Deliveries on the Back-Roads of Maine

deliveries on the backroads of maine

I have to admit that deliveries on the back roads of Maine have long been a favored pastime for this farmer. Countless little roads thread their way across the landscape, beckoning the traveler off the 2-lane highways and deeper into the heart of the state. Here are the places where Maine’s legacy still exists─a hold-over from days gone by. Steeped in history and tradition, these back-roads fascinate me. Delivering Runamuk’s farm-goods to households in these rural and wild parts of Maine is never a chore, but a privilege I am grateful for.

deliveries on the backroads of maine
One of Maine’s many backroads.

Roaming the Backroads

When I was a girl, my mother would occasionally load her 3 children─myself, my younger brother and my baby sister─into the beat-up yellow station wagon our family owned. She drove the car out of town, stopping along the way at Casey’s Market in Anson to buy ham Italian sandwiches (another Maine tradition) and other picnic provisions. Then she drove northward, away from the cities and towns, into the depths of the Maine wilderness. Sometimes we went swimming at Embden Pond. Sometimes we were fishing little streams off an unknown bridge on a dirt road somewhere in Moscow or Rangeley. Other times we picked blueberries behind an abandoned farmhouse in Phillips, or blackberries under the powerlines in New Vineyard. These are treasured memories for me, and probably my favorite memories of my mother.

Roaming the backroads became a habit when my eldest son, William, was a baby. Sometimes a ride in the car was the only way to get him to nap. The backroad drives became a means of escape when life became rocky for me, and I spent countless hours rolling down one dirt road or another, searching for my forever farmhouse.

While progress comes to southern and central Maine, creeping ever northward into rural areas, off the beaten path old Maine still exists. Forgotten farmhouses in varying conditions are scattered in unknown river valleys. Above them on a high hill or mountainside, little log cabins complete with outhouse are hidden in the dense forests.

stonewall on the backroads of maine
The stonewalls criss-crossing the landscape were constructed by hand by early farmers to Maine!

Maine’s Legacy

Stone walls running along the roadside speak of a legacy almost forgotten, while massive maples act as sentries, lining the roads. Gnarled branches spread out overhead as you pass beneath the trees. Sometimes that legacy has been maintained, the fields preserved, the old farmhouse in-tact. Other times the forest has reclaimed the fields where livestock once grazed, and all that remains of the farmhouse is a stone foundation in the earth only visible during spring or fall, when the forest vegetation has died back, allowing the secrets of the landscape to be seen.

In these parts there still exists many family homesteads with backyard gardens and a coop full of chickens. Here people still go smelting and eat fiddleheads in the spring. They make strawberry-rhubarb pies and can jars of raspberry jam. In the fall they hunt to put meat in their freezer and during the winter they go ice fishing. People in these parts are still connected to the land and Maine’s rich agricultural legacy thrives even in this modern society. These are my people. This is where I belong.

backroad adventures
Where in Maine?

Committed to Local Food

When they were younger, egg-deliveries were the perfect excuse to get out of the house without the kids and take a drive down a backroad. As Runamuk grew, I gave up the deliveries in favor of setting up at the local farmers’ market. Getting back to delivery over the course of this winter has been wonderful. Ironically, it prepared my farm in advance for the coronavirus pandemic. I was offering delivery before delivery became a necessity, and I really haven’t had to change much about how I do business.

In fact, more than 20 households have enrolled to participate in Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Share program. These people have committed to local food─they’ve committed to Runamuk─and they have such faith in my abilities that they’ve even pre-paid to have dibs on the food I am producing. That is a huge compliment to this humble farmer, and something that is not taken lightly. It is now my responsibility to ensure that those families have access to high-quality, fresh foods every week. This is serious business.

I’ve been preparing for this all winter, though─ramping up production and putting different pieces in place. I am ready and eager to do the work. Shelves upon shelves of seedlings sit under lights inside the farmhouse waiting for the ground to warm up. This past weekend I was finally able to get the hoop-house closed in to allow for expanded seedling production. These plants will fill my expanded gardens, and will eventually fill bellies within my local community.

farmer sam card
This is a card from one of the families I serve.      3yo Rory loves my blueverry muffins!

To me, there is no higher honor than to be someone’s farmer. It truly is my privilege to be able to stock the shelves at the Runamuk farmstand, to make these deliveries on the backroads of Maine, and to feed and nurture the people and places I hold most dear. Who’s your farmer?

Note: The deadline to enroll in Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Share program is Thursday, April 30th.
Click here for details and to read about the special perks I’m offering members. Those who are interested in participating, but are either waiting for tax returns, stimulus checks, or are simply strapped for cash, please don’t hesitate to contact the farm to ask about late-payments, payment arrangements, potential bartering opportunities, or work-shares. I really want to make high-quality, fresh foods accessible to as many households as possible. That is my commitment to my local community.

Thanks for following along with the story of the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm! Subscribe by email to receive the latest blog-posts directly to your inbox. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

A Single Mom Farming Alone

It was never my intention to be a single mom farming alone─in fact, I rarely think about my situation that way. Beginning farmer? sure. Female farmer? absolutely. Single white woman farming with 2 kids in tow? Not so much. It was recently pointed out to me on facebook, though, when another page shared Runamuk’s post with this remark: “Think being a single mom prevents one from starting a farm? Think again. This mom shows how it’s done in Maine!” I was startled by their assessment and it’s been nagging at me ever since, so naturally I have to tell a story about it.

Kids Bring Farming to Another Level

My 2 sons, BraeTek on the left, and William in the foreground.

Farming is hard under even the best of circumstances, but having kids on the farm brings it to another level. Kids have to have routines, they need to be cared for and fed, educated and molded into responsible citizens with good values and moral principles. I’m happy for the moms out there who have family and friends to help them along their child-rearing journey. I believe that a child should have a village in his or her life; a diverse array of people to learn from and draw a wide-range of experiences from. Unfortunately, I have never had that kind of support in my own child-rearing journey.

When my boys were very young, I was especially isolated and I struggled with it in a big way. I’ve had to learn to juggle my passion for farming with my motherly responsibilities. In fact, trying to farm and be a mom at the same time has been as big a challenge as securing property for Runamuk’s forever-farm was. Bigger, actually─because if I had never developed strategies to make it work for both my children and I, then I wouldn’t have been able to grow Runamuk to the point that I could convince the FSA to help me invest in this property.

I’m that mom…

First, let me explain to you who my children are…

fun in the mud
We’ve always had lots of fun playing in nature!

You know those sweet little ones who are polite, clean, good-natured and well-behaved, toddling along behind their mother as they go through the grocery store? Yeah─those aren’t my kids. My kids are the ones who burst into the store already arguing with each other; they’re the ones who race up and down the aisles, bump little old ladies, or stop to scream at the cheese (yes. This really happens…regularly...). I’m that mom, too frazzled to bother taming her hair, who never really seems to have control of her kids.

I don’t really want to control my kids though. That’s not who I am, and that’s not how I parent. I believe that children are individuals just like you or I; they have their own needs, feelings and desires that should be respected. And, they have their own challenges in life too, just like you or I.

The Role Autism Has Played at Runamuk

My eldest son, William, is Autistic. He was diagnosed on the spectrum by the time he was 3: “High-Functioning Autistic”. He’s smart as a whip─reading by the time he was 3─and can remember facts and events like it’s nobody’s business.

William is also a visual thinker, and a bit of a ham. He often reenacts skits from various cartoons, comic strips, books, or movies that he’s seen or read. Check out the first few seconds of these 2 clips to see where screaming at the cheese in the dairy aisle comes from…

William is able to communicate fairly well, but struggles to understand social cues. He gets overwhelmed in social settings, and has such keen hearing that he’s very sensitive to loud or noisy situations. He has some extremely rigid thinking that impedes his daily life. And mine…

It’s hard to say if it’s the Scottish lineage of my ex-husband’s side, or if it’s just William’s nature to be quick to anger, but that’s traditionally been how he copes with his disability. He gets so angry when someone says or does something that doesn’t match up with what he expects or wants it to be, that sometimes he lashes out at the people around him─either verbally or physically.

He also struggles with impulse control, so teaching him that it’s not right to hit, use hurtful language, or reenact inappropriate skits, has been exceedingly challenging.

As a young mother I had an extremely difficult time dealing with society’s judgemental nature. Among the professionals who were supposed to be helping me walk my disabled son through various treatments and therapy programs, I felt judged incompetent because I could not control my son. By the teachers leading the preschool program, I felt inadequate because my son could not sit in circle time without hitting the child next to him. And I especially felt judged by other moms we tried to connect with; rarely were we invited back for a second visit.

It’s hard to say if it was William’s behavior, or my own reclusive nature that got in the way back then. I was insecure, highly sensitive, and overwhelmed. I tried, but I could not control my young son. I could not make him do what they wanted; William only does what he wants.

After BraeTek came along it became extremely difficult to take William on outings by myself─even a trip to the grocery store was an ordeal. I remember one time I had BraeTek in his infant-carrier, strapped atop the grocery cart and I left him there while I chased William 2 aisles away! Mercifully my baby was still there when I returned, heart in my throat, 4yo William tucked under my arm kicking and screaming.

Ups & Downs

with william at borestone
My attempt to get a picture with William

As he’s grown older, and especially since my divorce, William and I have had some serious ups and downs in our relationship. He resented me for the divorce. My living situation in the years leading up to the purchase of Runamuk’s farm was rough on the kids. It’s gotten much better since we’ve finally found home, but even now it seems to come and go in waves. Some days William is a happy prankster, re-telling Garfield comic strips. Other days he can be so aggressive, and so difficult for me to remain calm in the face of his raging fury, that I am reduced to sobbing in the bathroom at the end of the day.

That’s why he only stays with me 2 nights each week.

Mother of the Year I am not.

My ex-husband is an excellent father though, and it is a consolation for me to know that William has grown in all areas with his father as his primary care-giver. Meanwhile, BraeTek is at Runamuk 4 nights a week, and seems to be doing well with me as his primary care-giver. Following our divorce, my ex and I have learned to co-parent with the best interests of our children at heart, and I’m grateful for the amiable relationship we now share.

Still, I can’t help but harbor some guilt for the mistakes I’ve made in raising my boys. I can’t help feeling some level of guilt for the fact that I couldn’t give up my farm-dream to put their needs first. And I can’t help feeling guilty that I get overwhelmed by my own son.

Strategies & Attitudes

fresh carrots
William has always loved eating straight out of the garden!

The boys are 16 and 12 now; looking back on it I can see how I adapted different strategies and attitudes with my children that allowed me to cater to their needs and the needs of Runamuk at the same time.

Eventually I learned to ignore other people’s judgemental attitudes. William looks like a normal 16 year old boy; they don’t realize that he has some serious issues to contend with, and so I forgive them their harsh judgements.

When we are in a store or social situation, I’ve learned to focus solely on William so that I can thwart those impulses of his. And for special events, my ex and I have learned to team up to coax William through.

I’ve learned to plan my week around William’s visit. I don’t work off the farm on those days so that I can supervise William, and I stay within earshot of the house when he is at Runamuk. On days when William’s mood is more volatile, I’ve learned to be flexible enough to drop whatever I’m doing in order to work him through it.

Keeping a good routine with the kids has been imperative, I’ve found, and so I stop farm-work by 4 to cook dinner and spend time as a family.

And I’ve learned to use screen-time to my advantage. They’ll work through a number of chores for the promise of 2 or 3 hours on the internet. And when they get out of line, the screens are the first thing to go.

World’s Okayest Mom

Motherhood is probably the biggest challenge of my life, and as such it is also the biggest source of insecurity in my life. That’s why I was so taken aback by that facebook post: “This mom shows how it’s done!”

Obviously they don’t know me, lol.

If any of the cashiers from the Madison Hannaford supermarket are reading this, I’m sure they’re chortling with laughter right now. They’ve seen my kids (and me) at our worst─unwitting bystanders to this show I call “My Life”.

I’m really not the mom to show anyone how it’s done. Laughingly, I refer to myself as the “World’s Okayest Mom”─not the worst by far, but certainly not the World’s Greatest Mom.

strawberries on greenstalk
BraeTek, age 12.

I never gave up though. I’ve given my kids everything I could─emotionally, physically and financially─even while trying to build this crazy farm-dream of mine. I may not always get motherhood right, but I’m always giving it the best I have.

Older now, and more confident in myself, I’ve found a new level of freedom in not caring what anyone thinks of me─or my son. This freedom has allowed me to create a life all my own. It allows me to be wholely and completely myself─quirky, weird and passionate, life-loving me─and there is no one I am more myself with than my children.

You know the mom in the grocery store who is talking and laughing─maybe just a little too boisterously─with her children as they shop? The mom who uses different voices when reading a storybook aloud, who actually gets in the sled with the kids, makes a mud pie, a blanket-fort, or takes up a swash-buckling stick-fight with her son? You know those moms who make ordinary days magic, and holidays extraordinary?

I’m that mom.

Go forth and farm, ladies!

My favorite picture as “Mom”.

I’m damned proud of how far I’ve come with my children, and the mother that I am. It hasn’t been an easy road, but if it hadn’t been for the experiences I had as a young mother, I surely would not be the person I am today. And yes, I’m proud that I’ve managed to build up this farm even while coping with the struggles of motherhood.

I hope that my story does inspire other women to follow their hearts and lead their own farming-journeys─even with their kids in tow. I hope they look at me and say, “My kids are way better behaved than Sam’s; if she can do it, so can I!” Go forth and farm ladies; the world needs us!

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; OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day-to-day goins-ons of this bee-friendly Maine farm!

Runamuk’s 1st-Ever Open Farm Day!

open farm day

This past Sunday Runamuk participated in it’s 1st-ever Maine Open Farm Day. This was Maine’s 30th annual Open Farm Day, which gives the public the opportunity to meet their local farmers and support agricultural businesses across the state. Runamuk invited it’s local community to stop by the farm, offering tours, the chance to pet the sheep and meet the chickens, or to have pictures taken atop Walter, our antique tractor. It was a very rewarding day on the farm.

open farm day_2019

Quality vs Quantity

Honestly, I didn’t promote Runamuk’s participation in Open Farm Day very loudly; in fact, I just sort of whispered it. This season has been so hectic as Runamuk seeks to establish itself here, and I’ve been coping with some seasonal farm-overwhelm as I try to keep up with it all (more about that in an upcoming post!), so I just wasn’t able to give much energy to the event. Even still, I was happy with the handful of people who stopped by that morning: quality vs quantity.

open farm day_billiejo and easton
My neighbor, Billie Jo, and her grandson, Easton, at Runamuk on Open Farm Day.
open farm day_2019
The neighbors brought their grandson, Easton, to pet the lambs!
open farm day_2019_local family
The lambs loved a visit from Benjamin and his family!

Every Day is Open Farm Day at Runamuk

Later that evening I saw a few remarks on facebook from local folks who said they would have gone if they’d known, so I’d like to take this opportunity to say that every day is Open Farm Day at Runamuk. The public is always welcome to stop by for a tour, take a walk through the pollinator meadow, or find out what we have available for veggies and farm-products. We’re open every Saturday from 8 to 4, but I would happily coordinate tours any other day of the week, and of course, we accept drop-ins too.

Runamuk is a community farm─as in, we exist to serve our community. Yet, Runamuk is more than just another small farm; Runamuk Acres is an education center for nature and agriculture. We want to inspire people to value and protect the natural world. We also seek to inspire other farmers to use the forces of nature to their advantage and farm for climate action.

And so we invite the public in. Come see us!

The People’s Farm

I feel very strongly about sharing the farm with the people in this way. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the support of our community, both locally and online. What’s more, to buy Runamuk’s forever-farm I took advantage of government programs funded by tax-payer monies. This farm belongs to the people; I’m just fortunate enough to be it’s Steward.

If you’ve been following my story for a long time (thank you!), you likely already know what I have in mind. But for those who might be new here: imagine a series of trails winding through Runamuk’s 53 acres of fields and forest, beckoning the people to take a stroll. There will be several picnic tables for families or class field trips to use to eat their lunch outdoors. I’ll host workshops and fun events on-farm to promote education on a wide range of topics.

Luckily there is an existing trail on the property, so I can build on that, and even without picnic tables, Runamuk is a lovely setting for a picnic lunch. I’m stoked, that a couple of local schools have already inquired about field trips.

open farm day
Benjamin has fun with Walter, Runamuk’s ’51 Farmall tractor.

Next Year

There’s always next year, to get out and participate in Maine’s annual Open Farm Day. Runamuk will definitely sign up again next year, and the years following that, since I plan to be here doing this work on this scrappy piece of Earth for the rest of my life. With any luck, by this time next year things will be running more smoothly here, and I’ll be able to give the event more time and energy.

Thanks for following along! Be sure to subscribe by email to keep up with the latest from Runamuk Acres; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day to day workings of this bee-friendly Maine farm!

The Kingfield Farmers’ Market

bigelow mountain range

Friday evening was the first market of the season for the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, held at Rolling Fatties in Kingfield, Maine. Runamuk was there with our organic (but not certified) eggs, beeswax soaps and salves, and some fresh vegetables.

Earlier this year I’d made up my mind to give up markets and shift instead toward wholesaling Runamuk’s products because of the time constraints I’m facing as a single woman/farmer. When Polly MacMichael, co-owner of Rolling Fatties with her husband, Rob, invited me to join the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, I initially rejected the idea. However, someone in the online community reminded me that this would be a good way to meet this new community I am serving. Runamuk is well-known in the Madison area, but 15 and 25 miles north-west, in the Bigelow Mountain Region we are newcomers. I could not ignore this logic, and sweetening the deal is the fact that Rolling Fatties offers Maine-sourced craft beers on tap, which I am always a sucker for.

rolling fatties restaurant and bar
Rolling Fatties Restaurant & Bar in Kingfield, Maine. Photo courtesy Rolling Fatties.

Rolling Fatties Restaurant and Bar is located in a classic old farmhouse in downtown Kingfield, right on Route 16. Fatties are FAT burritos, by the way, and all made with Maine foods. It’s a fun, energetic atmosphere. The market is held in the adjacent barn, with live music─and did I mention the Maine craft beers?

I’m glad I went, because it felt really good to connect with the community and to meet some of the other farmers eeking out a living in this area. There were a number of people who told me they’d seen Runamuk’s signs or that they’d been watching my progress at Runamuk every time they drive by. One woman was thrilled to find that I had pea shoots available.

The other vendors that make up the Kingfield Farmers’ Market were all friendly and welcoming to me, as a newcomer. There were 6 of us in total. I’m afraid I didn’t catch everyone’s name or farm-name, but Crooked Face Creamery was there, Cold Spring Ranch  with beef and pork, Alice’s Homegrown, a woman selling beautiful loaves of sourdough bread, and John of West Branch Bakery with some bagels that were out of this world.

Meeting Alice of Alice’s Homegrown was particularly inspiring. She’s a spritely 18 year-old farming in Carrabassett Valley on her parent’s land, alongside her boyfriend (who’s name I apologetically have forgotten). She told me, “I’m only 18 and I’ve already figured out what I want to do with my life!” She’d brought vegetables and some glorious tomato plants to the market, along with these amazing dessert cups she’d made using these 4 ounce, wide mouth mason jars. This clever girl packed graham cracker crust into the bottom, then layered rhubarb compote, vanilla pudding, and homemade whipped cream on top of it and sealed it with a lid. She gave me one as a gift at the end of the evening and I savored every bite of that scrumptious dessert.

Runamuk received requests for wholesale eggs from Rolling Fatties and the Hostel in Carrabassett Valley. Ralph Tranten, who owns Tranten’s Grocery in Farmington (and who’s brother owns Tranten’s Grocery in Kingfield) sampled my D’avignon radishes, making it a point to tell me that they’re always looking for local produce. These are invaluable connections for Runamuk’s future and really, really encouraging to me as a farmer.

I was between the ages of 11 and 16 when my family lived in Salem, Maine─another 11 miles west of Kingfield. I attended the Kingfield Elementary School, and then Mt. Abram Regional High School until my junior year. It was during that period of my life that I fell in love with the Bigelow Mountain Range. I knew even then that I never wanted to live anywhere else.

bigelow mountain range
View of the Bigelow Mountain Range from the hill overlooking the village of Kingfield, Maine.

Coming into Kingfield from New Portland is a high hill overlooking the village. Sometime in the last 10 or 15 years the landowner there has cleared the trees, opening up a breathtaking view of Mount Abram with the Bigelows spread out on the horizon behind it. On Friday, as I came with my trusty Subaru Forester loaded once more with table, display pieces, coolers of eggs and produce, boxes of carefully crafted beeswax soaps and herbal salves, it felt such like a home-coming for me that my heart swelled and tears pricked my eyes. To be home in the mountains once more, serving my community by producing high-quality food, working to protect wildlife here where the beauty of nature abounds─is everything I’ve ever wanted and I am so very grateful for every day.

Thanks for following along with the story of this #femalefarmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm.

Spring Comes to the Bigelows

fedco tree sale

It’s finally happening; Spring comes to the Bigelows, where I have chosen to make my stand with Runamuk. Rivers and streams are swollen with rain and melt-waters, rushing through gullies and valleys carved into the landscape by a million Springs before this. The ground softens, thawing as the days grow milder, and the world around me is beginning to green up as Life returns to the land.

This is my favorite part…..the Greening.

What joy it brings to my heart to see the greening of the grasses─lawns, fields, and roadsides. What utter elation fills me when the trees’ leaf buds begin to swell, and that first blush of tender yellow-green spreads across the hills and mountains that I call home. We have survived another long, harsh Maine winter, and Spring comes now to the Bigelow Mountains. Life returns in all it’s glory, and I welcome the season with open arms and an open heart.

fedco tree sale
On my way home from the Fedco Tree Sale (Early Pick-Up) 2019 with a car-full of tender young saplings.

Winter stayed late this year, (overstaying his welcome, if you ask me!), yet Spring comes, and the growing season is getting underway. Farmers and gardeners across the land rejoice, and dig their hands into the soil, cultivating an age-old relationship with the Earth and the Life that sustains us.

Whether you grow food or flowers, or if you’re only reading this blog because you’re an admirer of nature or perhaps an aspiring farmer─we are all of us a part of this amazing planet and Her complex ecosystems. It’s important to remember that every living creature on this Earth is connected to the next in some way. We are all of us are dependent upon one another, and the miracle of Life that happened to take hold on this particular ball of rock.

And Life here is beautiful and marvelous, and so so fascinating. We should all devote ourselves to the Earth, just out of gratitude for the existence we have here. I mean, the odds for Life occurring throughout the Universe such as it has here on Earth, are astronomical!

How fortunate are we? To have an existence on a planet that just happens to rotate around a sphere of hot plasma at the ideal location for the most extraordinary forms of Life to take hold, in an otherwise obscure part of the Universe?

How incredible is it that Life evolved into 8.7 million species? Life began, and then adapted─ever changing to meet the conditions of our planet over time─and through those processes of evolution, humanity eventually came into existence.

Against all odds, we are here.

the earth from space
I feel blessed to exist upon this extraordinary piece of rock!

Scientists have not found another planet among the stars that supports Life as Earth does, so there’s no where for us to go if we could even get there; not to mention it’s immoral to trash your rental and stiff the landlord. There is no Planet B. We need to take action to protect the Life that exists here.

Our Life.

That’s why I won’t give up even when my to-do list is longer than I am tall. Life here on Earth is beautiful and precious. We have so much to be thankful for, and I for one would like to give back something to express my gratitude for this Life I’ve been given. In fact, I’ve devoted my life to the Earth in exchange for the opportunity to exist, and for the life I’ve been granted as steward of this particular patch of land.

honeybee and hollyhock
Hollyhock pollination by bumblebee at Runamuk.

My journey as a gardener, to beekeeper, farmer, and now steward, has taught me to recognize the value of the relationships we hold with the life-forms around us. The relationship between pollinators and plants stood out to me above all others. So much of the diversity we have on Earth is the result of the relationship that exists between pollinators and plants. So much of life is dependent upon that relationship. If I can focus my energies on protecting and promoting this one aspect of our existence, then I will have given myself to something hugely important and hopefully my efforts will benefit the planet in a positive way.

Time will tell…

Meanwhile, Spring comes to the Bigelows. The Greening is happening and I’ve immersed myself in farm-projects. I’ve got beds to form in the garden, apple trees and elderberry shrubs to plant, and the chickens and sheep are waiting for the grass to green up out back so they can be moved onto the pasture. The barn is in dire need of organizing so that I can construct mating nucs boxes for the apiary, and I’m gearing up for the spring beekeeping rush, in which swarm management and Queen-rearing take priority at the same time that the garden wants to be planted. Eeeeek!

I wasn’t able to attract any apprentices this year, and I’m actually rather thankful for it. Being on this new property and connecting with the land here is deeply spiritual for me. I’m cultivating an intimate relationship with this scrappy patch of land, getting to know the flora and fauna, becoming acquainted with the soil and how the different seasons affect life here.

Doing the work on my own allows me to immerse myself in the task at hand and enriches the connection. I can hug a tree, or stand and revel in the feeling of the wind sweeping across the back pasture to tangle in my hair. I can stop at dusk to listen to the sounds of Wood frogs in the pond beyond the garden; and I can lose myself in the rhythm of the work, glad for my own strength and the stamina that allows me to do it.

strawberries on greenstalk
BraeTek (12yo) waters his strawberry plants on the GreenStalk garden tower.

Spring comes to the Bigelow Mountains and summer vacation is just around the corner, too. Now that my sons are 16 and 12, including them in chores and recruiting their help for projects is easier than it was when they were younger. Neither of them are inclined to help with the bees, and I won’t force them because I feel like that’s how lifelong phobias are created. They will however, help in the garden, and we’ve been working on cooking and cleaning skills in the house, too. I’m training the boys to take over some of the household responsibilities so that I can direct my energies toward farm-tasks instead, and with summer vacation just around the corner I’ll have their help on the farm more hours of the day.

It’s good for them; work build character, you know.

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest updates directly to your in-box! Or follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse into life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

Manic March

march beehives

The novelty of winter snow has worn off as the difficulties posed by months of cold and snow have mounted, and I have dubbed this Manic March in light of recent events here on the farm. Winter is always hard─especially in a place like Maine. It’s cold, there’s lots of snow, wind, and ice. Things break, animals get sick, and heating your home is a constant worry. Somehow, knowing that spring will eventually come, gives me strength to go another day.

runamuk apiary
The apiary at Runamuk was completely buried by snow; all you can make out is the brick that sits on top of the hive!

Old Man Winter can GO

I won’t lie…things have been a little rough here at Runamuk lately. Old Man Winter is a guest that has overstayed his welcome, and now it is time for him to pack up his bag of tricks and GO.

My body has taken the brunt of snow removal duties this winter; my elbow and shoulder joints have begun to protest the shoveling fairly loudly, and I’ve strained that same muscle in my upper right arm that I’ve torn twice in past winters doing the same kind of work.

If it weren’t for my kindly neighbors, I would be in much worse shape however─and I would probably be parking on the road. Mike has come across the road with his snowblower a few times this winter (whenever I get in a little over my head) to clear my driveway for me. What takes me hours to shovel, he is able to move with his snowblower in 20 minutes. It’s sick.

I will have my a working snowblower before next winter, I can promise you that!

Sick Sheep

Winter is hard on livestock, too. Miracle, the sheep, has been suffering from a cold for a couple of months, which is not unusual for sheep (apparently they’re prone to respiratory illnesses), but her breathing became more and more labored and ragged, and though she was eating fine I could see that something was not right, so I reached out to the Blauvelts, my friends from 4H who gave me the sheep. Emily instructed me to take Miracle’s temperature; she said normal temperature for sheep is between 100.9 and 103.8.

………..do you know how to check a sheep’s temperature?

Rectally.

I had never taken a sheep’s temperature before, so I went and bought a thermometer that I could designate specifically for the sheep, and I labeled it as such (lest there be any unfortunate confusion later on). Then I watched this video on YouTube to educate myself:

In order to be able to perform this task on my own, without help, I pounded a fence staple into the back wall of the sheep-shed, put a halter on Miracle, and tied her there. I was able to use my body to pin her against the wall, effectively holding her in place without hurting her, so that I could take her temperature. rectally. (have you thanked a farmer today?)

Miracle’s temperature was 104.7, which is not super high for a sheep, but she definitely wasn’t feeling well. I reached back out to the Blauvelts, and they came later that day to the farm to see Miracle and to help me figure out what was going on with her. Gordon pointed out how much weight Miracle had lost, and Emily told me how you can check their under eyelids for clues to the sheep’s health─they should be pink; a white inner eyelid is an indication that the animal is suffering from some kind of internal parasite. Miracle’s under eyelids were white, and as soon as Gordon pointed out her loss of weight, I saw for myself what I had been unable to put my finger on.

I felt awful; I still feel awful─that I missed such a key indicator of that animal’s health and well-being! Going into it though, I knew there would be new lessons in animal husbandry. Though I’d had sheep previously, it was a very brief experience; I knew I would need time to grow accustomed to caring for sheep before trying to breed them and raise any lambs. I stand by my decision to wait til November 2019 to attempt any kind of sheep-reproduction-shenanigans.

Gordon told me that either the weight loss is related to some kind of internal parasite, or it could be something more serious (like cancer) that we will not be able to cure; she is a 7 year old ewe, afterall. A round of penicillin (available at your local Tractor Supply) and an equine dewormer (SafeGuard) were prescribed, and I learned how to give medicine via injection, and then I practiced that skill for 9 consecutive mornings.

miracle the sheep
Send love for Miracle; she’s feeling under the weather lately!

Unfortunately, there has not been much improvement in my girl, Miracle; her breathing is still labored and sometimes ragged. At this point, there’s not much I can do for her. Gordon says if it’s intestinal worms the dewormer should have had an effect by now, but if it’s lung worm, that could take longer to work it’s way through. He’s advised me to give Miracle a second round of dewormer precisely 14 days after the first. He said, if she were suffering from pneumonia, the penicillin should have had an effect by now, and warned me about Ovine Progressive Pnuemonia, saying that they’d never seen it on their farm, but that it is incurable.

It was in the midst of my sheep-trials that I received an unexpected package in the mail from my old farm-mentor, Linda Whitmore-Smithers over at Medicine Hill Farm in Starks, where I served a season as apprentice. I was touched that Linda would give me such a valuable book from her collection, and emailed right away to thank her and to let her know how timely her gift of “The Veterinary Book for Sheep Farmers” really was.

Meanwhile, Miracle continues to eat with gusto, and she still wants her graham cracker when I come for my afternoon visit. My friend, Kamala, raises Finn sheep, advised me to give the sheep alfalfa cubes along with their hay, and some extra grain, to help Miracle put weight back on. Alfalfa cubes are 1.5 to 2 inch cubes of coarsely chopped and compressed alfalfa, rich in nutrients, and can be bought in a 50 pound bag at your local feed store.

The girls absolutely love them!

We have a warm spell coming up this week, Kamala says with the turn in the weather, Miracle may surprise us and pull through. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Apiaries Swallowed Up By Snow

march beehives
Beehives at Runamuk were swallowed up by snow at the end of February.

Upon my last inspection in early February, 31 of 32 hives were going strong. At the moment, it’s difficult to say how the bees are faring. Old Man Winter’s last storm came with wicked winds that whipped the snow across the land, packing it densely wherever drifts mounted, making snow-removal extremely laborious, and─in some cases─impossible. The apiary here on the farm was swallowed up by snow, and at Hyl-Tun Farm over in Starks, the Runamuk apiary was buried under a 5 foot snow drift. It was a week before I discovered it and was able to dig the hives out enough to expose hive entrances.

I won’t have a final tally on Runamuk’s winter hive losses until I can get into them again, and at the moment, a third of my of hives are inaccessible due to snow.

Capital Investments

Recently, I was on the phone with a customer at Johnny’s, discussing financing of farm-related investments─this customer was trying to figure out how to pay for an expensive seeder for his new farm. I suggested he use his tax refund to make the investment, and was a little surprised that the thought hadn’t crossed his mind before that. I suppose most people use that money to buy a new couch, big screen TV, or a new washer/dryer. Personally, I have always used my tax refund (or at least a significant portion of it) to make farm-purchases for the up-coming season; that annual injection of money has been the biggest key to bootstrapping Runamuk into farm-ownership.

In fact, I received my tax refund back a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve just finished making my 2019 Capital Investments. I paid some bills and bought some heating fuel, too, but the greater portion of my tax refund went to Runamuk. My refund paid for my tree order with Fedco. It bought me another $700 worth of fencing supplies from Premier 1: we got 2 more lengths of electric-net poultry fencing, and a third solar charger. I also bought Runamuk a tow hitch, and had it mounted to the Subaru with the intention of investing in a utility cart for hauling things like manure, and beehives.

Runamuk stocked up on packaging supplies, and bought our first-ever─and long-overdue business checks─my bank will be so happy! We invested in irrigation supplies, and I put $500 on a Home Depot gift certificate so that when I need lumber for projects later this spring, I’ll have the funds available. And I ordered new chicks from McMurray’s Hatchery: 50 dual-purpose heritage breed brown-egg layers, due to arrive any day now─and 50 freedom rangers that will arrive later in July (pastured meat-birds will be a new endeavor for Runamuk in 2019). If you follow Runamuk on Instagram, be prepared to be inundated with a myriad of cute baby-chicken pictures!

Dare to Believe

The last couple of days have been beautifully sunny and mild, with some serious melting action going on, and I almost dare to believe that Spring might truly be on her way. The weather forecast predicts temperatures in the upper 40’s by the end of this week, and next week we will observe the Vernal Equinox, which marks the first official day of Spring.

My heart rejoices and I am filled with glee, for I know that soon the snow will be gone, and the trees will begin to unfurl new leaves. A spring-green blush will spread across the hills and mountains that I call home, and soon the world will be green once more. Soon I will have my hands in the dirt, and this farmer will be crazy-busy with all of the chores and projects that come with the growing season. I’ll be overwhelmed and overworked, but it’s work I feel called to do, and for a cause that I believe in. I think it’s going to be a really great season too, so check back soon for more farm updates!

Thanks for following along with the story of this #femalefarmer! 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!

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!

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!

The Threat of Snow

threat of snow

October is a tricky month for farmers. One day it’s mild and beautiful─you take pause to admire the spectacle of Maine’s glorious fall foliage; the next day the temperature plunges, the wind picks up, and the threat of snow looms in the forecast. For the last few weeks I’ve been walking this line between preparing for winter and still trying to make the most of what’s left of the season, but with Samhain just days away, and Thanksgiving not far off─this is really it. The end of the 2018 growing season.

Winter Preparations

If I’ve learned anything about living and farming in Maine over the course of my 38 years, it’s that you don’t want to be caught unprepared when winter sets in. My personal deadline for all farm and household winterizations is Thanksgiving; experience has taught me that by the third Thursday of November, generally the weather is too cold and windy for much in the way of outdoor work, the ground is frozen, and the threat of snow is in the forecast. Having the apiary put to bed, critters snuggly and protected from the elements, and all equipment stowed away puts this farmers’ mind at ease and allows me to immerse myself in the festivities that come with the Persephone Period and the Dark Days of the Year.

closing in the chicken coop
Closing in the 3-sided shed that’s attached to the garage.

Winter livestock preparations have been the main focus here at Runamuk throughout September and October, but with more urgency as we’ve moved further into October.

The shed attached to the garage, which already had chain-link fencing covering the long wall, I converted into a Winter Coop for the chickens. On the open end I built a wall to close it in, then covered it with chicken wire. Roosts were assembled, along with a set of “Deluxe Nesting Boxes”─only the best for my ladies, I tell them!

The weather in early October was still mild however, and I really wanted to run the flock across the plot where I intend to plant perennial fruit trees next spring─so I held off on moving the girls into their winter digs.

winter chicken coop
Just add plastic (but only if it’s 6mil greenhouse film)!

Sheep: Free to Good Home

In the meanwhile, Runamuk was offered a pair of sheep. Yes! For reals! Beautiful purebred Romney sheep─free, and so sweet and sociable they’re sure to melt hearts.

Lily and Miracle were offered to us by friends we know through the local 4H group we were once a part of. Nina Blauvelt reached out to me to say that this had been her daughter Emily’s last year at the fair, as she is now a senior with a job and looking at colleges for next year. They’re downsizing their sheep herd, but these 2 in particular are very special to Emily, and she didn’t have the heart to send them to auction. The Blauvelts were looking for a good home for the pair and naturally they thought of me with my new #foreverfarm; was I interested?

Initially, I said no. Four years ago I had a not-so-great experience with free sheep that made a lasting impression (check out: Sheep in the Garden to learn the whole story!); ultimately it was a valuable lesson in the importance of proper farm infrastructure. That same year taught me to be careful not to take on more than I can handle─and I’ve been very mindful of that concept as I’ve been settling Runamuk in here. My hands are already full. I’ve been out straight all summer (and loving every minute of it! don’t get me wrong) but sheep were no longer part of the plan for Runamuk.

The next morning, as I was driving eastward toward Fairfield and the office at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, the sunrise painted vibrant shades of crimson and yellow across the sky, while the radio playing only my favorite songs─it hit me all of a sudden that I really wanted to be the one to give Emily’s beloved sheep a good home. With 13 acres of grass to my name, and fencing materials already on hand, I really had no reason not to take them. What’s more, grass-eating sheep would fill a gap in my farm and homestead operations that would be too beneficial to pass up: namely, added grass management, another source of manure for the gardens, and a red meat option for my family. Plus, sheep would add a definitive cute-and-cuddly feature to Runamuk; as much as I love them, bees and chickens are not necessarily the most endearing of creatures when it comes to marketing.

Right then and there I pulled over into the break-down lane to send Nina a message as cars and tractor-trailor trucks zoomed past me on Route 201A.

I wasn’t sure how soon the newcomers would arrive, so in case it was sooner rather than later, I put together a slick little moveable sheep-shelter the very next day. It’s similar to the chicken tractors, but without the nesting boxes and the roosts, which makes the structure light as a feather.

portable sheep shelter
Moveable sheep-shelter (for summer-use only!). Note to self: Next year anchor it with cement blocks!

I was pretty pleased with the thing, and it looked great set up in the pasture with the electric net sheep-fencing. A few days later however, autumn turned on it’s heel, wind and rain rolled in, the temperatures plunged, and that lightweight summer-shelter was literally blown away. I found pieces of it strewn across the yard; wryly, I decided that the time for temporary shelters was over, and set myself to work on a sheep-shed that would serve through our rugged Maine winters.

A Mom Win

Meanwhile, with temperatures plunging at night, and some pretty intense winds, I decided it was time to move the flock into the Winter Coop. My chicken-tractors are only meant to be used through the summer months, and as such are open at either end. I was increasingly worried about the flock suffering at night, so I made the final preparations to the Winter Coop (a door lol) and the boys helped me move the birds in.

With a child on the Autism spectrum, and having faced divorce and come out on the other side, being a mom and a farmer at the same time has not easy for me (that’s a whole post in and of itself!). Yet that evening I felt like maybe─just maybe─I’m an OK mom.

Bundled against the cold and whipping wind, headlamps strapped to our heads as we traipsed back and forth across the lawn in the dark, carrying bird after bird─my boys performed like true farm-kids. I demonstrated with the first chicken how I wanted the birds to be held as they carried them across the yard, and how to settle each bird onto a roost inside the coop. They did a great job of it, and with 63 birds it was no small task. When it was finished I felt a sense of relief for the chickens, along with this immense feeling of fulfillment. Afterall, it was for my children that I became a farmer in the first place, and to be able to impart some of these skills upon them is hugely important to me. In that moment it really felt like I might actually be doing an OK job of it.

inside the winter coopdeluxe nesting boxeschickens inside the winter coopPreparing for Sheep

With the chickens taken care of, I could turn my attention back to preparing for the arrival of sheep to Runamuk. Wanting to keep all the livestock fairly close to the house for the winter, I decided to build the Sheep-Shed off the backside of the garage using schedule 40 PVC conduit, and some wooden platforms that the previous owners had left behind. I covered the whole thing in Tufflite Greenhouse Film (I use this stuff for everything! it’s the best!) that I bought at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and voila!─Winter Sheep-Shed!

finished sheep-shed
Finished sheep-shed!

Having both chickens and sheep based off the garage, meant that I only needed to rig up one electric fence charger to energize fencing for both species. It felt good to be able to make use of one of the chargers I inherited from James Murphy during my tenure at his farm in Starks. That man did a lot for me in his afterlife, and even though I didn’t end up at his farm permanently, I’m beholden to Jim for the lessons learned there, and for the tools, equipment, books and furniture that I inherited from him. I’ll be forever grateful, and I’m still glad that I chose to name my dog after the man.

electric fence charger
I was pretty ecstatic when I managed to rig up my own electric fence charger WITHOUT electrocuting myself! Yes, Sam─you ARE a farmer!

Sheep Delivery!

The Blauvelts came last Monday evening to deliver Lily and Miracle to me. I gave them the grand tour:  Runamuk’s #foreverfarm and my great big house (aka – “my castle”). Nina, her husband Gordon, and their daughter Emily, have followed my journey to farm ownership since our days in 4H, and they’ve watched my progress this summer on Instagram. As farmers themselves, they could see right away the potential this property has for me and for Runamuk. I think they felt really good about leaving their beloved sheep with me.

emily w her sheep
Emily Blauvelt with Lily and Miracle.

Emily led her 2 prized ewes: Lily and Miracle, across the yard to the paddock I’d created around the Sheep-Shed and the backside of the garage with my electric net fencing. This area had not been touched by the chickens, and despite the cold and the decreasing day-light hours, there’s still some lush grass in that spot; the 2 sheep were eager to graze when they saw it.

I got a quick download on sheep-care from the Blauvelts as Lily and Miracle checked out their new accommodations, along with the promise of help should the need ever arise, then they bade us all farewell. And so now I have sheep!

lily and miracle
Sheep at Runamuk! Lily on the left, and Miracle on the right.

Threat of Snow in the Forecast

We’ve already had a couple of snow-squalls here in the mountains of western Maine, and the threat of snow is in the forecast again this weekend. Typically these threats don’t amount to much in October, and, because the ground is not yet frozen, we generally don’t see any accumulation until around Thanksgiving─hence my Thanksgiving deadline for winter preparations. The window is fast closing and I know it. Every day I’m checking chores off my list one at a time, so that when Thanksgiving rolls around I can hunker down inside my house and just enjoy the season to come.

birdhouse in snowstorm
Snow magic. I’m in love!

There’s something magical about winter─maybe it’s just winter in Maine? or maybe I’m the only one in the world who feels this way, lol. Regardless, I find snowstorms absolutely enchanting: the way the snowflakes cascade from the sky and the stillness of the world around you. I revel in the energy of storms; the power of wind and the might of nature beyond our control reminding me that there are greater forces at work here. Sunrises after an ice storm are enough to bring tears to my eyes (and not because they’re blinding!); I adore the way trees’ limbs and branches are coated with ice, and how the brilliant pink and orange hues of the sunrise glint off them. And I love, love, love the way a power outage can draw the family together; playing boardgames by candlelight is a special kind of magic.

Once I loathed the Dark Days; it’s easy to feel isolated and to slip into the winter-blues at this time of the year. I’ve learned to take this as a time for self-reflection, a time for honoring the ancestors through tradition, and a time to be with family and friends. Mostly though, I think I’ve learned to see the good and bad in everything─the seasons, people, animals…even the slimy and the scary ones. I’ve learned to appreciate life for whatever it is, to accept it for what it isn’t, and to just be grateful that I’m here to experience anything at all.

Our world is a beautiful place when we chose to embrace it, and life really can be what we make of it. If we would only try: one foot in front of the other; one day at a time─there will be inevitable failures and set backs, but if we keep moving forward in the direction of our goals and dreams─there will certainly be progress too. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the way we look at something. <3

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Jacked On Farming

Since closing on the Hive House nearly 2 months ago I’ve been jacked on farming. There’s so much to be done, and so many things I want to do! Farming is a drug I just can’t get enough of. Each morning I awaken eager for the day ahead, and for the chores and projects I will accomplish in the name of my farm. I am bound to this one small piece of Earth for the rest of my life, farm steward at 344 School Street in the remote western Maine village of New Portland. Everything I do now is for Runamuk, and for my kids to some day have this amazing legacy to be proud of.

I’m all jacked up on farming; it’s an energy that floods through my veins, a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and elation. I’m eager to get Runamuk established here, to begin shaping the conservation farm I’ve so long envisioned. I’ve held onto that dream all these years, feeding it gingerly as you would a flickering campfire that might be snuffed out by the next gust of wind. I’ve protected and nurtured it, and now─with my #foreverfarm beneath me, that dream is burning stronger than ever inside me, and  it’s ready to burst into a raging conflagration.

There’s a sense of romance about the union too, that stimulates me. She is wooing me, this piece of land; with every caress of the wind, and every waft of pungent earthy soil that’s kicked up by the broadfork. I find myself sometimes just standing there gazing out across the field at Mt.Abram, or taking in the tall pines across from the garden, or imagining bird-families taking up residence in the weathered old birdhouses that stand as sentries all about the property. With every blazing sunset and each booming thunderstorm─this farm is seducing this farmer.

It’s a powerful feeling─to be steward of this special piece of Earth─and every time I think about the journey that brought me here, I am filled with humility and this incredibly profound sense of gratitude. I am just so damned grateful to be here, doing this work, here on this beautiful property─and that feeling fills me up, driving me on. Runamuk will be the conservation farm I promised, if only to give back that which I’ve been given.

Oh yes, I’m all kinds of jacked up: high on farming and high on this farm. Runamuk is settling in, there are chickens and bees on the property, various workspaces are emerging, the garden is in the process of being cultivated, and I’m beginning to see how my plans for a pollinator conservation farm can take shape here. These next few years will be big years for Runamuk; stay tuned folks, cause this is gonna be good!