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!

FSA Farm Loan Update: Complete Application!

It’s been 54 days today since I dropped off the bulk of my FSA farm loan application with the Somerset County branch of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Surprisingly enough, things continue to progress in the direction of ownership of the Swinging Bridge Farm for Runamuk.

sbf the house
The Swinging Bridge Farm was constructed in 1880 and sits on 150 acres in New Portland, Maine!

The Story So Far:

At first I was afraid to hope. I was afraid to imagine myself at that picture-book little farm for fear I would once again come up short. I gave considerable thought to what I will do if the FSA does not approve my loan request. After struggling for years to gain ground with bees and farming I contemplated whether the hardships and sacrifices are truly worth it. I thought long and hard about my life’s ambitions, my needs and the needs of my children.

Introducing Nathan at the Penobscot County FSA!

Due to the volume of applications currently under review at the Somerset branch, my file was sent to the Penobscot County office. There it is being handled by Nathan Persinger who is new to Maine and it’s burgeoning small farm movement. Originally Nathan hails from Kansas (if I remember correctly), where he worked primarily with large-scale farmers growing commodity crops. Nathan has been excellent to work with. He’s been polite and respectful, has kept me in the loop, further explaining the intricacies of the FSA’s process as we go. He’s really been an advocate for me and my farm operation.

It wasn’t until Nathan told me that my business plan was the best he’d ever seen that I began to allow myself to believe that this might all work out. He said that he believed in my project and  he was going to do everything he could to help me get my farm. Still it was hard to fathom success after so many failures.

Then Nathan sent along his Farm Assessment for me to review. This is a narrative of sorts, developed by the FSA agent handling the case, which accompanies my loan application to the State Office. I read the part at the end about how he is recommending my plan for approval and my heart just soared!

It’s not mine yet.

fsa farm loan update
Counting the days til she’s mine!

Remember, we’re still at the regional level. The entire application with the encyclopedia of supporting documentation has yet to go to the State Office for intense scrutiny. The whole thing reminds me somewhat of high school sports lol. You compete on different levels to win the State Championship for title and trophy: first the team competes on a local level, then  regionally, and finally─if you’ve practiced long and hard, and if you’re good enough, determined enough─you compete at the State Championship for the win. Thankfully this is not the Superbowl and I don’t need to go on to a National level.

Before my application can go on to the State Office, there is an environmental assessment and an appraisal of the prospective farm property that need to be done. The FSA performs an environmental assessment largely to ensure that the proposed farming operation will not cause a threat to the surrounding environment. Nathan has to go to the Swinging Bridge Farm and perform an inspection so that he can write up a report. The appraisal is done to ensure that the government is not paying more than what the property is actually worth.

Note: Check out this pdf provided by the USDA to read more about the FSA’s Environmental Compliance requirements, and this one to learn about the whys and hows of the FSA’s Real Estate Appraisal.

The Swinging Bridge Farm Gets Registered With the USDA

In order for the Environmental Assessment to be done, the Swinging Bridge Farm first had to be listed with the USDA. This designates the property boundaries, the types of agriculture happening there, and makes the property eligible to receive services from not only the USDA and the FSA, but also the NRCS.

If you’re a beginning farmer and you’re lucky enough to own your own property, or even if you’re managing property for someone else, it’s worth it to go down to your county USDA office to register your farm and learn what programs your land might be able to take advantage of. It’s a very simple process and the folks at the USDA office are super nice. I’ve done it twice before: once for the land I owned with my ex-husband, and then as farm manager for Jim Murphy’s farm in Starks.

3 Cheers for Mrs. Fletcher!

Let me take this moment to recognize Mrs. Fletcher, the 70-something year old woman who inherited the responsibility of caring for the Swinging Bridge Farm when her husband passed away a few years back. She had multiple offers for the property and did not have to accept mine. We are strangers who have never even met; for all intents and purposes, we live in different worlds. She was under no obligation to work with this wayward farmer from backwoods Maine on a sale that could take the better part of a year at worst, and 5 or 6 months at best to close.  But something about my story, my plans for a pollinator conservation farm, or my passion for taking care of the land struck a chord within her.

Whatever her reasons, I am overflowing with gratitude. None of this would be even remotely possible if we did not have that Sale Contract.

Mrs. Fletcher made up her mind that day on September 14th and she has not wavered since. If the FSA requests documentation from her she is quick to provide, and so this elderly lady took herself half an hour from her home in Kennebunk, to the Scarborough branch of the USDA and registered the Swinging Bridge Farm with the government. It looks like the Environmental Assessment will be scheduled for the week following Thanksgiving, which is good because once we have snow on the ground they can’t do the assessment until next spring, according to Nathan.

A Complete Application

I received word 13 days ago of my Complete FSA Farm Loan Application (officially), though I’m still waiting for my Letter of Eligibility. Nathan has really been pushing my case through, and progress is being made, so I am happy to wait patiently. The pieces continue to line up and where there once was no hope at all, there is now the glimmer of promise. I have allowed myself the pleasure of dreaming, and rather than worrying “What if it doesn’t work out?”, I am instead saying “What if it does???”

Once Nathan has my Letter of Eligibility done, the Environmental Assessment and the Appraisal completed, I believe my application can finally go off to the State Office. There my business plan and my financials will be reviewed and funding will either be approved or denied based on the financial feasibility of it all.

In my mind there is a flurry of questions and concerns. Where is the State Office? Who will be working on my case? Will they agree with Nathan regarding the feasibility of my painstakingly crafted farm-plan? Have I put in enough work? Did I do enough? Am I enough? Is it my turn?

We shall see… Stay tuned!