Farm Delivery Program for Locals!

farm delivery program

In a surprising new twist, Runamuk is now offering a weekly Farm Delivery Program for locals! Fresh breads, muffins, cookies, leafy-green pea shoots─and whatever other farm-products I have available─delivered directly to the home of participating local customers. Whaaaaaat!?

farm delivery program
Runamuk now offers fresh-baked breads: Amish White, Honey-Wheat or Oatmeal.

Originally I’d intended this program to begin in the spring of 2020 with the availability of vegetables. However, I’ve recently resumed my old bread-making habit and as I was kneading a batch of dough one day, I had a sudden revelation. Other folks might also be interested in farm-fresh bread made with a list of ingredients they can actually pronounce. Gasp!

The more I thought about it, the more I realized bread is a staple for most households, and something which I am more than capable of producing. What’s more, my kitchen is already licensed for home processing, and I’m insured under my farm-insurance policy. Quickly following on the heels of that thought, was the same Theodore Roosevelt quote I’ve followed for years:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

On impulse I posted to facebook, offering white, wheat, and oatmeal bread to the Kingfield and Madison communities. The response was tremendous: 29 loaves that first week!

And so, I’ve decided to run with it. Each week I’m offering up whatever I can produce, whatever I happen to have available to local customers through Runamuk’s new “Farm Delivery Program”. I even made up a “fancy” list which gets printed off and included with every delivery so that customers know what options they will have the following week. Check it out!

farm delivery programThis list will change just a little each week, and will vary greatly from one season to the next. Some things will always stay the same─like the breads, for example, but the offerings for cookies and muffins will vary to keep things interesting. Then, when the growing season comes back around, I will add vegetables and honey, etc. to this list as they become seasonally available.

It’s a pretty exciting turn of events for this farmer. Knowing that I’m increasing local food access in this part of rural Maine where I was born and stayed is intrinsically rewarding for me, and hugely motivating.

In rural regions across the country, accessing quality local foods can be a challenge for many folks. While Maine is blessed to have an extensive network of fabulous farmers’ markets, the further inland you travel, the farther locals have to travel to reach those markets. Often it’s not feasible for people to make the trek some 30 minutes or more to the nearest farmers’ market. Sometimes schedules do not line up with market days. Other times the cost of market-goods is out of reach for locals of rural regions where low-income households are more prevalent. By keeping Runamuk’s prices affordable and offering this delivery service, I’m hoping to make eating quality local foods more attainable for a broader spectrum of households.

Local readers: For more details on how the program works and how you can get Runamuk’s farm-fresh products delivered directly to your door, check out the Farm Delivery Program page.

Thank you 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 inbox. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

2018 Year-End Review

2018 top 9

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

The Runamuk Apiary

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

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

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

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

Farm & Garden

apiary apprenticeships
The laying flock working the garden.

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

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

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

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

Personally

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biggest Lessons Learned 2018

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

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

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

Level-Up

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

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

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

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

 

Under Contract AGAIN!

hive house

The road to farm-ownership has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride, and it’s a huge relief to have a property under contract again. After letting go of the Swinging Bridge Farm, my realtor, Leah J. Watkins, and I toured the property at 344 School Street last Wednesday. I decided on the spot to make an offer for it, so Leah drafted the paperwork and we sent it to the Seller later that evening. Yesterday my offer was accepted and just like that I am back in the game!

hive house
The house at 344 School Street. Photo courtesy: Google.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me. I was already stressed because of the downward spiral my loan for the Swinging Bridge Farm was taking, and then my older son, William was sent to Portland where he ultimately ended up having his gallbladder removed!

Emergency Surgery

William is high functioning Autistic, and studies show that those children are more likely to have digestive issues, but he began to have these “stomach pains” infrequently over the last year or so. He’s always had some issues with constipation, but these “pains” were something else. Something alarming.

At first we tried eliminating dairy, thinking maybe he was lactose intolerant, which would explain his constipation. But the pains still came─not all the time, and sometimes worse than others. It all came to a head at the beginning of the month, around the same time that my loan for SBF was tanking. William hadn’t “gone” in a week and he’d spent a weekend in pain; Keith (my ex-husband and the father of my children) took the boy to the Emergency Room.

william in the hospital
William was jaundiced and yellow-eye prior to his surgery: here he’s upset that Mom insisted on a pre-surgery picture…

On Friday an ultrasound at Reddington Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan revealed that William had gallstones! And one of them had obstructed his bile duct. His doctor sent us to the Maine General Medical Center in Portland, where they have a very good pediatric staff. That Friday night William was put under so that doctors could perform a laproscopic procedure to eliminate the offending gallstone.

The next morning we consented to allow the gastroenterologist to remove the gallbladder altogether, as William would have inevitably suffered relapses related to his many remaining gallstones. Having suffered from gallstones myself I could not let my baby continue to suffer from the pain that can flare up as a result. William has always been a very good eater─he naturally regulates his own diet so that he’s eating diverse array of all food-groups. I’ve never had to fight with him to eat his vegetables, or to try the fish; he likes it all. So I was fairly confident that diet alone would not save my baby. And since he’d always been a bit bound up, the possible side-effect of looser stools was less of a threat than the promise of regularity for William.

On Saturday morning at 7:30 William was wheeled back into the operating room. He was brave and affable the whole time. I could see on Friday night that he just wanted the pain to be over, and then by Saturday morning he was enjoying the extra attention lavished upon him in the hospital. By Sunday he was back to his usual moody-self.

Hit With the Flu

Meanwhile, William’s father and I both came down with the flu while we were at the hospital. Keith succumbed first; laid low by the time we woke up on Saturday morning at the boy’s bedside. After William came through his second procedure safely I sent Keith home to his bed and stayed on at the hospital with William while he was under observation in his recovery room in the Pediatric Short-Stay Unit of the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital─the pediatric wing at Maine General. Saturday night I was taken down with the chills and a fever, I had to ask the nurse to bring me another blanket, but I was still cold. The kindly nurses felt so bad for me that they brought me some ibuprofen to help with my fever and after that I was able to function enough to get my child through the remainder of his ordeal.

Thankfully it wasn’t a severe strain of the flu, but it morphed into a nasty cold that came with a horrendous cough─and conjunctivitis! When I showed up at Johnny’s the following Tuesday for my usual shift my supervisors took one look at my glowing red eyes and sent me to see a doctor to make sure I wasn’t going to die. They knew how stressed I’d been about the deal for SBF and were worried that my blood pressure might be causing a hemorrhage.

Turns out it was conjunctivitis.

Processing my Break-Up With SBF

I was laid low again when I came to the realization that I was going to have to let go of the Swinging Bridge Farm. I admit that I was utterly heartbroken and defeated. My friends and colleagues, even acquaintances online whom I’ve never met in real life, supported me. I worked through the worst of it, answering the phone at Johnny’s, glad for the distraction as I processed the information and weighed my options.

I considered a whole range of possibilities, from working full-time at Johnny’s to taking a year off from farming─I even considered giving up farming altogether. Big failures have a tendancy to make us question our choices, and so I did. In the end I came to the conclusion that I’d come too far to give up now, but that it was time to make some compromises. I want to continue farming and supporting my community in the way that I have, but I also want my kids to have the home I’ve promised them.

There was just one other property available in my area and price-range. The strange-looking mansard house on School Street in New Portland. This house had been available last fall too, but I didn’t love it the way I did the Swinging Bridge Farm.

Even now I’m still healing from letting SBF go. It wasn’t so much about the house─it was the trees and the rock walls that I fell in love with there. I loved the sheer wildness of the neglected old farm, the mature forest and those gnarly old apple trees. I have a thing for trees and for the history glimpsed in the rockwalls that criss-cross the landscape here in Maine. On a deeply personal level SBF spoke to me and I’ll always remember the way those woods made me feel.

Good Business Sense

However I have to admit that from a business and family stand point, the property at 344 School Street checks all the boxes:

  • Barn for assembling & storing bee-hive equipment.
  • Garage for storing garden equipment & tractor.
  • Pasture for chickens.
  • Open, level acreage for gardens.
  • Public water makes it easy to get Home Processing License for bottling honey.
  • Dishwasher─another plus for getting Home Processing License.
  • A whopping 5 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, and an office space too! Gives my family plenty of space to settle in.
  • House in good repair: means I can spend more time farming and less time fixing the dwelling to make it suitable for my family to live in.
  • Road frontage and proximity to heavily traveled Route 16 makes my farm more accessible to customers.

It’s only a third of the acreage I would have had at SBF, but still a respectable chunk, and perhaps better suited to my needs─if not my heart.

Under Contract AGAIN!

hive house
She’s in great condition and offers lots of space; she’s growing on me! Photo courtesy Google.

It took the Seller 6 days to respond to my offer. There was the same initial confusion regarding the FSA loan process that we’d seen the Fletchers balk over when I made a move for SBF. There is no “pre-qualification” with the Farm Service Agency, and there are a number of hurdles to be overcome in the ordeal: the Financial Eligibility, the Environmental Assessment, and the Property Appraisal. It’s a lot of paperwork and red tape with the government agricultural office, and frankly it’s intimidating.

Eventually the Seller came around and said yes. I received the Sale Contract yesterday morning and immediately sent it over to Nathan, my FSA Agent. An hour later I was in the Somerset County USDA office in Skowhegan signing the application for the financing of the 344 School Street property.

Essentially I’m back to square one: applying all over again for the loan, but with a nice head-start on the paperwork, and a promise from Nathan to speed things along as best he can. Don’t get too carried away though─this is the government we’re talking about, and appraisers are apparently booked out til May now that the FSA office is coming into it’s busy-season. We can’t close til we get the Appraisal done, so we may very well be looking at a 3-4 month wait before I can move Runamuk to her forever-farm property.

Gearing Up

Meanwhile, I’ve been gearing up for another season─making soap when I’m not at Johnny’s, as well as ordering replacement colonies and supplies for the apiary, onion plants, seed potatoes and “just a few” packets of seeds. If all this works out, I’ll likely be moving in the midst of Swarm Season: the beekeeper’s busiest time of year, but I’m hoping to wrangle a few friends into helping this time around.

Runamuk’s #GreatFarmMove; #theFinalChapter; will be the end of one book, and the beginning of a whole new sequel in my life. I know it’s going to be hard work. I know it’ll be exhausting. unending. work. But I look forward to the labors, and the inevitable blood, sweat and tears─because I’ll finally be able to build upon something year after year, for the next 40 years of my life. I look forward to finally being able to put down roots and to being able to cultivate the soil where I live. And I especially look forward to promoting bee-friendly ideals, and sustainable living for a better and brighter tomorrow.

When I think about all the work ahead of me upon Closing, I can’t help but square my shoulders and lift my chin in determination. I look the challenge that is farming right in the eye and say: Bring. It. On.

Check back soon for more updates on my journey toward farm-ownership! It’s a new season full of new opportunities and exciting adventures to come! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly in your in-box!

Maine’s Artisan Bread Fair

hootenanny bread

This past weekend was the 10th anniversary of the Maine Grain Alliance’s Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair. I’ve always admired the local food movement that has been created in Skowhegan and have longed to attend the bread fair, but in previous years I had not been able to make it to the event. This year I had Saturday open so I invited my sister Marie, and we took ourselves over to the Skowhegan Fair Grounds where the Bread Fair was being held.

maine artisan bread fair
I love chalkboards! Here are the Bread Fair’s map and event-listings.

The Maine Artisan Bread Fair follows on the heels of the Kneading Conference and is sponsored by the Maine Grain Alliance. The fair is free, but there is a $3 fee to park inside the fair grounds. To save my funds, I parked in Wal-Mart’s parking lot, which is adjacent to the fair grounds, and Marie and I simply walked over.

There were a slew of vendors offering everything from pottery, paintings, hand-woven linens, beautiful wood products, cheeses, breads (of course), olive oils and balsamic vinegars, honey and more. Many of the food vendors offered free samples, yay!

We stopped first to chat with my friends Carol and Pete Vigneault of P&C Pottery who also vend at the Madison Farmers’ Market. Pete makes all of the pottery and Carol paints it; they do beautiful work and were running a raffle with proceeds to benefit the Madison Farmers’ Markets’ general fund, which helps our market pay for promotional events, market fees and such.

Venturing further into the fair, Marie and I were attracted to the fine weavings in the next tent. Anne Brooks of “Handweavings” was friendly and gracious, allowing us to touch and gush over her beautifully crafted scarves, linens, placemats and more. We chatted a little about the bread fair and I expressed my desire to participate in the actual conference, but have been deterred by the $325 price tag. Anne mentioned that the conference offers volunteers a break on the price and that there’s also scholarships available that I may qualify for thanks to my association with the Madison Farmers’ Market. You can contact Anne via albweaves@hotmail.com to learn more about her fabulous hand woven linens.

From there we met Regina of ReginaSpices, who had several different spice-blends for folks to try. I really loved her “Maine-Sweet Pepper” blend─ a blend of Maine maple sugar and peppers, and her dill dip, which I don’t see listed on her website, but it was a blend of herbs mixed with sour cream that she spread on crackers for us to try. Soooo yummy!

I ran into a number of friends and acquaintences at the bread fair: Albie Barden of Madison who was there making johnny-cakes and talking about flint corn, Billie Barker of the Enchanted Kitchen at Fire Fly Farm in St. Albans selling her fish tacos, and Jen from North Star Orchards offering samples of their delicious jams.

fiore oils
Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars display and sampling.

 

We partook of samples from Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars─high quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a variety of infused flavors. I didn’t catch their representative’s name, but she was knowledgeable and pleasant. And naturally I had to stop to sample honey from the Clearwater Honey Company of Farmington.

hootenanny bread
Hootenanny Bread─look at those amazing loaves! And their soft pretzels were delicious!

 

I bought 3 large soft pretzels for $5 from Hootenanny Bread and stopped by the USDA stand to speak with Andrew Francis whom I had met previously while going through my ill-fated attempt to get a microloan with the Farm Service Agency.

While most of the vendors at the bread fair were pleasant and sociable, there was one vendor who completely shut down on my sister and I when she learned that we were not there to spend money. As a vendor myself, and one who likes to learn from others, I found this person’s behavior extremely rude and a bit insulting. I would never think of treating my own customers this way. If folks want to gush over the quality of my work, I’m going to accept their praise; if someone has questions on how I make my products I’m going to answer them. It shouldn’t matter if I’m there to spend money or not─just because I’m not spending money today doesn’t mean I won’t come back as a customer some day down the road, but this woman lost a customer forever because of her bad first impression. And I was so affronted by her behavior that I didn’t even get her name or the name of her business to tell you who she was!

music at the bread fair
Music by the “Reel People”─at the time they were playing some light-hearted bluegrassy-type tunes; my favorite!

Undeterred, Marie and I took our pretzels off to sit at a picnic table to listen to the live music of the band “Reel People” before we ventured off towards home once more.

The atmosphere at the Bread Fair was fun and light-hearted, but after years of longing to go, wanting to learn more about bread-making─specifically making sour-dough bread─and finally taking the time out of my incredibly busy schedule to go (I’m crazy-swamped with projects at Runamuk right now!)─I was a bit disappointed to find that it was more of a farmers’ market and craft fair without the veggies and meats.

I guess I was picturing something akin to the Common Ground Fair which offers more educational opportunities; I really enjoy workshops and conferences and hands-on learning. But having never been to the Bread Fair I didn’t know what to expect.

There were a few talks offered over the course of the day, as well as bread and pasta-making demonstrations geared towards kids, but all of the actual learning apparently happens during the conference itself, which takes place on Thursday and Friday and comes with a hefty registration price.

at the bread fair
Here we are! Two sisters spending a little quality time together!

However I wouldn’t discourage folks from taking in the event. My sister and I had a good time despite my own misconceptions. We met lots of local farmers and crafters. Each of us came home with a few good eats and trinkets even with just a small amount of spending money; and we gained some good stories to share and memories to savor.

If other folks are looking to learn more about bread-making and want to participate in the Kneading Conference, but─like me─are on tight budgets, they can apply for a scholarship to help with the cost, or offer their time as a volunteer in exchange for the opportunity to participate.

Check out these links if you’d like to learn more about the Maine Grain Alliance’s annual Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair.

Maine Grain Alliances’ Kneading Conference

Maine Artisan Bread Fair brings 2,500 to Skowhegan on Saturday – News posting via the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel at centralmaine.com.

The Kneading Conference Celebrates it’s 10th Anniversary -via Food Solutions New England.

Learning to make oven from clay highlights Maine Kneading Conference – from the Bangor Daily News.

Kitten

abandoned kittenMy finger is sore, tender and slightly inflammed from the bite I received from a terrified kitten in fear for it’s life. But it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

It happened as I was leaving work at Johnny’s Selected Seeds last night…. I was glad to be done with the phones and happy to be free of the cubicle for the day, laden with my canvas mail-sack filled with my books and notes, and carrying  a 6-pack of tomato plants and another of pepper plants (the company gifts each of it’s employees plants every year). Walking across the broad parking lot I thought nothing of it as a Jeep Cherokee drove past.

The vehicle pulled up at the far side of the lot alongside the shrubby undergrowth of the forest that borders one side of the Huhtamaki parking lot that Johnny’s shares. At that time of day the parking lot was largely empty, so it was an odd place for someone to park. Lost in thought I wasn’t really paying attention to the blonde woman who got out of the Jeep and went around the vehicle to the woods. Maybe she really needed to pee?

But just a quickly as she’d gotten out of the vehicle she was jumping back into it with a glance in my direction. I had a sinking suspicion, and as the Jeep sped back past me toward the exit I could hear the pitiful cries of a kitten and my guess was confirmed.

Horrified I raced across the parking lot─my bag and plants flopping─and I carelessly dumped them on the ground at the spot where I’d seen the woman in the Jeep. I could hear the kitten crying and moving the plant growth aside I found her crouched in fear upon the cold damp earthen floor of the forest. I reached down and picked up the kitten, but shock and fear propelled the creature and she chomped down on my finger with those sharp baby teeth and twisted out of my grasp.

In fear for it’s life the kitten scurried away deeper into the forest, seeking cover under the fallen brush and branches. I went after it knowing that if I turned and left, the kitten would surely suffer a worse fate. The brambles tore at me and the uneven ground wrenched my bad ankle, the kitten cried and I was bleeding like a stuck pig from my finger, but eventually I managed to catch the terrified animal, and this time─though she scratched at me and wailed loudly as I made my way back out of the forest to the place where I’d left my things─I did not let go.

Outraged that anyone could so callously abandon a baby that way I sat in my car, using my shirt to stem the blood from my finger, and made my way to Skowhegan and Tractor Supply to get kitten formula before they closed for the day. Because I drive a standard, and because the kitten was terrified and would not sit quietly in my lap, I could not hold the kitten as I drove, and she hid under the passenger seat and cried the whole way. From outside the store I called my baby sister Marie for advice on what to do next. Marie has worked closely with the Franklin County Animal Shelter to foster animals for year and is an advocate for animal welfare. Even now Marie is fostering a young kitten, getting up in the night and even leaving work on her breaks to run home to bottle feed her charge.

I was not sure how old the kitten was, and because she was under the seat I could not send a picture to my sister. But Marie told me I can use goat’s milk to feed the baby, which I happened to have at home thanks to my friends from Hide and Go Peep Farm. So then I just needed something to feed it with.

It turned out Tractor Supply had just sold out of their kitten bottles, and Walmart had none either, so Marie suggested a medicine dropper, which I managed to find for $4.

Once I finally got the kitten home to Runamuk and was able to take a photo of it to relay to Marie, we were able to determine that she is about 5-6 weeks old. Thankfully I will not need to bottle feed the kitten after all, and instead Marie suggested I feed her canned cat food mixed with the goat’s milk and train her to the litter box.

new kittenThis morning the kitten has eaten her breakfast and is exploring Jim’s big old farmhouse while Murphy watches over her protectively, and I have given the feisty unfortunate critter the name of Sheeta─which is the name of the heroine in the Hayao Miyazaki film “Castle in the Sky”─a favorite of mine. And while my finger is still sore, I know I’ve done the right thing in taking in this woeful kitten. Hopefully she will be a good mouser and a valuable addition to this farm.