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….

Thanks for following along with our story! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a glimpse at the day-to-day activities on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

Farming as a Way Forward for Maine’s Economically Depressed Regions

dharma farm

Not too long ago I attended a town meeting in Madison in which I told selectmen that I see farming as a way forward for our economically depressed region of Maine. A new zoning ordinance had been passed in Madison that affects agriculture in my hometown, and I was there in official capacity as a representative of the Madison Farmers’ Market. It is my hope that people will see the rationale of this concept. We can revitalize our rural economies through agriculture. Farming IS a viable way forward; I truly believe this.

dharma farm
Jeff Knox of Dharma Farm in Washington, ME. Photo credit: Dharma Farm. Find them online today!

Even in the midst of the local foods movement, it’s difficult to persuade the mainstream public that farming is a viable option for regional growth, and I doubt my words bore much weight with Madison’s Board of Selectmen. For far too long society has viewed farming as work that any simpleton can do; work that involves long hours of toil and drudgery, and results in little pay and a low-quality of life. Farming has not been a career choice parents generally wanted for their children. I’m taking this opportunity to present 7 reasons why I believe in farming as the way forward for Maine’s economically depressed regions.

1. Support Local Economies

Supporting family farms and local community food systems is a powerful strategy for jumpstarting our fragile economy and strengthening communities across America. Agriculture is a frequently overlooked source of economic development and job creation.

The economic impact of the nation’s food producers stretch far beyond the limits of their farms and ranches. Food systems link farmers with other enterprises, from input providers for seed and fertilizers, to retail chains, restaurants and everything in between. Every year consumers spend over $1 trillion on food grown by US farmers and ranchers, yet the real value of agriculture to the nation lies much deeper.

Farmers are the backbone of our nation, the first rung on the economic ladder; studies show that when farms thrive, Main Street businesses and local communities thrive too. Consider farming as a way forward.

2. Cultivate Food Security

farming as a way forward
Harvest-time at Daisy Chain Farm, Belfast, Maine. Photo credit: Daisy Chain Farm. Find them online!

Studies show that access to healthy, affordable nutritional food is an issue in urban areas, as well as rural regions. Michelle Kaiser, researcher in the School of Social Work in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, says:

People don’t think of rural areas as places without healthy foods. However, many people live miles from the nearest store, and this makes them less likely to buy fresh, perishable foods because they buy groceries less often. In urban areas, many people buy their food from restaurants or convenience stores, where nutritious food is scarce. Even if there is a nearby grocery store, many people don’t have access to reliable transportation to those stores.

Increasing the availability of whole-foods, such as fruits and vegetables, enables people to avoid processed, unhealthy foods.

What’s more, local food production enables a country or region to overcome food insecurity and recover from emergencies. When disaster strikes, distribution channels can fail and supermarkets can become out-of-stock in short order. By focusing on farming as a way forward, we’re investing in our own long-term food security.

3. Stewardship Opportunities

A 2012 report by the UN titled “Food & Agriculture: the Future of Sustainability” suggests that significant investment in small and medium-sized farms is needed to improve the overall health and viability of our food system worldwide.

Small family farms have been shown to be the most effective, per acre, at ecological stewardship, biodiversity and production of nutrition. These small farms are better able to maintain the quality of soil, air and water, compared to large scale agriculture, which degrades soil and water quality in the short term, reducing the biological health of the soil ecosystem, and also making them more vulnerable to disease, drought, crisis and collapse.

Farming key to reducing greenhouse gases and improving our overall health with better food options. It’s time to support these small farms and invest in local agriculture.

4. Increased Self-Reliance

Fostering local agriculture increases a community’s self-reliance and reduces our overall dependence on Industry. Small farms are teaching facilities where people can learn that there’s something everyone can do right now, to improve their own self-sufficiency and live healthier lives. Your local farmers can teach you everything from how to cook the vegetables and meats you buy at the farmers’ market, to how to bake your own bread, how to compost, and how to grow your own food─farmers are always willing to share their knowledge and skill-sets.

Increased self-reliance allows us to avoid more processed foods, live healthier, more meaningful lives, and save money too. These skills give us independence from big Industry, which doesn’t always have our best interests at heart, and affords communities a measure of security knowing that if something were to happen tomorrow to prevent the distribution of food and goods to the supermarkets, we have the capability of providing for ourselves and those around us. Farming as a way forward allows us more independence.

5. Build Community

Scientific studies indicate that food, specifically when shared and experienced with others, has also shown to benefit our minds, enrich our feelings toward other people, and it can increase people’s trust and cooperation with one another. Social psychologist, Shankar Vedantam states:

“To eat the same foods as another person suggests that we are both willing to bring the same thing into our bodies. People just feel closer to people who are eating the same food as they are. And then trust, cooperation—these are just the consequences of feeling close to someone.”

It may not seem like a ground-breaking discovery, but sharing food with other people can have longstanding effects and should be utilized as a powerful tool in our community-building arsenal. Food has an amazing ability to draw us together. We all have powerful memories of being cooked for, and those acts of generosity and love run deep within us─they inspire us, and compel us to reciprocate. Through food we can foster relationships, motivate people and build community.

6. Vibrant Farming Community

farming as a way forward for economically depressed regions
Seedling production at Bumbleroot Organic Farm, Windham, Maine. Photo credit: Bumbleroot Organic Farm.  Find them online!

Maine has a longstanding agricultural legacy that pre-dates the arrival of European settlers, and at one time our great state was considered the bread-basket of the nation. Since the 17th century farming has changed significantly, but agriculture has continued to be a driving force in our state, with new farms being started at a rate nearly four times faster than the national average. Maine also boasts one of the highest organic-to-conventional farm ratios in the United States.

We’re fortunate to have a robust farmer support system, with MOFGA─the nation’s oldest and largest organic farming organization, the Maine Farmland Trust, and a surprising lack of partisan preoccupation when it comes to agriculture in the state-houses. Why shouldn’t we build upon this industry that’s already established and thriving in our state?

7. Land-Rich

Maine is a land-rich state. With the exception of the coastal region and some scattered cities in the southern and central part of the state, we’re still very rural, with large tracts of land yet undeveloped. Land that had once been farmed has since been abandoned and is just waiting for a good steward to breathe life back into it. Entire fields where dairy cows once grazed have been forgotten, and in many cases are merely bush-hogged annually to keep the forest at bay.

Many homeowners own more than half an acre, and some families possess larger tracts that are passed down from one generation to the next. If you were born and stayed here in Maine, there’s a good chance you know someone who has acreage where opportunity for farming exists. This is a huge resource that Mainers can utilize to generate income for themselves─if only they would consider farming as a way forward.

Consider Farming as a Way Forward

Society’s long-standing perception of farming as a poor career choice is pervasive, but slowly beginning to crumble thanks to the modern agricultural movement. There’s a new generation of farmers on the horizon─they come to farming from all walks of life, and a broad spectrum of demographics and interests. Not just young people, but parents seeking a better lifestyle for their families, older folks looking to make a change in their lives or to start something new; they’re an incredibly diverse group. 

These new-age farmers want to make a difference in the world; they’re into the idea of clean food and living more sustainably on the land. People are finally beginning to realize that our natural resources in this world are not going to last forever; these new-generation farmers want to do their part─not only to conserve what we have for future generations─but also because it’s the right thing to do.

Who are we to think ourselves so superior to every other life-form on this planet that we can justify the consumption of Earth’s resources? How can we legitimize the ravaging of the planet that we share with other creatures? And what gives us the right in the here-and-now to disregard those who will come after we are gone? What kind of legacy are we leaving behind? and would our descendants thank us for it if they ever could?

If we search our hearts, I think we all know the answers to those questions. No, you’ll likely never get rich serving the land and community, but farming IS a viable way forward, and I urge you to consider it. I urge our elected officials not to overlook the possibilities that agriculture holds for our rural regions. I ask parents not to disregard the opportunities that farming might offer your children. And I beseech people young and old to consider farming─on any scale─to make a difference in this world.

What do YOU think? Feel free to weigh in; leave a comment below!

2018 Year-End Review

2018 top 9

It’s time for Runamuk’s 2018 Year-End Review! A quick review of my adventures in farming over the course of 2018 to give us some perspective before we launch into 2019, and all of the shiny new opportunities that await this farmer now that we finally have a permanent place to call home.
2018 best 9Sometimes we wait 10 years for that 1 that will change your life; 2018 was that year for me. Closing on the Hive House is the biggest accomplishment of my life, and while I still have goals I want to achieve, I’m doubtful that anything I do from here on out will ever compare to buying a farm and seeing that lifelong dream come true. Farm ownership has changed my life─it’s changed and it’s made all the difference for my family. Before we move on to 2019 and all the possibilities that it might have in store for us, I’d like to take a moment to review 2018 at Runamuk, and reflect on the lessons I learned as a beekeeper, as a farmer, and as a person.

The Runamuk Apiary

runamuk apiary_may 2018The winter months of 2018 were harsh for many beekeepers across Maine; Runamuk lost 20 out of 21 hives. It’s not the first time I’ve lost a significant portion of my apiary, but it’s always a disappointment and a big set-back to my operation. A visit from the state apiarist, Jennifer Lund, who examined the dead-outs, confirmed my suspicions. I did everything “right”, but the severe cold we experienced for prolonged stretches during January and February, combined with the bizarre the fluctuations in temperatures, had caused the bees to perish.

So I started again. I bought in 10 packages and 5 nucs this spring, and raised almost 40 of my own Queens, which were either installed into nucleus colonies, or replaced Queens in existing hives. I did much better this year with Queen-rearing; I’ve learned that timing is hugely important, as is providing adequate stores and nurse bees to your mating nucs. Right now I’m managing over 30 colonies, but the real question is: how many will survive the winter?

A drought during the main nectar flow this year, meant the bees were unable to make much in the way of surplus honey. The little honey that Runamuk produced was redistributed among the nucleus colonies I raised for 2019─I’m determined to NOT buy in bees this year. Customers were disappointed that I did not have honey for sale, and there was a significant impact to my finances as well.

Those severe weather conditions of the 2018 winter qualified me for the FSA’s ELAP program (Emergency Livestock Assistance Program). It was more paperwork and more waiting on the FSA, but in October I received $1200 from the government to reimburse Runamuk in-part for bees purchased to replace hives lost to the severe winter conditions. It didn’t completely cover the cost of the replacement bees, but it was definitely a help.

Farm & Garden

apiary apprenticeships
The laying flock working the garden.

Our late-season closing date had significant impact on the Runamuk farm and garden operations. Thankfully, I was able to plant potatoes and onions in a transition plot in Norridgewock, because aside from that I was not able to grow vegetables during 2018. By the time we arrived on the scene at the Hive House it was the beginning of July and preparations for moving the chicken flock took priority.

To house the flock of laying hens at our new #foreverfarm, I constructed twin chicken tractors. I rolled them onto the neglected garden plot, and set the birds to work on the weeds and the soil. Investment in electric-net fencing and solar chargers allowed me to rotate the flock around the future garden site, and opened the door for more rotational-grazing in seasons to come.

happy sheep at runamukLater in the fall Runamuk was gifted a pair of Romney sheep, which will work well in tandem with the chickens in my rotational-grazing schemes. These lovely ladies are so sweet and gentle; they’ve added a special dynamic to the Runamuk farm. Next fall I’ll have them bred with the intention of putting some meat in the freezer come 2020.

Following Halloween, I made one last push to get a crop of garlic in the ground at our new location. This involved chopping a swath down through my cover-crop, plugging in the 10-pounds of seed garlic I’d purchased from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and then laying a good 6-inches of straw on top of the cloves. I’m looking forward to seeing those first bright green leaves poking up through the straw this spring.

Personally

2018 was a year of personal growth for me. Half the year I was strung out, tense and distraught as I plodded through the FSA’s extensive loan process, anxiously awaiting Closing Day while my life and my farming operation sat on hold. I distracted myself with friends, music, and by focusing on the things that I could do while I waited, which turned out to be serving the farmers’ market and working with the bees (yay bees!)

appalachian sheep dogsIn May I joined friends on-stage at the Farmer Talent Show to play my banjo in public for the first time ever (I’m a little shy, if you recall, and suffering from a bit of stage fright, so this was a big deal for me). The show was a fundraiser for the Maine Harvest Bucks program at the Madison Farmers’ Market, and turned out to be a wild success within our rural community.

It was late in the season by the time I finally met the Sellers at the FSA office in Skowhegan for Closing on the Hive House. On June 27, 2018, my whole life changed. I’d earned something for myself that was monumental, validating years of blind faith in a dream that more than one person has scoffed at along the way. As a result, I’ve become a little bolder, more confident in myself and my own abilities. I’ve found my “muchness” in the Hive House and in this scrappy parcel of land.

me on the farm
Loving life on my new farm in New Portland, Maine!

At the same time, learning to be alone for the first time in my life was challenging. I struggled with it initially, but then leaned into the discomfort. I allowed myself to grow and evolve, and I’m learning to appreciate the solitude. Being alone is a marvelous opportunity to get to know oneself better. A chance to shower oneself with love and attention. And so I have.

What’s more, I’ve decided to step down as manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market so that I can better devote myself to Runamuk, my kids, and to myself. The Hive House, Runamuk, and all that I want to do here─all that I want to be for my kids─is a lot to manage on my own. I can do it, but I’ve realized that I need to better prioritize how I use my time and energy, and I need to prioritize who and what I give myself to. My kids have to come first, Runamuk is next, then me; everyone else and everything else will just have to get in line.

Biggest Lessons Learned 2018

  1. NOT getting what you want, can sometimes be a blessing.
  2. Prioritize everything.
  3. Solitude = Self-Love and alignment with ones’ own soul.

2018 held some painful plot-twists: initially things had looked good for my purchase of the Swinging Bridge Farm, but when that door abruptly closed on me, I had to think fast if I were going to make farm-ownership a reality for Runamuk. What if the stars moved out of alignment and I missed my once-in-a-lifetime chance?

Now that we are settled at the Hive House, I am grateful to the Universe for saving me from myself lol; as much as I loved SBF and those beautiful, beautiful trees, that house and property needed a lot of work and money put into it, and it would likely have been too much for me to cope with on top of farming. The Hive House is in solid shape and is everything Runamuk needs, it’s everything my kids need, and I am grateful to be steward of this patch of Earth.

Level-Up

runamuk acresBuying the farm was life-changing for me; I leveled-up big time this year, and now I have the chance to grow Runamuk into the sort of conservation farm I’d always imagined. Now I can try the things I’ve always longed to: rotational-grazing, cultivating soil microbial life for better soil health, planting perennials for food, medicine, and nectar sources, and practicing a style of farming that combines modern agriculture and environmental conservation in the best way possible.

I’m eager for spring to come and for the chance to dig in here at our new #foreverfarm home. Like so many other farmers and gardeners, I’m pouring over the seed-catalogs and planning my 2019 season. I’m giddy as a schoolgirl at the thought of all the projects I have lined up. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’ll be building toward something that will be here for generations to come.

This bee-friendly demonstration farm may never change the world on the whole. Yet, if I can show even a small segment of the population that bees and bugs are good─that insects are crucial to the web of life and remind people that so much of what we know today is dependent on these tiny creatures and their relationship with flowering plants, and as such they are deserving our respect, our appreciation, and our protection─then I will have made some difference in the world. My life’s mission will be fulfilled and I will be content enough in that.

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box; 2019 is going to be a great season! Follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for behind-the-scenes glimpses into day-to-day life on this #beefriendlyfarm.

 

Stepping Down as Manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market

friends at market

After 6 long years, the time has finally come: I am stepping down as manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market. This was a difficult decision for me, but with Runamuk’s new #foreverfarm home, I feel confident that I am making the right move for me. I’m looking forward to devoting all of my time and energy to Runamuk, and to bringing my vision for a pollinator conservation center to life.

Why Volunteer?

For the last 10 years I’ve given my time and energy to a number of local organizations, trying to do my part to support my community, striving to be the change I want to see in the world. I truly believe community involvement is important─not just for the community, but also for ourselves. Volunteering your time and energy for a cause helps you grow as a person, you learn new things, meet new people, and are intrinsically rewarded for the service you do. I really think everyone should be involved somehow in something that matters to them.

Volunteer-work is also a good way for someone to establish credibility in their community, build a reputation and network with new people. For me, it was a powerful tool in growing Runamuk; people in this region of Maine have come to associate me with Runamuk, and Runamuk with bees and bee-conservation. I strongly encourage beginning farmers wanting to break into the market (or any person looking to make a name for themselves) to seek out ways to get involved with the community you will be serving─get to know the people and learn what gaps exist that you could fill, or seize unexpected opportunities that might present themselves through associations with the locals.

Serving the Madison Farmers’ Market

For me, it all started with the Master Gardeners’ program at my local cooperative extension. From there I went on to establish the Somerset Beekeepers and served as president of that group for 6 years. I served as a 4H leader for a time, and of course, there’s my service to the Madison Farmers’ Market. I know that many of the opportunities I have had, would not have been presented to me had I not put myself out there, given of my time and energies to these programs and my community.

Of all of those programs and services, the Madison Farmers’ Market is the one that is nearest and dearest my heart. Facilitating local food in my hometown, supporting local agriculture in this region where I grew up, and just getting to know my community on a very personal level─has had a profound impact on my life.

maine regions map
Madison on the Maine map.

For those who are not from the area, Madison is a fairly rural town, located along the banks of the Kennebec River, in what is known as the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine. Even with fewer than 5 thousand inhabitants, Madison is a mecca for the many outlying villages that are scattered throughout the Foothills and the closest access to a grocery store, banks and gas stations.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market, not only have we cultivated meaningful friendships between fellow farmers, we’ve also developed some strong relationships with the locals of Madison, and it’s “sister-city”, Anson, just on the other side of the river. We’ve met people from the villages of Starks, Embden, and North Anson. One woman comes from as far north as Salem (an unincorporated Maine township located 10 or so miles north-westerly from Kingfield) to visit the market. These relationships, and getting to know the people of the area where I was born and raised, where I have chosen to stay and raise my own children─these are what I treasure most about being a part of the Madison Farmers’ Market.

I’ve learned so much about farming and growing food just by spending my Saturdays peddling my wares in the parking lot at the Main Street Park in Madison, Maine. Sitting there in all types of weather, with my comrades in arms (just figuratively, lol!), discussing all manner of topics, learning from each other as we offer locally produced foods and goods to the people.

Though I am stepping down as market-manager, Runamuk will continue as a member of the market, and dedicated patrons will still be able to find me at the Madison Farmers’ Market every Saturday selling my wares.

Some Highlights From My Career as Market-Manager

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ISO Volunteers

So who will step up to fill my shoes? What will happen to the Madison Farmers’ Market now that Sam is stepping down?

That I can’t say….

Currently the Madison Farmers’ Market is in search of a volunteer─or better yet: a group of volunteers─who can take on the responsibilities of the market duties. There is the possibility of a stipend for a “market-manager”, though I do not know yet how much that stipend might be. What we’d really like to see is a committee, made up of at least 3 volunteers: a treasurer, secretary/marketing person, and an EBT-point person who will spearhead the Maine Harvest Bucks program for the community (the program that allows the market to offer EBT/SNAP shoppers bonus-dollars for purchase of fruits and vegetables).

Without help the Madison Farmers’ Market will no longer be able to accept credit, debit, or EBT cards at the market, and we will surely have to relinquish the Maine Harvest Bucks program.

Serve Your Community!

If you’re reading this from the Madison-Anson area and are interested in supporting local agriculture─consider giving of yourself to the Madison Farmers’ Market. If you have a passion for increasing local food access, serve your community by serving it’s farmers’ market. And most definitely, if you’re a beginning farmer in the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine, think about building your reputation by getting involved the Madison Farmers’ Market.

Even if you’re located elsewhere, I still encourage you to participate somehow in your local community. Many wonderful services and programs exist only because of the people who freely give of their time and of themselves to facilitate them. What’s more, you’ll be enriching your own life at the same time. But (in the words of Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow) “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Get involved today and find out for yourself!

Please share this post to help the Madison Farmers’ Market find new volunteers so that we can keep our special services going for the people of Madison-Anson and the surrounding rural areas. Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer!

FarmWarming Party!

new digs

We’re slowly getting settled here at the Hive House─there are several projects I’m in the midst of, and a number of tasks still wanting my attention, but I’m gaining. After taking last week off from market and Johnny’s for the #GreatFarmMove, I’ll be back at the Madison Farmers’ Market this Saturday, and then back to Johnny’s Selected Seeds on Monday and Tuesday. My honeymoon with the Hive House is drawing to a close, but our love story is just beginning and I am blissfully happy in my work.

I want to share my joy and celebrate this victory with everyone who has ever supported Runamuk─and me─and so I’ve decided to throw a big “FarmWarming” party here on Saturday, August 11th. Family, friends, and the spectrum of community that has supported Runamuk over the last decade are all invited to come check out our new digs, share some good food with some great people, (I’m betting I’ll be able to wrangle a few musicians to play for us too!) and celebrate this momentous achievement with me.

farmwarming poster_communityThis invite includes loyal blog readers and followers who are not local to central Maine. I now have a field where we can pitch your tent or park your RV; there are accommodations at various motels and hotels in nearby towns. Feel free to email me for details if you’re interested in joining us for the festivities and are coming from away.

Note: While this event is not about gifts, there is a working registry being coordinated by my friend Kamala Hahn─a list of items that I am lacking and could use help with. I’ve made a few necessary investments for the new house and farm (like a new mower), but finances are tight and are likely to be that way for the foreseeable future til I can get Runamuk up and running here. Anyone looking to bring a farm-warming gift, who wants to know what I really need here, should email or call me for Kamala’s contact info.

I hope you will all join me on the 11th of August for a grand celebration of Runamuk’s new forever-farm; let me share this joyous victory with you! Runamuk will provide burgers and bar-b-qued chicken, pasta salad, lemonade and iced tea, as well as a modest selection of adult beverages (beer and wine); however I’ve had a lot of help along this journey so the guest-list is long and I’m encouraging friends and family to bring a dish to share so that we can have enough to go around. Definitely BYOB and BYOC (bring your own chair), and if you play an instrument bring that too!!!

The Runamuk FarmWarming Party is going to be a fabulous time! Won’t you please join me?

The #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter

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

Moving a Home VS Moving a Farm

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

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

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

The Plan for the #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing the Joy

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

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

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

Days Away

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

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

Farmer Talent Show a Success

fts sonia and wren

What a great time we had at the Farmer Talent Show Sunday night! It was a hugely successful event, and thanks to those who participated and came out to see the show, we were able to raise the funds needed to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

farmer talent show signageIf you’re a regular reader of the Runamuk blog, you might recall the post from a couple months ago announcing the Farmer Talent Show as a means for raising funds to support the Maine Harvest Bucks (MHB) program at the Madison Farmers’ Market. MHB increases access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP/EBT shoppers at local farmers’ markets and is made possible by government funding and various grants procured by the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. However there was a gap in the funding this year that meant farmers’ markets across the state either had to temporarily suspend the program, or step up to cover the funding shortfall themselves.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market we were adamant that the community we serve, located in Somerset County─an economically depressed region of central Maine─should continue to have access to the benefits the MHB program offers, and so we devised a fundraising strategy that included reaching out to local businesses, as well as hosting this Farmer Talent Show.

I really can’t take much credit for the event that happened last night. The Open Mics at the Madison and East Madison Granges were a concept breathed to life by my friend Sonia Acevedo from Hide & Go Peep Farm in East Madison. Sonia is a dedicated member of the East Madison Grange and last fall she initiated the monthly Open Mic events, which have since been taking place on the last Sunday of the month.

When the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets notified us of the funding gap for the Maine Harvest Bucks program that our market participates in, Sonia proposed the idea of using the regularly scheduled Open Mic as a Farmer Talent Show to help raise funds for that program. I fell in love with the idea and ran with it, coming up with the singing goat graphic to promote the event, and with the help of some of the other vendors at the Madison Farmers’ Market, Sonia and I actively promoted the event and hoped for a good turn-out.

tomato tattoos
Epic tomato temporary tattoos donated by Backyard Farms!

There were refreshments in the form of cookies, brownies, chips and salsa, and even fiddlehead cake! Given that this was a farm-themed event, it was totally appropriate to have a baby goat on site, and my cousin Josh Richards, who owns and operates “Leaping Lizards” a rescue center for exotic lizards, brought a few specimens to show off to the crowd. We even had “I Love Farmers’ Markets” and epic tomato temporary tattoos to offer in exchange for donations.

Not only did we have a good turn-out, but we managed to fill the meeting room at the East Madison Grange and we had a long list of performers in a wide range of ages and skill levels that made for a really great show. There were guitar-players, a trumpet-player, an accordion and a dulcimer, a fiddle and banjos, even a story-teller.

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ellen and dog special guest judges
Our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog!

 

It was especially fitting that our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog, 2 of our market’s most devout patrons. They did a great job awarding recognition to the various talents who entered our show, designating “Best Trumpet Player” and “Best Story-Teller”, “Crowd Favorite” and “Best Performance by a Band”, were among some of the winning categories.

Winning performers had their pick from a table laden with various gifts, trinkets and prizes our market-members had assembled, including a gift basket of soaps and body rubs from S&S Kid Farm, a big beautiful potted petunia and a basket of fresh eggs from Hide & Go Peep, and a pair of wooden book-ends depicting a horse to name a few.

Here’s my group below: “The Appalachian Sheep Dawgs”, including Alyssa (all but hidden behind the curtain from this angle─sorry Alyssa!), Ken Hahn (my banjo instructor), myself (in red) and the daughters of Ken and his wife Kamala: on guitar is Victoria , and Amelie on the fiddle.

Note: Don’t laugh at me when you watch this!!! I’m still a novice when it comes to playing the banjo, with only a year’s experience on the instrument under my belt. It takes utter concentration for me to not drop the ball in front of a room filled with 70+/- people!

At the very end of the evening we raffled off the tub-trug gift basket donated by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, containing an assortment of seeds, garden gloves, a Johnny’s beanie, a trowel and a hand-held seed-sower.

jss gift tub trub
Gift tub-trub donated by Johnny’s filled with misc. garden supplies!

Thanks to everyone who participated and came out for this show, our market was able to raise nearly $300 between the raffle and the tickets-by-donation. These funds, in addition to a $500 donation from Backyard Farms and a $200 donation by Paine’s Dairy Farm (both of Madison, Maine), means we have surpassed our fundraising goals and we will be able to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market! Yaaaaay!

No…I can’t take credit for what happened at the East Madison Grange on the night of Sunday, May 27th, but as I sat there amid the crowd gathered together to watch this wide-ranging display of talents in the name of local food, local farms, and community support, I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of love and affection, and I knew that I had contributed to something really special. In rural central Maine, a small, wayward band of grassroots activists─also known as farmers─collaborated to bring the public out in direct support of the community they serve. Life doesn’t get much more beautiful than that, if you ask me, and I am grateful every day to be able to call myself a farmer.

Thanks for reading and following along with my story! Feel free to leave a comment below if you are inspired to share with us. And be sure to subscribe to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly to your in-box!

Chicken-Run: Updates From the Farm

chicken run 2018

This past weekend Runamuk kicked off it’s 2018 growing season with a bang. We joined our fellow farmers at the Madison Farmers’ Market on Saturday, retrieved the first round of new bees for the apiary, and made a chicken-run for the 50 new layers I’d ordered several months back. The flurry of activity kept my mind occupied (mostly) as I await the appraiser’s report following his assessment of the Hive House on Friday.

Back at Market

It felt good to be back in the parking lot at the park on Main Street in rural Madison, Maine. The weather was fair and the sun was shining, and we saw many members of the community come out to catch up after the long winter. I admit that I felt a little cheesey setting up my table with only my beeswax soaps and salves under the Runamuk sign; at the moment the only honey I have is still in combs waiting to be extracted, which won’t happen until after our impending farm-move. I don’t even have eggs, as I’ve donated my aging flock of layers to Paul’s operation so that I wouldn’t have to move them. My new birds hadn’t arrived yet and won’t start laying for a few weeks yet.

To support my market and reconnect with the community after our winter hiatus, I went anyway. On my table I put a sign that read:

Currently in the process of buying our #foreverfarm! Please excuse our limited availability of products during these next few weeks, as we prepare to move our farm and transition to that new location. Thank you for understanding!”

Most people did understand─my fellow farmers certainly, and dedicated patrons of the market who know Runamuk well enough to know what I am up against at the moment; those people want me there at market even with limited availability. Those are the people I am happy to serve as a farmer.

First Round of New Bees!

runamuk apiary_may 2018
The Runamuk Apiary, May 2018.

Following market I ran home to empty my Subaru of tables, tents and other market-garb, before driving an hour and a half east to Hampden, the home of Maine’s Bee Whisperer, Peter Cowin. I have 10 packages and 12 Saskatraz Queens on order with Peter this year, as I push to expand my apiary, as well as 5 nucs on order with Bob Egan of Abnaki Apiaries in Skowhegan. Saturday evening I brought home the first 5 packages, and I spent Sunday morning in the sun at the apiary installing those packages. It’s always a thrill to see the bees emerge and begin circling the hive, orienting themselves to their new home.

Note: Check back soon for an apiary update; I have some news to share on that front that other beekeepers might be interested in…

Chicken-Run

I’ve laughingly dubbed my trip to retrieve my new layers “the Chicken-Run”, because riding down the road with livestock in your car is always a good time. This is the stuff that memories are made of. These events bring color and meaning to life, and I treasure them.

golden comets
Golden comets make great layers for commercial operations!

Sunday afternoon, I lay the seats down in my Subaru to allow enough space for all of the boxes and crates I would need to transport the 50 new layers I’d ordered back in March. In preparation for our upcoming move I’ve been collecting boxes from Reny’s in downtown Madison, and I commandeered these for the chicken run. I cut air holes in them (about 1.5″ x 3″ a couple inches up from the bottom of the box─about where a chicken’s face might be if they were sitting in the box), and taped the bottom flaps to secure them.

After 10 years keeping chickens and having moved my flock a number of times, I’ve come to be a fair judge of how many birds I can put in a box and I counted as I collected boxes and loaded the Subaru with them. 3 birds in the small pet taxi; 4 birds in this box, 6 birds in the larger pet taxi and 8 or 10 birds in this larger box, depending on how big these pullets are…. I got up to about 40 or so and ran out of boxes lol; so I opted to stop somewhere along the way to get a couple more and brought the packing tape with me.

I don’t own a truck at the moment, and was a little worried about whether or not the boxes would all fit together in the car, so I filled the car with the empty boxes to test it before I left. It was tight, and I would have to use the passenger’s seat too, but they all fit!

Note: For your reference (cause you never know when you might need this obscure bit of information lol) you can fit 50 pullets in boxes into a Subaru Forester. I’d be willing to bet I could get up to 75 birds into that car; but not a single bird more.  😀

The Scenic Route

I really don’t like traveling at high speeds on the highway, and so I opted to take the scenic route over through Jay and Livermore Falls, which was 15 minutes longer. I set the GPS on my phone and set out on the 2-lane road down through a part of western Maine that I rarely travel through. With the sun shining and a breeze coming through the open windows of the car, I had to marvel at how beautiful and adventurous a farmers’ life can be.

I only got turned around twice on the way to Poland. At one point I was checking my GPS and made the mistake of touching the screen on my phone and suddenly I was being re-routed. To keep my phone bill low I don’t have internet access on my phone at all times, so I had to find a place to stop where I could access wi-fi and reconfigure my GPS. Eventually I made it to my destination though, and within range of being on time, too! I’d promised to arrive “around 6ish” and got there about 6:20.

Empire Acres Farm

Empire Acres Farm in Poland, Maine is owned and operated by Jim and Nancy Green, who moved there about 15 years ago and immediately took advantage of the big horse barn to begin raising chickens. They’ve got an ideal set up too, with large brooders in the central isle of the barn where they start the chicks, and large stalls that have been converted into caged pens where young pullets are kept til at least 8 weeks of age, at which point the birds are available to sell.

Since most chickens begin laying eggs somewhere between 18 and 20 weeks of age, this is an ideal stage to buy them at. It allows the farmer or homesteader to bypass the whole brooding-of-chicks phase, which was necessary for Runamuk this year as we prepare to transition to a new location.

Being familiar with the going rate for ready-to-lay pullets I had expected to pay $15 per bird, but Nancy and Jim had theirs listed at $10/bird on Craigslist where I found them. They would have a couple of batches available this spring and were taking orders for the Golden Comets.

Note: Nancy tells me they are currently taking orders on their next batch of birds which will be ready by the end of June. If anyone reading this is interested you can reach Empire Acres Farm at: 207-998-3382 to reserve your own.

chicken run 2018
The new flock is temporarily house at Oakenshire Farm in Norridgewock til we are ready to move.

I had hoped to wait til after the move to buy my new flock, but I know that by June or July availability of chicks and ready-to-lay birds becomes much more scarce. When I saw the ad on Craigslist and their price on the birds, I decided to email to see how long they’d be able to hold the birds for. The response was May 15th and not a day longer, so I decided to act on it. 50 pullets for $500 saves me a chunk of money, even if I have to move them twice.

Going Non-GMO

At long last Runamuk will be offering Non-GMO eggs at market. Over the last 5 years we’ve seen an increased demand for them, and with our new #foreverfarm home #comingsoon I am ready to make the leap to organic grain─though I make too much money to call them “Organic” eggs. The law dictates that farmers grossing over $5K must be officially certified as Organic to be able to use that labeling; and, as I have no interest in becoming certified as an organic grower, I am happy to simply refer to my eggs as non-GMO.

Moving On

For years I have been waiting to invest in certain aspects of my farm-operation: the non-GMO grain, the new bear/skunk fence for the apiary, investing in larger numbers of new hives to grow the apiary at a faster pace, and countless methods and projects I have been wanting to employ but could not because I was a landless-farmer. When a farmer has no permanency he/she cannot put down roots and really dig in to a piece of land, and that has certainly hindered Runamuk’s growth in some very big ways.

But that phase of our journey is coming to a close. Soon we will be moving to our long-awaited #foreverfarm home and I will be able to establish my vision for Runamuk and my “pollinator conservation farm”. I’ll finally have the infrastructure that both Runamuk and my family require, and I’m looking forward to spending my next 40 years giving my blood, sweat and tears to this one piece of Earth. Stay tuned folks! Things are about to get exciting!

Thanks for reading and following along with my journey as a farmer, beekeeper and blogger! It is my hope that my compulsion to journal my story both inspires and educates. Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly in your in-box.

200 Days

200 days

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

runamuk apiaryPermanently Part-Time at Johnny’s

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

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

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

Guesstimated Closing Date

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

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

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

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

OMG that’s just 4 weeks away!

Validation

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

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

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

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

Ramping Up at Runamuk

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

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

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

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

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

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

200 Days and Counting

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

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

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

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

FSA Loan Request Approved!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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