New winter market in Madison

madison winter farmers' market

It was a long struggle this summer searching for an indoor venue for the Madison Farmers’ Market to move to once the weather turned cold. This is my third year as manager of our budding market and I’m learning to allow plenty of time for planning and promoting events, so I started on the project back in June, broaching the subject with the vendors who make up the Madison market. Collectively we were in agreement that extending our market into the winter was something we were keen on, so long as we didn’t have to suffer through the cold outdoors. We may be farmers, but we have limits too!

And I set about my grand search for a location for the prospective winter market. The ideal spot would be somewhere right in the heart of town where locals would easily see our signs and be able to get to us. A number of our patrons are elderly so we wanted to be able to accommodate them; and of course parking was a consideration too.

After a couple of dead-ends and false-starts I was beginning to get discouraged, when we were granted permission to use the cafeteria at the Madison Junior High, which is directly across the street from the park where we set up all summer. Other than the institutional-vibe that the school gives off, it was a good location and the arragement suited the market well.

You may dismiss my comment regarding the “vibe” of the location as inconsequential, but it’s the same with any first impression. The vibe, or the gut-reaction that people get from a new place, business, or house and the people therein plays a significant role in whether or not they return.  And I know the vibe that my market exudes is up-beat and optimistic, open and honest, a testament to our vendor’s dedications to local food and farms─it’s only natural that we should find a location that reflects that kind of vibe.

Well at the last minute one of my false-starts had a change of heart, and we were able to work out an agreement with the Somerset Abbey, which was our first-choice. Hooray!

This past Sunday was the first of our 5 winter markets─running every other Sunday through to Christmas. Our hosts at the Somerset Abbey collaborated with us to incorporate some craft vendors, and they launched an advertising campaign that included a radio ad, a posting in the local Somerset Express paper, as well as online via social networks. Of course we shared the details on our own facebook fanpage and through the fanpages of our prospective farms to spread the word.

On hand the vendors had locally produced chicken, duck, beef, pork, seasonable vegetables (like squashes, potatoes, leeks and kale─even some tomatoes!), garlic, seed garlic and a fabulous garlic dip, baked goods like bread and cookies, scones and muffins, and of course, Runamuk’s own fresh-eggs and beeswax soaps and salves.

madison winter farmers' marketThere was some confusion unfortunately, due to our late change of venue, a few of our regular patrons went to the Jr High looking for us, but they managed to find us in the end and we were happy to see them! It’s that kind of commitment from a growing number of locals that keeps farmers like me and my market-peeps doing what we do.

madison farmers' & artisan's winter marketmadison winter marketThe folks at the Abbey have committed themselves to all-things-local, local beers, local products, local music and artists, and they provided the Madison Farmers’ Market a warm, dry and clean location. Coffee, pie, soup and more were offered up, along with a few cafe tables for patrons to sit at and chat, eat or listen to the live music and the vibe was great. It’s an ideal alliance that I hope will further promote local products and food in Madison and it’s surrounding areas.

If you’re in the area, or will be passing though some Sunday between 11 and 2, the dates of our winter markets are November 8th and 22nd (the Sunday before Thanksgiving), and December 6th and 20th (the Sunday before Christmas). Drop in to see what’s available or what’s going on, and chat with some young Maine farmers over a cup of coffee, we’d be glad to see you!

Working off the farm

It’s a fact that many farmers need to work off the farm to cover their living expenses or to have access to health insurance or other sorts of benefits otherwise not available to them. And while I strive to reach a point where Runamuk is infact a self-sustaining business that pays its farmers’ living expenses, we are not there yet, and I suppose if I were being realistic I would admit that it may never reach that point. That’s a dismal sort of thought for me though, so I still work toward my end-goal of working for Runamuk and Runamuk alone.

And in the meanwhile, to supplement my income and pay for my living expenses I’ve taken to working off the farm. I took a seasonal position in the call center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds back in January, and that worked out well–other than the fact that I was sitting at a desk inside all day. The people I worked with were all fantastic–farmers, gardeners, and homesteading-types, with a creative energy and an atmosphere that I really responded to. I was able to work on other projects while I was there–writing, blogging, organizing for the beekeepers’ group or the farmers’ market–I could do while I was “at-work”, which made my load a little easier to manage.

In the spring I took at job closer to home at the local Campbell’s True Value right in Madison, but while the people I was working with were all really good people, I  found the company itself to be more corporate than I’d realized and my personal values and principals may also have been something of a sticking point for them too. In the end the company and I parted ways after just a few short weeks. I still shop there and chat with my former co-workers, but I am relieved to not be working there.

I know I could get any entry-level job in a convenience store or the local Hannaford, I could take a job working long hours in a kitchen, or go back to waitressing as I did in my early twenties–but those are all soul-crushing atmospheres and I would be more than miserable. It’s just not worth it to me to live miserably; I would rather drive farther, or work fewer hours for a paycheck earned doing something I could at least relate to on some level.

And even though I’ve managed to find work and people that I enjoy–it all pales in comparison to the work that I do on this farm. The checks I receive from the MSBA for doing the BeeLine brings me more satisfaction than a “paycheck” earned off the farm. $45 earned at market may be a much smaller take-home than my paycheck from Johnny’s, but it has a much higher value to me.

With the busy season in the call center at Johnny’s long behind us, and the threat of winter looming ahead, I took a job recently at North Star Orchards in Madison. I’m working around 30 hours a week there packing apples for the Dimmock family. It’s still a bit of a bitter pill to swallow to have to be off the farm, but the work isn’t bad–I’m learning a lot about apples and apple farming–and the people at North Star are all really good people.

But working off the farm doesn’t mean that I farm less, or give up farming. On the contrary–I’m working longer days now because the work still needs to get done–especially if I am ever to achieve my goal of working for Runamuk alone.

I’ve created multiple income streams for Runamuk: selling at the farmers’ market, putting together the BeeLine for the MSBA, this blog, the on-farm workshops, bee-schools, honeybee and wasp removals, online sales…. The farm is beginning to gain some momentum and I’m pleased to say that Runamuk is paying half the rent this month. That in itself if cause for celebration and I think I will pick up some Sammy Adam’s Octoberfest this Friday evening in honor of the accomplishment.

Course–truth be told–I would have “celebrated” a much smaller feat for an excuse to enjoy some fall brew. The tree tops are beginning to change to their fall coloring here and the selection of fall beers in the stores have me thirsty to try them all. Stay tuned folks!

Celebrating the harvest

raffle winner

Yesterday was the Madison Farmers’ Market’s “Autumn Harvest Celebration” and though the day was not bright and sunny, the event turned out well. We saw a good turn-out, many of the market’s devoted followers came out-along with a number of tourists. We had a couple of different agricultural presentations, food, games, and music–and aside from a couple of brief misty-drizzles–the rain held off.

farmers' market harvest celebration
Jessica Paul of Sidehill Crazy Faces makes every face a work of art!
groundswell seed farm at madison farmers market
Mike Bowman of Groundswell Seed Farm in Embden with devoted market-goer Jim.

As market manager I feel that it’s important to set up these kind of events–not only do they promote the market, but they help to get people excited–and when people get excited about something they feel good about it, and they’ll go out of their way for that thing.

talking permaculture at farmers market
Ken Hahn of Buttermilk Hill Farm in Belgrade, Maine volunteered his time to discuss permaculture with market-goers.

Because people got excited about the idea of the Harvest Celebration I managed to line up Ken Hahn of Buttermilk Hill Farm in Belgrade, Maine to talk about permaculture, and Kathy Hopkins of the University of Maine’s Somerset County Cooperative Extension to talk to folks about root cellars and food storage methods. We were also able to line up–not one, but two–volunteers to help out with the kids’ games and various market-related tasks.

Because the market vendors got excited about the Harvest Celebration, they volunteered food, helped to make games, sought out possible musicians to come to market, and offered their time and help to make it all happen.

willow lane farm
Free sliders offered by Willow Lane Farm. Free food is always a winner!
amanda landry
Amanda Landry came to sing and play for us!
squash bowling
I came up with “Squash-Bowling”. The 2 liter soda bottles were donated by Pine St Redemption in Madison, filled with enough water to keep them from blowing over in the wind–with a little food coloring and glitter thrown in for fun. Runamuk donated the acorn squashes and the kids all had a grand time!
mega-jenga
Mega-Jenga! Created by Crym Sullivan of Sidehill Farm in Madison.

Maybe it’s just me being–well-me–but I like to celebrate little things. I celebrate the arrival of spring and fall, the first snow, new baby chicks, the long-awaited arrival of a highly anticipated movie and minor accomplishments like getting a 100 on a spelling test. Celebrating even the littlest things seems to me to bring more joy to my life. It creates memories and gives depth to life.

When you share a celebration with friends and your local townspeople it helps to foster a greater sense of community–and that’s something that once was a very strong theme in any town, but it seems that with the advent of technology some of that has faded. What better way to bring your community back together than to celebrate the bounty that the land you live on has provided?

raffle winner
Ellen has been a devoted market patron for the last couple of years and she was the happy winner of our market-raffle. She took home a bag filled with more than $50 worth of goods and produce donated by our vendors.