Real Food and Real Community for Real People

“Real food and real community for real people” was the motivation behind Kim Roberts and Mark Prentiss’ purchase of 2 Runamuk CSA shares recently. Kim and Mark wanted to find a way to use their stimulus funds to support their local community. They wanted to buy local food to donate to the food pantry at Salem’s United Economic Ministry(SEM). They discovered that area farmers had little produce available during the depths of winter. Pivoting, Kim and Mark thought that purchasing a CSA share in the name of SEM would be a good alternative.

True Mountain Maple

real food and real community for real people inspired by the folks at True Mtn Maple
Check out True Mountain Maple online to find their list of local distributors!

Kim Roberts and Mark Prentiss own and operate True Mountain Maple over in Industry, Maine. I’d met Kim previously at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, and her partner briefly, in passing. They bottle their syrup exclusively in glass. This is something I can relate to, as I refuse to put Runamuk’s honey into anything plastic.

Being farmers themselves, Kim and Mark decided they wanted to invest their stimulus funds into the “bank” of their community. If they could buy local food to donate to the SEM, they could support local farms. At the same time supporting folks who are food insecure. When Kim called me out of the blue with the idea, I was thrilled to participate.

The Salem Economic Ministry

My family moved around the Kennebec River region quite a bit when I was a child. We moved from Anson to Madison, then Madison to Skowhegan. I was 10 when my parents bought a few acres on Baker Hill in Salem and built a house there. For 5 years I lived just a mile away from the Salem Economic Ministry. I attended high school at Mt Abram in Salem, and my best friend still lives right there in the heart of Salem Township.

Salem United Economic Ministry
The Salem United Methodist Economic Ministry.

Salem’s United Methodist Economic Ministry strives to create healthy, sustainable communities. The 50-year old facility has a thrift shop, a food cupboard, and a bunk house. The thrift shop offers good, used clothes at affordable prices. I have often shopped there myself. The bunk house is host to missionary groups who come during the summer months. These missionaries work to help local families stay safer, warmer, and drier during harsh Maine winters.

Coming from some pretty destitute beginnings myself, Kim and Mark’s idea of giving locally produced food to SEM’s food pantry really resonated with this farmer. I was happy to help. Unfortunately, all I had left on the farmstand was half a bushel of squash and a few remaining pie pumpkins.

Kim found similar situations with other local farmers that she reached out to. In southern Maine you might find four-season farms more numerous. Those are farms that have been able to invest in high tunnels or greenhouses for year-round veggie production. Here in western Maine, though, that kind of agricultural operation is still pretty rare. Kim found very little fresh produce available for their project.

Enter the Runamuk CSA

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Generally, folks will invest in the local farm of their choosing by purchasing a “share” early in the season. This enables farmers to buy their annual farm inputs, at a time of year when funds are low. In return, the CSA member receives a weekly share of veggies or other farm products during the growing season.

Runamuk CSA offers real food and real community for real people
CSA enrollent deadline: May 5th, 2021.

In exploring alternative options, Kim read about the Runamuk CSA here on our website. She reached out to me again, asking if this might be an avenue for securing real food and real community for real people. Kim wondered how it might work.

How the Runamuk CSA Works

Runamuk’s CSA is a little different from other CSA programs. Most CSA farms ask customers to pay a large sum upfront, usually several hundred dollars. Often, you will see a 20, 22, or 25-week CSA. The farmer determines what will go into your weekly CSA share. Typically, the shares are all the same whether your household will use the included produce or not.

At Runamuk, I’ve tried to make our CSA as flexible as possible. It is my goal to make local food more accessible to a broader range of the community. We allow our customers to decide how much they can afford to pay, whether that’s $50 or $500. With every payment, we add a bonus credit. We offer a 20% bonus during January and February, 15% in March, 12% during April. The rest of the year, members receive a 10% bonus credit whenever they add more funds to their account. Thus, if Kim purchased a $400 “family-sized” share in January, she would end up with a $480 credit with Runamuk.

What’s more, Runamuk allows the customer to decide what they want to receive in their shares, and when. I email our CSA members each week with an update from the farm. The email includes a link to a list of available products for the coming week. That list varies from one week to the next, and can look very different from one season to another. For example, during the summer months, the list of available fresh produce is long. Whereas, during the winter I spend more time in Runamuk’s licensed kitchen cranking out baked delectables.

I leave it up to my CSA members to place orders when they want something for pickup or delivery. Or they can stop by the farm to shop at the Farmstand-on-the-Porch. They can pick and choose the products they want, as well as the quantity. Their order total is simply deducted from their account balance.

Some members place an order every week, religiously. Others save their funds for the height of the growing season, ordering vegetables in bulk to process for the winter. Unused funds never expire and are rolled over to the following year.

I told Kim if someone at the SEM was willing to take responsibility for placing orders to utilize the funds, I’d be happy to expand my delivery range to include Salem Township. She conferred with the folks at the Ministry and reported back that they were thrilled with the prospect. Kim sent along the funds from their stimulus payment, and the deal was sealed! Kim and Mark’s goal of establishing real food and real community for real people had been achieved!

Farming is a Way Forward

We all need to eat, why not eat local and support your community at the same time?

Of course, not everyone is in such a position that they don’t really need those stimulus funds from the government. I had to use mine to pay down Runamuk’s utility bills. However, for those who are doing okay, like Kim and Mark, the concept of using those funds to stimulate your local economy by supporting local farms, makes complete sense. And I’m not just saying that because I am a farmer, lol.

Studies show that when farms thrive, Main Street businesses and local communities thrive too. Farmers are the backbone of our nation, the first rung on the economic ladder. Every year consumers spend over $1 trillion on food grown by US farmers and ranchers. Our food systems link farmers with other enterprises. From input providers for seeds, fertilizers, retail chains, restaurants, hardware stores, lumber yards, and everything in between. The economic impact of farmers stretches beyond the limits of their farms and ranches. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, farming is a way forward for Maine’s economically depressed regions. For any economically depressed region!

Note: A few years back, I wrote a piece about Farming as a Way Forward. To learn more about the why and the how, feel free to check it out by clicking on the link!

I say to you now, if you’re sitting on your stimulus funds, or if you’re expecting a tax return in the not-too-distant future, consider using a portion of it to invest in your favorite local farm. CSA programs are increasingly numerous, and the benefits of eating fresh, locally produced food are indisputable. This kind of expense is one that benefits not just your own household, but the well-being of your entire community. I truly believe that Kim’s notion of real food and real community for real people, is one that we can all get behind. We can all make a difference in our communities, just by eating locally produced foods. Now go forth and be the change you wish to see in this world!

Thanks so much for following along with the story of this #femalefarmer! It is my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my community, and protect this scrappy patch of Earth through wildlife conservation. Check back soon for more stories from Runamuk Acres, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love, my friend!!