort to calling a friend for help at 9 o’clock at night to get through the emergency. The damage was minimal however, and I can now say that I know how to fix a burst pipe─and how to shut off the water systems in my house.

To help cover the heating costs of this big old farmhouse, I’ve applied for heating assistance with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program. It was a 4-month wait, though, for my appointment, and another 8-weeks before I’ll see any help─if I qualify; so perhaps in March I’ll find some relief on that front. In the meanwhile, I’ve rented out my 6th bedroom─I don’t really need 6 bedrooms afterall, and the extra income has been a godsend this winter.

Initially my baby sister, Marie, was using that particular bedroom, which is rather separate from the rest of the house, and ideal for guests or housemates. When Marie got her own place in early December, I had to decide whether or not I wanted to rent that space to a stranger; with a business to run, kids in the house, and a special needs child all to consider, I knew that getting the wrong person in there could be potentially disastrous. Ultimately though, I felt that the heating costs warranted taking a chance on someone, and I posted an ad to craigslist, but was very selective.

The young woman I’ve let the room to has turned out to be reliable, respectful and quiet. Currently she’s working up at Sugarloaf, the ski resort just 30-minutes north of New Portland, and intends start taking classes at the University of Maine at Farmington in the fall. We’re both passionate about the environment, and have gotten along well. I think I made the right call on that one.

livestock accomodations
The garage with attached livestock accommodations: chicken coop and sheep shed.

On the Farm

The farm itself has been doing well. I’m very satisfied with my choice to base all of the livestock off the garage; keeping them close to the house through the long winter months allows me to keep a good eye on everyone, and it means I’m not hauling water too far. I’ve set up bins for food storage, dedicated a space for hay, straw, and bales of pine shavings, put up thermometers, and run lights on timers. It feels good to have these farm-systems in place, and allows me to work more efficiently.

The hoop-shed I built for the sheep is holding up even in the face of the wind that barrels down off Mount Abram to the west of us; it sweeps across the field to pummel the backside of my buildings here. There was one super-frigid night when the wind was so intense that it whipped around the entrance of the shed and was blowing snow into the interior, which prompted me to provide the girls with a “door”. As expected, I do find myself having to manage this little shed for snow, but it’ll hold a good 8-10 inches of heavy, wet snow without buckling─some sagging, yes─but she doesn’t give in (kinda like me, lol!).

Inside their Winter Coop the chickens are fairly cozy, though after a particularly brutal cold spell, I did see a touch of frostbite on the combs of the Leghorns. That breed has much taller, fleshier combs and are prone to that sort of thing; it doesn’t really hurt the bird in the long run and the girls are otherwise fine. I’m running a heat lamp at night, a lamp for light early in the morning, and collecting an average of 4 to 4.5 dozen eggs a day.

Runamuk @ Meridians!

I’m pretty excited to announce that Runamuk’s eggs are now available in an actual retail store!!!

meridian's in fairfield
Meridian’s in Fairfield now carries Runamuk’s uncertified-organic, grass-fed, non-gmo eggs! Photo credit: Meridian’s.

I’ve partnered with Meridian’s in Fairfield, where locals can now find Runamuk’s uncertified-organic, grass-fed, non-gmo eggs among this neighborhood shop’s fine wines, beer, and local foods. Check out Meridian’s online to learn more about this unique Maine store, which specializes in products that are produced using biodynamic, organic, or sustainable methods.

Between Meridian’s, egg-sales at the office, and a few select locals that I deliver to every couple of weeks, the chickens are paying for─not just themselves, but for all of the animals I keep. That includes the hay and grain for the 2 sheep, food for the 3 cats, Murphy’s premium dog-food, as well as all livestock-related supplies: straw, pine shavings, oyster shell, you name it. I’m really happy about that.

Probably the only negative thing I can say about the current livestock set-up is that the fencing is rather lacking. I was in the midst of erecting a more permanent livestock fence for the winter, when an early November storm dropped nearly a foot of snow on the farm. It’s not uncommon here in Maine to get snow in November, but usually the ground is not yet frozen, temperatures aren’t consistently cold at that point, and the first snow just melts away. That was not the case this year, and as such I was not able to get the fence up. I had to make do with a length of electric net fencing for the sheep, and those chickens who are so inclined, have been allowed to free range in the driveway. You can’t charge an electric fence through snow, so the fence has really just been there for appearance’s sake; the sheep are well-trained and respected it regardless.

earl the rooster
Earl the Rooster. Named for the Dixie Chick’s song: “Earl’s Gotta Die”…just in case he thinks about getting outta line.

They will however follow along the well-packed paths I’ve made with my snowshoes and foot-wear. Eventually the chickens in the coop followed my path across the front of the building to discover the adjoining garage, and have decided it’s a great place to party. I’d already allowed a few of the flock’s rejects to live in the garage, free from persecution (I know…I’m a softee), so it’s an inviting place where Earl the Rooster likes to take his favorite hens to spend the day. Spring cleaning in the garage is going to be a big project come April, and my poor old tractor is sorely in need of a wash. I’ve warned Earl that things are going to be different next winter…

Now, half-way through February, the fence is buried by so much snow that I can only see the tips of the fiberglass posts poking up above it. Neither the chickens nor the sheep will go out into deep snow, so the fence became a non-issue. However, when I came home from Johnny’s one night to some strange poops in my driveway I was pretty puzzled. It took me a few days to realize that they were sheep droppings (in my defense they were totally out of place!); apparently even sheep will follow a path out of curiosity or boredom, and they had no trouble picking their way over the single strand of fence-line that hovered an inch or so above my packed path. I was thankful that nothing severe had befallen the girls during their adventures, but to prevent the sheep from getting out again, I MacGyvered a gate using fiberglass posts and some twine─so far that’s doing the job.

sheep gate
My MacGyvered sheep gate; don’t they look less than impressed!?

At this time of the year I’m at Johnny’s more days than on the farm. I’ve given them 4 days a week this winter season, with a 10-hour shift on Fridays that translates into 18-hour day for me once farm-chores and parental-responsibilities are factored in. Leaving the farm for the day requires a serious amount of energy and coordination. Farming alone and being a single mom at the same time is a lot of work in itself; but when you add 32 hours employment plus driving time (it’s nearly an hour each way for me to travel from New Portland to Fairfield where Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ corporate offices and their Call Center reside) it makes for an unsustainable situation. Eventually I would burn out.

Thankfully, it’s only temporary; come April I’ll be back to just 2 days a week in the office. The rest of the week I’ll be working for Runamuk.

I am giddy as a schoolgirl at the prospect of Runamuk’s 2019 growing season. Currently 31 of the 32 hives I had going into winter are surviving; it’s still too early to say how many will come through, but if the bulk of these colonies make it I could be very busy in the apiary this spring. …I might even have to sell some of them….

snowy apiary
The Runamuk apiary at Hyl-Tun Farm in Starks, Maine, as of Feb. 4th, 2019.

It’s going to be a big year for gardens, too, here at Runamuk’s new #foreverfarm location. I’m planning a large homestead/market garden, and investing in 10 apple trees, rhubarb, elderberries, and a Serviceberry tree. There’s a long list of perennial herbs and flowers going into existing perennial beds, which will all get some loving attention─and Runamuk will be offering bee-friendly seedlings for sale to local growers.

Gotta Get Through March

I’m so stoked! It’s looking to be a really great season─but first I gotta get through March. Currently however, it’s only the middle of February and it’s snowing again. School has been cancelled for the day, and there’s a good 12-inches waiting for me in the driveway. The snowblower that came with the house is beyond my ability to repair, and the banks on either side of the driveway are now so tall that it takes more effort to push the snowscoop up over them, than it does to pitch it with a shovel. I’ll be outside most of the day moving snow with my trusty shovel, and I’ll definitely be sore the next few days, but I’m doing OK. I’m holding my own here, and I’m damn proud of that.

Check back soon for more farm updates! Subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox, or follow us on Instagram for special “behind-the-scenes” peeks at the day-to-day going-ons at the this bee-friendly conservation farm!

Homegrown Winter Salads

homegrown pea shoots

I haven’t posted about it in a while, but I’m still growing shoots and sprouts as part of my Winter Growing Challenge, and I am loving my homegrown winter salads! I’ve modified my methods for growing shoots this year, and─so long as I remember to soak the seed on a regular basis─I’ve been harvesting 1 flat of pea shoots, and 1-2 quarts of sprouts per week. These have been a refreshing addition to our family’s typical winter-fare, and especially great on those days when I’m in the office at Johnny’s all day.

homegrown winter salad
A big bowlful of freshly harvested, homegrown pea-shoots!

These homegrown winter salads are great, because you can keep them simple, or get as elaborate with them as you like; so long as there’s some kind of leafy green forming the foundation of the dish, it’s still classified as salad. I’ve drizzled vinaigrette dressing over a bowlful of pea shoots and called it salad; but typically I like to at least have some shredded carrot and thinly sliced onion in my salads, and some kind of cheese too.

Up until recently, my two boys have always been exceptionally good eaters. William especially has always been fond of vegetables and fruits, and─while he will certainly eat cookies and candies if given the opportunity─he would also just as readily take an apple or even a pepper or raw mushrooms as a snack. Imagine my surprise when I set this big beautiful bowl of homegrown winter salad on the table, only to have William exclaim in dismay, “Salad again!?”

I suppose, at nearly 16 years old, such a reaction from my eldest son is not so unusual…I’ll hope it’s a passing phase and keep growing these greens anyway.

BraeTek and I have enjoyed several homegrown winter salads. He’ll be 12 in a month, and so far the only food he really doesn’t care for is tomatoes.

I’ve even bestowed a few salads upon colleagues in the office─trying to share the love. Love for homegrown winter salads. Love for fresh greens. Love for real food and self-sufficiency. And just love in general; it’s nice to know someone cares, right?

If you recall─last year, due to tight living quarters, I only had a dresser drawer for germination, and a small rack in front of a kitchen window for growing out my shoots. I was using 4×6-inch aluminum loaf pans, and even with 3-5 of those per week, we just didn’t seem to eat as much salad as I had hoped for.

This year, thanks to the spacious, rambling house that came with Runamuk’s #foreverfarm, I’ve been able to significantly step up my efforts to produce fresh leafy greens in the form of shoots and sprouts. I brought the grow-rack that I’d constructed back in 2015 into the house, and set up my grow lights on it. I put my soil in a bin, and in another I put all of my seeds for shoots, sprouting, and microgreens, so they’d be in one central location, and easily accessible for use. To house seeds while they soak, and for storing associated equipment, I’m using this wooden cabinet. It’s a pretty sweet set-up.

winter growing grow station
My winter growing station! Love this set-up!

Instead of the 4×6-inch aluminum loaf pans, I purchased Johnny’s Shallow Black Germination Trays, which are perfect for shoots and micros. Ideally I would have invested in the Hard Plastic Perma-Nest Trays as well, because these trays have drainage slots in them and in order to prevent excess water from going onto my carpet I need to have some way to catch it. Finances are tight though, so I’ve opted to hold off on the perma-nest trays, and I’m making do with an over-turned humidity dome for the time being. It’s not elegant, but it works.

Note: I’m all too familiar with tight financial situations, but don’t let that keep you from growing your own winter greens! Check out “Repurposed Containers for Growing Shoots” for possible alternative tray ideas that won’t eat into your budget.

homegrown winter salads
“Seed weighing station”

I’ve found .3lb of pea shoot seed works very nicely on the 1020 trays, so I just weigh out the seed into a bowl, cover the seed with water and place the bowl in my wooden cabinet overnight. The next day I fill a tray with soil (I keep the soil in my bin pre-moistened), spread the seed even across it, water them in, and cover with a damp cloth. The covered flat of seeds is placed on a shelf on the grow rack, but I don’t turn the lights on until germination has occurred and the seeds begin to sprout. At that point the cloth can be removed, and, with the fixtures positioned just above the trays (you don’t want plants to have to stretch for the light), I flip the switch on the lights.

Note: for more detailed instructions check out this article I wrote last year: How to Grow Shoots for a Supply of Leafy Green Vegetables This Winter.

I usually have to water the trays about every other day. Before germination occurs, I water right through the cloth that covers the seeds. After that, bottom watering would be preferred, but my current set up makes that impossible, so I just gently water from above─just enough to moisten the soil.

After about a week my pea shoots are ready to harvest. 1 of these flats fills a 1 gallon storage bag for me, and will keep very well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

My sprouts are in a cupboard in the kitchen; I like to keep them next to the sink since they require twice daily rinses. These are simply pint-sized mason jars that hang out among my drinking glasses. I have a scrap of linen that I keep near the sink, which I pull out to drain the seeds after a rinse, then the jar goes back into the dark cupboard until the sprouts have their first sets of leaves. Once that happens I’ll take the jar and place it in a sunny window to green the leaves up, and then the sprouts are stored in a Ziploc bag stashed in a drawer of the fridge.

I’ve been crazy busy since I bought the farm, and now that “Busy Season” is upon us in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, I’m spending 4 days a week off the farm. I feel like I’m always running, running, running; there’s so much to be done and I’m just one woman─so I’ve streamlined processes, and set up systems that allow me to perform tasks as efficiently as possible. I like my shoot-and-sprout production systems. I even have a salad-system, because on mornings when I’m getting ready to go to Johnny’s, preparing a salad for lunch is usually asking too much of myself.

On those mornings, by the time I get both boys off to school, feed and water 70 animals, shut down the big old house and make sure I have myself in order, often I’m running late and don’t have time to shred carrots or slice onions. So I’ve taken to keeping shredded carrot and cheese, and a sliced onion in Ziploc baggies in the fridge, which makes it super easy for me to literally throw a salad into a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and head out the door.

These greens seem almost to burst in your mouth when you chew them, so fresh and full of life-giving nutrition. When I’m sitting there in my cubicle at Johnny’s, tethered to their phone, eating my homegrown salad─I feel like I’m spoiling myself a little. Or maybe this is what “taking care of yourself” looks like, lol. Either way, I’m super happy with my homegrown winter salads.

Who else is growing their own fresh, leafy greens this winter? Leave a comment below to share with us what you’re growing! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box; OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm. Thanks for following along!

A Growing Season

i'm mostly meme

Autumn 2018 has been a growing season for me on a deeply personal level. These darker days of the year are a time for self-reflection, and somehow, with the purchase of the farm now behind me, I finally found myself strong enough to deal with some healthy confrontation. I turned inward this fall, embracing the discomfort of personal growth, and now, on the other side of it all─and facing a new year on a farm that is mine─I’m feeling stronger than I’ve ever been.

i'm mostly meme

It’s a little embarrassing to admit that this is the first time I’ve ever lived on my own, but that’s the path my life’s journey has taken. While Runamuk has always been largely my project, I’d always had support and help on occasion from a significant other. It’s been more than a year though, since I’ve had anyone resembling a “significant other” in my life. Being alone here since July, with only myself to rely on has been both terrifying and liberating at the same time. I couldn’t help but worry that I’d bit off more than I could chew. So many people helped me to get here, and so many people are watching─what if I can’t do it? What if─after everything I’ve been through to get here─I fail now?

Despite my fears and misgivings, I welcomed the chance to stand on my own two feet, and I think my work here at Runamuk this fall has proven that I’m capable of getting things done on my own. I bought a farm, moved all of my farming bits and bobs over, and have proceeded to set up shop─constructing livestock housing, reclaiming gardens, building compost bins, establishing work spaces, and cultivating a sense of home and security for my children. I did all that while still working part-time in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

At first it felt uncomfortable; I was not accustomed to being alone. I struggled with it earlier in the summer, but then as autumn came on I accepted and leaned into the seclusion. It is in this solitude that I am learning to better know myself, to love myself and to be myself. I embraced the dark days and really reflected on myself, my relationships, and the things that are truly important to me.

For far too long I’ve given my love freely to those around me, in hopes of being so loved in return. I have great capacity to love, and─having dealt with my own share of depression, anxiety, and personal hardships─I want the people around me to know that someone in this world cares about them. In the words of the great James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend.”

I can’t deny, however, that we all perceive the world in different ways based upon whatever experiences life hands us. I came to realize that my love was unwarranted in some cases─even unwanted sometimes, and that sometimes─people just do not have room in their lives for love.

It was a very painful lesson for me and my heart is still healing from it.

Having a big heart is one of the things I love most about myself. I love; it’s what I do. I love nature and my kids, my friends and family, my community. Love is the reason I do the things I do─and why I give so much of my time and energy to my community.

Conversely, allowing that tender heart and my precious love to be taken advantage of is one of the things I like least about myself. I will give and give and give of myself if I think it will make someone happy, if I think it will help someone in need─and often I, myself, am the one in need. It brings to mind the story of The Most Foolish Traveler, take a few minutes to watch, if you will.

The moral of the story is that I am finally learning to set boundaries. I am learning to love myself first, and to prioritize the people and things I care most about so that my love and energy flows where it is most valued by me and me alone. Afterall, this is my journey, and I am the Captain of my own life. Queen of my own castle.

This was an unusually personal post, I know, but I believe it’s important to share our struggles so that others who might also be suffering know they are not alone. If I’m having to work through these kinds of issues, it’s likely there’s someone else out there who is faced with similar troubles.

This was also to acknowledge those feelings of fear and inadequacy that are ever-present, because anyone who thinks they’re going to go into farming should be prepared to feel those things. This is an intense business─a highly rewarding lifestyle on an intrinsic level, but it’s also a super-intense business. There will be days when you are on top of the world─the sun is shining, you’ve got it all together and things are going smoothly; but then come the days when you’re farming from the trenches. Those are the days that Murphy’s Law prevails, you’re covered in animal shit, literally bleeding, broken and crying in the rain─and you limp into the farmhouse at the end of the day, licking your wounds with your tail between your legs.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Leaning into my own discomfort, and allowing myself to grow and evolve, is going to set Runamuk up for some really good growth this coming season. Check back soon for my annual Year-End Review, and look for more on the way about what’s in store for runamuk in the 2019 growing season!

Bringing Back the Winter Growing Challenge!

pea shoots

December is practically on our doorstep and with it comes the start of the 2018 Winter Growing Challenge! Woot woot! I’m looking forward to growing fresh greens inside my home again this winter: shoots and sprouts─maybe I’ll even try my hand at some microgreens this year. With 2 teenaged boys to feed, the additional source of veg will be most welcome. It’s also a good excuse to have something green and growing to look after during this long, cold stretch of the year. You’re invited to play along, of course!

winter growing challenge
Pea shoots grown by Moon Valley Farm of Maryland! Check them out online at: https://www.moonvalleyfarm.net/

Bringing Back the Winter Growing Challenge!

Those who have been following along may recall last year’s Winter Growing Challenge (WGC), but for those who are new here─the WGC is something I started last year to encourage myself (and others) to grow shoots and sprouts through the darkest, coldest depths of winter. The idea was to provide a source of fresh vegetation at a time of year when fresh greens are scarce─to be able to offer a nutrient-dense source grown in your own home. It’s not just good for our health─it’s good for our psyche too. So I’m bringing it back!

Winter Growing Pledge:

I, Sam(antha) Burns─farmer, beekeeper, gardener, blogger, and Mom to
2 young men-to-be
─pledge to grow more food this winter. I am challenging myself to
grow shoots and sprouts (and maybe microgreens!) in order to
provide a source of fresh, nutrient-dense greens.

Who Can Play?

eating shoots and sprouts
Shoots and sprouts salad in a jar.

Anyone!!! From the homesteader or the home gardener, to the individual who has never grown anything before─I’m inviting you to follow along with my Winter Growing Challenge, learn from my adventures (and misadventures) and give it a go. Grow your own shoots and sprouts this winter, share pictures of your tender green shoots to Instagram to spread your excitement. Post to Facebook your recipes for creative new ways to use your fresh greens; share your experiences and encourage others around you to take up the Winter Growing Challenge too!

If you need more reason to participate, I’ve got 13 Reasons to Grow Your Own Shoots this Winter! Those who’ve never grown shoots and sprouts, don’t sweat it─check out: How to Grow Shoots for a Supply of Leafy Green Vegetables this Winter and Sprouts; Easy DIY Winter Greens.

When & Where?

For 3 months, beginning the first week of December and running through February, I will be posting about my WGC progress on the blog and via social media. There will be new articles to inspire you to grow shoots and sprouts yourself, as well as recipes, and links to resources to help you along the way. I’d recommend subscribing by email to receive new posts from Runamuk directly in your in-box so that you don’t miss a thing!

Up-Coming WGC Giveaway!

To help others get started with growing their own greens this winter, I want to give a few of you a Winter Growing Challenge Kit! These kits will contain the supplies needed to get started growing your very own shoots and sprouts: growing trays, enough growing medium to get going, seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (pea seed for shoots, and alfalfa seed for sprouting), and a few other surprises squeezed into the box. That’s happening in December, so be sure to check back soon to enter the drawing for the giveaway.

Join Me!

winter growing challenge 2018
Lush green pea shoots. Photo courtesy Magic Valley Greens N Things.

This will be the 2nd annual Winter Growing Challenge. Join me in taking up the Winter Growing Challenge this season. Grow more food to feed your family fresh veg for a healthier, more sustainable and self-sufficient life. If I can do it, so can you!

Thanks for following along!!! Subscribe by email to receive the latest updates directly to your in-box. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day-to-day happenings on this Maine farm!

Page 82 of the 2019 Johnny’s Seeds Catalog

page 82 of the johnny's seeds catalog

Page 82 of the 2019 Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog is about recommended lettuce varieties for hydroponic growing─but you’ll also find my own smiling face there! That’s right!! Johnny’s has chosen to feature little ol’ me as a valued provider of knowledgeable service in their Call Center!

page 82 of the johnny's seeds catalog

When Amanda Terenzoni from the marketing team initially contacted me about doing a testimonial for the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog, I was flattered. For a girl who grew up in the backwoods of Maine─who comes from nothing and expects nothing─to be recognized by Johnny’s in this way is a huge honor. I am profoundly grateful, but also just a little uncomfortable with the attention lol, and inwardly I balked at the idea.

I’m a Little Shy!!!

You may not know this about me because I write on a very public platform and I’m fairly active on social media, but I’m actually a bit shy and introverted.

As a creative-type, I’ve always been more than content to spend my time alone, reading, gardening, being artsy-craftsy─and writing. What’s more, my particular life’s journey led me through trials that isolated me from the rest of the world for the better part of my life. As a result of that isolation, I’m lacking a bit in social skills; I also became a very guarded person─afraid to share the real me with anyone. It’s been a challenge to step up and fully be myself with the people around me and something I’m still working on.

I figure social skills and interpersonal relationships are like anything else in life, though. It gets easier with practice, and you get better at it…hopefully. Ultimately, I want the connection with other people (community, friends and family)─at least sometimes lol. I still value my time alone for creative pursuits, but the connections I’ve made have brought a special kind of value to my life. They’ve enriched my journey, made it more meaningful, and I prize those connections very highly.

Bravely Sharing My Story

I also want to see Runamuk succeed and a big part of running any business is marketing. You have to put your products where they can be seen, and you have to inspire people to buy them. To do that you have to share your story, and since Runamuk and I are essentially one and the same, here I am; bravely sharing my story.

I would be interviewed by George Simonson, a Maine writer that Johnny’s contracts with. There would be a photoshoot at the Johnny’s Seeds Research Farm with Kristen Early, Johnny’s official photographer. The piece would be published in Johnny’s smaller catalog, Amanda told me, which goes out to some 240,000 home gardeners. Compared to the 1.5 million copies of Johnny’s master catalog that go out to growers worldwide, that was much less intimidating and so I agreed to it, if somewhat reluctantly.


It’s always really cool to visit the research farm. This time I happened to run into Rob Johnston (the founder of Johnny’s Selected Seeds) when I got lost in the office building at the farm. I was searching for Kristen and he helped me find my way─what a guy! After the photoshoot I went to say hi to fellow colleagues, and got to lob pumpkins with them during seed-processing. Totally epic!


Local Farmers and Gardeners Work at Johnny’s

Johnny’s wanted to feature the “knowledgeable service” they offer their customers. Did you know that in the Call Center, Johnny’s only hires farmers and gardeners for the job? When a you call Johnny’s Selected Seeds, you’re talking to someone sitting right here in Maine, who actually grows. Farmers like me, and gardeners who spend their evenings and weekends cultivating food just like you.

This is something that the folks at Johnny’s really pride themselves on─and so they should! People don’t just call us to order seeds; the wide-ranging spectrum of questions we field in the Call Center is nothing short of astounding. On any given day we’re talking to anyone from the brand-spanking new backyard-gardener, to the 40-year veteran farmer. They’re rural homesteaders or apartment dwellers seeking to grow something─anything─inside their high-rise city apartments. Or we might speak with organic growers, market gardeners, or large-scale commodity farmers. We get them all, and we help each of them to the best of our ability─if that means transferring the call to another colleague because he/she has more experience with X, then that’s what we do.

Sometimes, helping the customer is as simple as finding out how many seeds are in a “packet” of beans, or helping the customer to understand the pricing in the catalog (“What does the M mean?”). We help growers select varieties that will work best in the conditions they’re facing. We explain how tools work, or describe methods for cover cropping and make suggestions for farm-seed. We help farmers determine how much seed they’ll need to plant in a given space, and so on and so forth…

It’s all valuable information that Johnny’s is offering FREE as a service to growers everywhere. You don’t even have to place an order to ask us a question─and now that they’re offering Chat on their website, it’s easier than ever to connect with an experienced grower at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Proud to be at Johnny’s

working at johnny's
Here I am, working in the Call Center at Johnny’s.

This will be my 4th year with the company, and I really am proud to be an employee at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They have been so good to this wayward female farmer, allowing me the utmost flexibility in scheduling so that I can continue to farm full-time, raise my kids as a single mom, and still show up for my scheduled shifts. The people at Johnny’s really value what I bring to the table as a beekeeper, farmer and blogger. Time and time again my colleagues have opened the door of opportunity to me because they truly want to see Runamuk succeed.

These are some of the people who know best how long and how hard I’ve worked to make my farm-dream a reality. They’ve seen me at my best and they’ve seen me at my worst. My colleagues have shared in my struggles and celebrated my victories. In a way, my recent farm-purchase was as much their victory as it was mine: to see one of their own accomplish something so momentous was compelling for many of the people at Johnny’s, I think. I saw this testimonial as a way to give a little something back to this company that has done so much for me.

─> Call Johnny’s!!! <─

I want growers everywhere to know that Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a valuable resource they can rely on. 

Certainly, you should keep a library of reference books. Definitely, use the internet to do your homework. When you get stuck though, it can be extremely helpful to talk to another human being─to get an different perspective, an nonobjective opinion, or to learn first-hand the experiences of other farmers and gardeners. Absolutely call Johnny’s! your ally in successful growing; they’ve amassed a veritable legion of farmers and gardeners available at the touch of a button to be able to provide you with the information you need to make educated decisions for your garden or farm.

Rallying to the Cause

In the Call Center at Johnny’s we’re gearing up for our busy-season; January through June the place is a mad-house─the phones ring non-stop, orders are downloaded from the website every couple of hours, and everyone processes mail-orders in their spare time. It’s exciting and chaotic at the same time, but each department at Johnny’s works in tandem with the next to ensure that all the cogs of this great seed company run smoothly, ensuring that growers receive the seeds and tools they need to have a successful season.

buying more seeds memeOver the course of the next month or so, Johnny’s seasonal employees (local farmers who work for the seed company during the winter) will be returning to the office. It’s heartwarming to welcome back colleagues we haven’t seen since the spring, to hear of their season’s successes and struggles, and to reconnect with friends. Seeing the other farmers returning always feels to me a little like the troops are rallying to the cause─to help families, friends, and communities to feed one another by providing superior seeds, tools, information, and service at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Somewhere along the way, the marketing team at Johnny’s decided to use my testimonial in the full-length catalog, and so my face is going to end up before those 1.5 million growers afterall. The introvert in me is freaking out just a little at the idea of being seen by so many. Yet, if it translates into a) an increased following for Runamuk, and b) more growers taking advantage of the resource they have in Johnny’s─then I will be pacified.

The new 2019 Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog are beginning to ship out this week; home gardeners and commercial growers will find them in their mailboxes within days. Inevitably they will turn to page 82 and see my face there─my big debut lol. Eeeeeeeeeeeek! Feel free to ask for Sam when you call Johnny’s to place your order this winter; let me know you’re following my blog─I’d love to connect with you!

Thanks for following along! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box, or follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day-to-day happenings on this Maine farm!