Happening at Runamuk in 2019

runamuk queen

Some pretty exciting stuff’s happening at Runamuk in the 2019 growing season: new gardens, new growing structures, upcoming events, and even more critters! Farmers across the state are gearing up for the coming season and I’ve dropped to 2 days per week in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected seeds. I’m back on the farm full-time, with a long list of chores and projects to prepare Runamuk for the impending 2019 growing season. There’s a lot going on, so go get yourself a cuppa coffee or tea, and sit down with me for a few minutes to read all about it.

Traditionally, following my end-of-year review (click here to read my 2018 review), I post the farm-plan for the upcoming season, but this year─between my responsibilities on the farm and my 4 days per week at Johnny’s, I have not had the time to do that. Dedicated readers to the Runamuk blog may recall that I’m a big advocate for a good 5-year plan; last year I laid out the details of my plan for Runamuk at it’s new #foreverfarm─right before I found out that the Swinging Bridge Farm was a no-go. Feel free view that 5-year plan here, but keep in mind it’s been modified to suit the property at the Hive House.

Our first year at this new and permanent location was about settling in, establishing the infrastructure and livestock accommodations that we require to operate, and preparing the garden for planting. Even with only half a season last year, we managed to do those things and Runamuk is now set up and ready to dive headlong into the 2019 growing season.

Garden, Orchard & Soil

This year is largely about the garden, and I intentionally did not invest money into expanding the apiary so that I could use those funds for the garden, orchard plants, and in-puts for soil remediation.

cover crop
Garden cover-crop October 2018.

If you recall, I cover-cropped and expanded the existing vegetable garden last fall, so that I now have a space approximately 60′ wide and nearly 100′ long. The Runamuk garden is something of a cross between an intensive market-garden and a homestead production-garden─to feed my family and a few others. As soon as the snow is gone and my soil is workable, I’ll be out prepping beds and starting the first crops: peas, greens, brassicas, onions and potatoes.

Establishing perennials is at the top of my list: apple trees, blueberries, raspberries, and a long list of perennial flowers and herbs are going in the ground here. I sent in my Fedco order back in February, and I’m eagerly awaiting their big tree sale to go pick up my plants (check out this post about the Fedco Tree Sale that I wrote a couple years ago), and perhaps get a few more on sale (when I say “perhaps”, I really mean “definitely” lol). I’ve also started many of my own perennial herb and flower seedlings─things like echinacea, yarrow, lovage, coreopsis, mint, lavender and catnip, to name a few─since it’s much cheaper to buy seed and raise these plants myself than it would be to purchase them as young plants at a nursery.

Improving soil health is a top priority, and I’ve devised a strategy for the 2-acre plot between the farmhouse and the back-field that includes frost-sowing a cover-crop of clover, and then rotating the sheep and chickens across the earth. A soil test is also on my list of things to do, but the biggest garden-project this season comes in the form of an NRCS High-Tunnel.

NRCS High-Tunnel!

That’s right! The NRCS has officially designated funds for a high-tunnel at Runamuk Acres! Yaaaaaaaaaay!

For those who are unfamiliar with high-tunnels, they are unheated greenhouses constructed with aluminum emt conduit bent into high hoops and then covered with greenhouse plastic. The NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) offers financial assistance for installation of such a growing structure.

I had submitted the application with the NRCS last summer on a whim─I wasn’t even sure I wanted a high-tunnel! That’s a big structure to erect and maintain by myself! What’s more, the NRCS only pays you after construction is completed, so the farmer has to come up with the funds initially, and after buying the farm and making the investments needed to get up and running at this location, I’m financially tapped out until Runamuk comes up to speed.

But it was an opportunity, and I firmly believe that “We miss 100% of the chances we don’t take.”

So I submitted the application, but doubted I’d be approved─vegetable production was a very small part of my plan; surely the NRCS would find other candidates more suitable than an operation geared toward pollinator conservation?

Apparently someone thought Runamuk was very suitable indeed.

I admit that the site is fairly ideal: flat, level ground that drains well, with easy access to water and electricity. Yet it still came as a surprise when Nick Pairitz at the Somerset County NRCS office called to tell me that Runamuk had been approved for a tunnel.

Initially I was rather dismayed; a high-tunnel is a much larger project than anything I’ve ever done, and I am just one person─one woman. Yet, as tender seedlings fill the Alternate Living Room, spilling over onto our enclosed Porch, I can’t deny the benefits of such a growing structure would offer this farmer.

I recalled old Tom Eickenberg, recent retiree from Johnny’s, made it a point once to tell me that he’d put his high-tunnel up on his own, just to see if it could be done, and he’d assured me that day that he believed I could do the same (thank you for believing in me, Tom!!!). And so, I took a deep breath and signed the paperwork. Runamuk will have it’s high-tunnel.

Increased Wholesale Production

After 6 years attending the Madison Farmers’ Market, I’ve decided that my time would be better served by focusing on distributing our products wholesale to established retailers. It was an incredibly tough decision for me to leave the Madison Farmers’ Market, but now that I have a #foreverfarm, I’ve become keenly aware of where my energy is going. It’s a lot for one person to manage, and I cannot yet give up my part-time job at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which limits my on-farm days, and having parental responsibilities is even further restricting. I have to be very careful with my time.

The farmers’ market essentially takes 2 days from my work-week─1 day to prepare product, and another day at market. Johnny’s takes another 2 days. I began to realize last summer that 3 days on the farm was not going to be enough. The point was really driven home, though, when my schedule at Johnny’s increased to 4 long days per week during the Call Center’s busy season. The farm requires more than 3 days per week from me at this point, and if I’m going to grow Runamuk into the kind of educational center that I’ve envisioned, I need to eventually not be at Johnny’s. At all.

Note: To all my Johnny’s peeps who are reading this─don’t panic, that’s still a year or 2 out. I’ll be in the office for my next shift. I promise.

organic eggs
Organic and grass-fed, farm-fresh eggs from Runamuk!

I’ve decided to focus exclusively on wholesale distribution and have assembled a list of retailers I’m hoping to work with. Runamuk’s product list includes our beeswax soaps, herbal salves, candles, uncertified-organic non-gmo eggs, and we will soon have fresh vegetables to offer, as well as raw honey (harvested at the end of July and in September). If you, or someone you know, would be interested in selling Runamuk’s products, email to request our Wholesale Product List for pricing information.

Farmstand

Initially the plan was simply to convert the frame of a pop-up garage into a hoop-house for seedling production and sell bee-friendly plants right out front through the month of May. Now, with the new tunnel coming, and increased vegetable production in the garden, I’ve decided that the porch should be converted into a casual farmstand. To that end, I’m looking for a used refrigerator to hold eggs and vegetables, and I’m considering options for a display of other farm goods, too.

I’m not sure how well a farmstand will go over here in New Portland, but I’m actually only 11 minutes from Kingfield, and route 16 practically goes right by the farmhouse. I’m hoping that with a little promotion (and some creative and colorful signage), I can attract a few locals, and some of the tourists that travel up and down this main thoroughfare.

Beginning in May, the farmstand will be open Thursday through Saturday 8am to 4pm. While it won’t be staffed, operating on the honor-system, I do plan to be largely on the farm those 3 days and I’ll be available to answer questions or offer assistance to customers.

Classes & Workshops

They’re back! On-farm classes and workshops for skill-sharing; I’m offering day-long workshops on beekeeping, as well as classes on bee-friendly farming, basic construction, and gardening for beginners.

There’s plenty of space here, so if you’re interested in participating, but are “from away”, don’t hesitate to email me to inquire about bringing your tent or RV to camp out back.

Check out our Classes & Workshops page to get more details on the programs Runamuk offers.

Selling Bees!

At long last Runamuk has bees available for local beekeepers to purchase! This is a pretty monumental milestone for me and it feels appropriate that it coincides with our first growing season at our #foreverfarm. Even still, it’s hard for me to part with them, lol, and I admit that I would not do so if I did not need the space for this season’s splits and new Queens.

runamuk queen
Runamuk Queens are a cross between Carnolian and Russian genetics that I’ve found to work well here in Maine.

Last season was my second attempt at Queen-rearing and I produced 35 viable Maine Queens from my own stock of carnolian and Russian honeybees. I used those new Queens to replace every single Queen in my apiary, and made as many nucs as possible in hopes of overwintering them. I filled up every bit of equipment available to me, and Runamuk went into winter with 32 hives. It was not an easy winter for the bees, however most of Runamuk’s colonies came through looking strong. If I had wanted to, I could have bought equipment, housed each of these nucs myself and significantly increased the size of my apiary. But because I chose to invest in the garden and orchard this season instead of the apiary, I need to maintain the apiary as it is.

I did not promote it loudly as I have a very limited number of colonies that I’m willing to part with, and I knew the market’s demand would far surpass Runamuk’s supply. Indeed, the 10 overwintered nucs that I had available have already been spoken for and deposits taken.

There’s still opportunity to get a “Spring Nuc” from Runamuk though, or to get your name on the list for one of my Maine-raised mated or un-mated Queens. Check out Our Bees for details and reserve yours today.

More sheep!

The sheep have grown on me, and I really enjoy having them on the farm. Following Miracle’s death, I’ve come to realize that I definitely need more than 2, but I’m pretty adamant about not having more than 5. I see sheep as an integral component in my strategies for improving soil health here at Runamuk, as well a manageable source of meat for my family and a few others.

And so we have the new ram, whom I’ve dubbed Ghirardelli, like the bittersweet dark chocolate, and the new ewe coming soon, and Jack, the wether who’s coming from my friends, Ken and Kamala Hahn. I’m pretty excited at the thought of the new sheep babies we’ll have here at this time next year!

First broilers on pasture

This season I’ll raise my first-ever broilers on pasture─that’s a pretty big deal in my book.

The idea is to put some meat in my freezer, but the broilers tie in well with my ambitions to improve the soil here through rotational grazing. 50 freedom rangers that will be shipped to the farm in July.

Friends have already volunteered to help slaughter and process the birds, and they’re happy enough to be paid in the form of grass-fed, organic chicken for their own freezer. I find it highly satisfying to be able to share such good food with the people I care about.

Camping at Runamuk

Tucked just inside the forest at the far end of Runamuk’s back-field, I’ll eek out two campsites for potential guests to the farm, and travelers seeking adventure in Maine’s Bigelow Mountain Region. A dirt drive runs through the middle of the field, making access by vehicle easy enough, and the ground is level─ideal for tents, but I can also host campers and RVs (though I have no intention of setting up an RV park).

I’ve created a listing for Runamuk on Hipcamp. Hipcamp is an online service connecting travelers seeking campsites with private property owners offering accommodations in a wide array of settings: ranches, vineyards, treehouses, yurts, backcountry campsites, cabins, air streams, glamping tents and more. If you can think it up, someone somewhere probably has those unique accommodations for you.

I’m picturing a picnic table and fire-pit at each campsite, a shared pit-toilet tucked in the back, out of the way, and an outdoor shower if I can manage to devise one. The wooden platform that I hauled out of the coop last summer will become a tent platform at one of the sites.

There will be signs, and some creative touches of whimsy; I want camping at Runamuk to be magical and special. Life is happening here; I want visitors to notice and walk away with a good feeling and good memories of this special little bee-friendly farm in the mountains of western Maine .

maine mountains
The Bigelow Mountain Region of western Maine.

There are a lot of positives about our location here in New Portland, but the fact is─we’re half an hour from the nearest “city”; most people probably drive through the village of North New Portland and don’t even realize it’s a town. Typically, travelers pass through on their way north or south; rarely is New Portland the destination. I plan to put New Portland on the map with my conservation farm, and I’m hoping the on-site accommodations make it easier for people from away to come and visit.

Ready to Go

As you can see, we’ve got a lot of things happening at Runamuk this 2019 season. It’s going to take a tremendous amount of work on my part, but I’m ready to go. Everything I have done, every move I have made─has been to bring me here to this place at this point in time. I’m ready to do the work to grow Runamuk into the conservation farm that I’ve always envisioned. But even I can admit when I might need a little help (though admitting I need help is easier than asking for it, lol).

I’ve had a few offers of help from friends that I intend to call in for bigger projects like the chicken-processing and skinning the high-tunnel, but I’m thinking it may be prudent to organize a spring work-party too. Historically, I have more seedlings than I can manage in the spring and I’ll find myself scrambling in late June to get as many of the remaining plants in the ground as possible before they perish. Now that we finally have a permanent location, I’m growing copious numbers of perennial flowers and herbs to be planted here for the bees and beneficial insects. I may need help to get them all in the ground and─if you ask me─a “Spring Planting Party” sounds like a really great time. I’ll set a date and get back to you on it.

Now if only it would stop snowing so that spring could finally come….

Thanks for following along with our story! 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!

Stepping Down as Manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market

friends at market

After 6 long years, the time has finally come: I am stepping down as manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market. This was a difficult decision for me, but with Runamuk’s new #foreverfarm home, I feel confident that I am making the right move for me. I’m looking forward to devoting all of my time and energy to Runamuk, and to bringing my vision for a pollinator conservation center to life.

Why Volunteer?

For the last 10 years I’ve given my time and energy to a number of local organizations, trying to do my part to support my community, striving to be the change I want to see in the world. I truly believe community involvement is important─not just for the community, but also for ourselves. Volunteering your time and energy for a cause helps you grow as a person, you learn new things, meet new people, and are intrinsically rewarded for the service you do. I really think everyone should be involved somehow in something that matters to them.

Volunteer-work is also a good way for someone to establish credibility in their community, build a reputation and network with new people. For me, it was a powerful tool in growing Runamuk; people in this region of Maine have come to associate me with Runamuk, and Runamuk with bees and bee-conservation. I strongly encourage beginning farmers wanting to break into the market (or any person looking to make a name for themselves) to seek out ways to get involved with the community you will be serving─get to know the people and learn what gaps exist that you could fill, or seize unexpected opportunities that might present themselves through associations with the locals.

Serving the Madison Farmers’ Market

For me, it all started with the Master Gardeners’ program at my local cooperative extension. From there I went on to establish the Somerset Beekeepers and served as president of that group for 6 years. I served as a 4H leader for a time, and of course, there’s my service to the Madison Farmers’ Market. I know that many of the opportunities I have had, would not have been presented to me had I not put myself out there, given of my time and energies to these programs and my community.

Of all of those programs and services, the Madison Farmers’ Market is the one that is nearest and dearest my heart. Facilitating local food in my hometown, supporting local agriculture in this region where I grew up, and just getting to know my community on a very personal level─has had a profound impact on my life.

maine regions map
Madison on the Maine map.

For those who are not from the area, Madison is a fairly rural town, located along the banks of the Kennebec River, in what is known as the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine. Even with fewer than 5 thousand inhabitants, Madison is a mecca for the many outlying villages that are scattered throughout the Foothills and the closest access to a grocery store, banks and gas stations.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market, not only have we cultivated meaningful friendships between fellow farmers, we’ve also developed some strong relationships with the locals of Madison, and it’s “sister-city”, Anson, just on the other side of the river. We’ve met people from the villages of Starks, Embden, and North Anson. One woman comes from as far north as Salem (an unincorporated Maine township located 10 or so miles north-westerly from Kingfield) to visit the market. These relationships, and getting to know the people of the area where I was born and raised, where I have chosen to stay and raise my own children─these are what I treasure most about being a part of the Madison Farmers’ Market.

I’ve learned so much about farming and growing food just by spending my Saturdays peddling my wares in the parking lot at the Main Street Park in Madison, Maine. Sitting there in all types of weather, with my comrades in arms (just figuratively, lol!), discussing all manner of topics, learning from each other as we offer locally produced foods and goods to the people.

Though I am stepping down as market-manager, Runamuk will continue as a member of the market, and dedicated patrons will still be able to find me at the Madison Farmers’ Market every Saturday selling my wares.

Some Highlights From My Career as Market-Manager

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ISO Volunteers

So who will step up to fill my shoes? What will happen to the Madison Farmers’ Market now that Sam is stepping down?

That I can’t say….

Currently the Madison Farmers’ Market is in search of a volunteer─or better yet: a group of volunteers─who can take on the responsibilities of the market duties. There is the possibility of a stipend for a “market-manager”, though I do not know yet how much that stipend might be. What we’d really like to see is a committee, made up of at least 3 volunteers: a treasurer, secretary/marketing person, and an EBT-point person who will spearhead the Maine Harvest Bucks program for the community (the program that allows the market to offer EBT/SNAP shoppers bonus-dollars for purchase of fruits and vegetables).

Without help the Madison Farmers’ Market will no longer be able to accept credit, debit, or EBT cards at the market, and we will surely have to relinquish the Maine Harvest Bucks program.

Serve Your Community!

If you’re reading this from the Madison-Anson area and are interested in supporting local agriculture─consider giving of yourself to the Madison Farmers’ Market. If you have a passion for increasing local food access, serve your community by serving it’s farmers’ market. And most definitely, if you’re a beginning farmer in the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine, think about building your reputation by getting involved the Madison Farmers’ Market.

Even if you’re located elsewhere, I still encourage you to participate somehow in your local community. Many wonderful services and programs exist only because of the people who freely give of their time and of themselves to facilitate them. What’s more, you’ll be enriching your own life at the same time. But (in the words of Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow) “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Get involved today and find out for yourself!

Please share this post to help the Madison Farmers’ Market find new volunteers so that we can keep our special services going for the people of Madison-Anson and the surrounding rural areas. Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer!

State of the Apiary Address

nucleus colonies

Beekeeping in today’s modern environment is probably one of the hardest forms of agriculture that exists. If you can think of a worse one, by all means leave a comment below to share with us lol. Meanwhile, the 2017-2018 winter was another rough winter for beekeepers here in Maine; many beekeepers lost a lot of hives─myself included. At first, with so much riding on the apiary I was afraid to tell anyone, but the fallout from those losses has not been as bad as I had feared and so I bring to you now a sort of “State of the Apiary Address”.

runamuk apiary_may 2018
The Runamuk Apiary, May 2018.

Another Rough Winter

Over the course of the winter this year I went from 21 hives to 1. After working so diligently to build my apiary last summer it was a huge disappointment that led me once again to question myself, my abilities, and my path as a farmer. What’s more, with my impending mortgage largely dependent on the success of my apiary, I was terrified that the losses would put an end to my farm-purchase. Both Runamuk and my family desperately need a home to call their own; my days as a landless-farmer have run their course and it is now taking a toll on us all. What would happen if the FSA knew I’d lost 20 hives?

I wasn’t the only one who experienced significant hive-losses, however. The brutal cold Maine experienced in late-December and early-January tested even the strongest hives and beekeepers across the state suffered losses.

Note: For more about the impact of the 2017-2018 winter on Maine bees, check out “It’s been a rough winter for bees” from the Bangor Daily News, written by Peter Cowin─Maine’s own “Bee-Whisperer”.

Telling the FSA

Word of the impacts of the winter on the beekeeping industry eventually reached the USDA and FSA offices and I got an email from Nathan Persinger, the FSA agent who has been handling my loan, asking how I’d made out.

Honestly, there was a moment of utter panic. I was so terrified that if I told him the truth I would lose my chance to buy a farm and secure a home for my family. But I’ve made honesty and transparency a policy in my life, and not telling Nathan the truth was not something I wanted on my conscience─though I admit it totally crossed my mind.

If I’m going to have a relationship with the people at the FSA for the foreseeable future, I want that relationship to be a good one. So far the people I’ve worked with at the government office have only ever tried to help me. They have these resources available to help farmers and they want to do just that─help farmers; even if they are required to abide by the regulations and stipulations mandated by our bureaucratic government.

Besides that─if other beekeepers were sharing stories of loss and I came out with none, how would that look?

When I initially submitted my application and business plan to the FSA back in September, I had included for them a brief report on the nature of beekeeping. It is not common for a farmer to specialize in bees, and I wanted to help educate the FSA staff so that they would understand how a beekeeper can grow their apiary fairly rapidly just by making splits and nucs, and by raising their own Queens, which I am learning to do. I wanted the USDA representatives handling my case to realize that-yes, annual mortality of hives may be high─between 30% and 37% depending on the statistic─but the nature of beekeeping allows savvy beekeepers to rebound from annual losses and still continue to have hives and grow a business.

Once the shock regarding the severity of Runamuk’s winter losses wore off I had devised a plan to recover the apiary. I ordered a combination of packages for honey production, nucleaus colonies for kick-starting my breeding operation, and a dozen Saskatraz queens (Bred in Saskatchewan!!! Should be hardy in Maine, right?). And I still intended to produce at least 20 viable Queens to overwinter as nucleus colonies.

Even with this strategy under my cap, and knowing that I had good people on my side at the FSA, and even knowing that those people had accepted the education I’d offered and had even taken it upon themselves to learn more so as to be best able to help me─I had to have supplemental encouragement from some good friends before I could respond to Nathan’s email about my winter-losses.

I admitted that I was down to 1 hive, and presented my plan for recovery. My heart was in my throat when I hit the send button on that email, and I awaited Nathan’s response in a state of hyper-anxiety─fearing the worst.

Lol, I needn’t have worried. Nathan accepted the facts and was confident that with my strategy the Runamuk apiary would recover and go on to meet the goals I’d projected in my business financials. He merely suggested that I apply for the ELAP program for reimbursement of those hive-losses.

The ELAP Program

usda_somerset county
USDA Service Center for Somerset County, located in Skowhegan, Maine.

The ELAP program─or “Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish”─provides emergency assistance to eligible producers for losses due to disease, weather, and wildfire. It turns out that the severe and prolonged cold spell Maine experienced in December and January qualified beekeepers for reimbursement of hives lost as a result.

So I went to see Scott Speck at the Somerset County USDA office, who is the County Executive Director. At this point I’d met everyone in the office but Scott, so now I am fully acquainted with my local USDA/FSA staff─yaaay! Scott gave me the details on the program, we filled out the application and he sent me off with some homework.

Note: For more information on the ELAP program, check out the USDA’s ELAP Fact Sheet.

To qualify for the ELAP assistance I needed to be able to show some record of the existence of said hives─which was easy to do since Nathan had documented and photographed those same hives last fall for the purpose of my farm-loan. But I also needed to have my hives inspected by the Maine State Apiarist: Jennifer Lund, to ensure that “Best Management Practices” had been followed and that the cause of death was actually due to the severe weather conditions.

State Apiarist Visits the Runamuk Apiary

In my nearly 10 years keeping bees I had never once had the state apiarist come to my apiary. Thanks to my volunteer work as the president of the Somerset Beekeepers (formerly), I was involved enough to know what sort of issues were facing the majority of  Maine’s beekeeping community. Any additional problems I encountered I’ve been able to turn to a variety of more experienced beekeepers with whom I am acquainted, so having the state apiarist come solve my problems was never really necessary.

Again I was filled with anxiety─I knew I’d been following the “Best Management Practices” as laid out by the Maine Department of Agriculture, but what if I’d missed something? What if my timing had been off in applying the oxalic acid? Maybe I should have treated just one more time? I didn’t think I’d taken too much honey from the hives, but what if I was wrong? And what if Nathan had suggested the ELAP program as a justifiable means of having my operation assessed before the FSA committed the funds to my farm purchase???

I needn’t have worried; everything turned out fine.

Jennifer Lund met me at the Runamuk apiary located at Hyl-Tun Farm on route 43 in Starks on a dreary grey day and we proceeded to go through the dead-outs on-site there. Jennifer is probably about my age; she studied at the University of Maine alongside Frank Drummond─one of the leading scientists performing research on native bee populations for the USDA. When Maine’s veteran State Apiarist, Tony Jadczak retired a couple years back, Jennifer applied for the job and got it.

Since she’d been awarded the position I’d been wracking my brain trying to figure out why her name rang a bell in my head. We chatted as we surveyed my deceased colonies, and it turned out I had invited Jennifer to come to speak to the Somerset Beekeepers years ago! Mystery solved!

Jennifer checked my dead-outs to see the size of the cluster and their position within the hive, the amount of honey and pollen stores in the hives, along with signs of disease and mite levels among the population of bees. An alcohol-wash sampling revealed that mite levels were within reasonable range, and Jennifer concluded that in a normal winter even the weaker of my colonies likely would have survived. Cause of death was attributed to the weather conditions we’d experienced this year, and I was validated as a beekeeper.

With so many losses each winter it’s natural to wonder if you’re doing it right, and whether it’s worth the hassle and heartache. Jennifer put my mind at ease, and my ELAP application is moving forward at the FSA. I should receive a check towards the end of the season, which I intend to use to reimburse myself for some of the replacement bees I purchased this spring.

It’s Bee Season!

back of a beekeeper's car
Some of my favorite days are when the back of my car looks like this!

The season is well underway now. Runamuk’s replacement bees came in several waves: I picked up the first 5 packages on May 12th from Peter Cowin in Hampden, then went back on the 29th for another 5 packages. These will be my honey-producing hives, since the southern bred Italian packages tend to rev up fairly quickly they will ensure that I have honey available to sell and enable me to meet my financial targets.

On June 8th I fetched 3 nucleus colonies from Bob Egan’s Abnaki Apiaries in Skowhegan, Maine. I’d had 5 on order with Bob, but as a result of the harsh winter Bob was low on numbers. Having suffered significant losses myself I couldn’t hold that against the veteran beekeeper─we’re all in this together really. Bob raises a gentle strain of Carnolian bees that I’ve always had good luck with, and whose genetics I want as part of my breeding stock.

The 12 Saskatraz Queens are coming again from Hampden and Peter Cowin. They’ll be mated and ready to start laying when I bring them home the first week of July; the plan is to pair each Queen with 1 frame of brood taken from the existing hives and place them in a nucleus box with 1 frame of empty comb, and at least 1 frame of honey/pollen stores.

I’ll have to manage them fairly fastidiously so that I can overwinter them as nucs, so I’ve delayed pick-up of the new Queens til I can set them up at the new farm where I’ll be able to check on them more frequently. Ultimately, I’d like to have all the nucs and Queen-production happening at the Hive-House, while honey production will continue to happen at Hyl-Tun Farm where the Runamuk hives have miles of prime bee-forage in every direction.

Long-Term Apiary Goals

grafts 2018
My first grafted Queen-cells!

The end-goal I have for the Runamuk Apiary is to make the operation sustainable for the long-term viability of my farm. Though I have supporting ventures diversifying Runamuk, bees are the main focus of my farm-business and to truly be successful over the upcoming years I need to reduce inputs and expenses while continuing to expand the apiary.

To do that I need to be able to raise my own Queens and overwinter them as nucleus colonies that can replace the inevitable annual losses. Once I can ensure the continued survival of my own apiary, I can start selling nucs and mated-Queens raised from hardy Maine stock to local beekeepers.

Grateful for This Life

beekeeper profile
Accidental matching uniform at the apiary!

When I look back on the journey of my life I can’t help but marvel at the path that’s led me to this place in time. I did not set out to be the person I am today: female farmer, lady beekeeper, blogger, local food activist… I did see myself as becoming some sort of environmental activist however, and really everything I am stems from my love for the Earth and nature.

That love, along with a more recent commitment to be true to who I am and owning my story, has brought me here─doing work I love to do and paying my bills that way, on the precipice of purchasing my very own #foreverfarm and looking forward to bringing my vision for a pollinator conservation farm to life.

Yes, beekeeping is hard, and I’ll never be well-off as a farmer, but when I open a hive and the fragrance of warm beeswax and honey washes over me─or when I’m on my knees in the garden surrounded by plants and insects under the bright sun─I am filled with gratitude that I am able to live a life I love─one which brings meaning and purpose to my existence. Now that I’ve tasted this kind of wholehearted living, I could never give it up.

Thanks for reading and following along with my story! Feel free to share any thoughts, questions or comments below!

Farmer Talent Show a Success

fts sonia and wren

What a great time we had at the Farmer Talent Show Sunday night! It was a hugely successful event, and thanks to those who participated and came out to see the show, we were able to raise the funds needed to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

farmer talent show signageIf you’re a regular reader of the Runamuk blog, you might recall the post from a couple months ago announcing the Farmer Talent Show as a means for raising funds to support the Maine Harvest Bucks (MHB) program at the Madison Farmers’ Market. MHB increases access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP/EBT shoppers at local farmers’ markets and is made possible by government funding and various grants procured by the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. However there was a gap in the funding this year that meant farmers’ markets across the state either had to temporarily suspend the program, or step up to cover the funding shortfall themselves.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market we were adamant that the community we serve, located in Somerset County─an economically depressed region of central Maine─should continue to have access to the benefits the MHB program offers, and so we devised a fundraising strategy that included reaching out to local businesses, as well as hosting this Farmer Talent Show.

I really can’t take much credit for the event that happened last night. The Open Mics at the Madison and East Madison Granges were a concept breathed to life by my friend Sonia Acevedo from Hide & Go Peep Farm in East Madison. Sonia is a dedicated member of the East Madison Grange and last fall she initiated the monthly Open Mic events, which have since been taking place on the last Sunday of the month.

When the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets notified us of the funding gap for the Maine Harvest Bucks program that our market participates in, Sonia proposed the idea of using the regularly scheduled Open Mic as a Farmer Talent Show to help raise funds for that program. I fell in love with the idea and ran with it, coming up with the singing goat graphic to promote the event, and with the help of some of the other vendors at the Madison Farmers’ Market, Sonia and I actively promoted the event and hoped for a good turn-out.

tomato tattoos
Epic tomato temporary tattoos donated by Backyard Farms!

There were refreshments in the form of cookies, brownies, chips and salsa, and even fiddlehead cake! Given that this was a farm-themed event, it was totally appropriate to have a baby goat on site, and my cousin Josh Richards, who owns and operates “Leaping Lizards” a rescue center for exotic lizards, brought a few specimens to show off to the crowd. We even had “I Love Farmers’ Markets” and epic tomato temporary tattoos to offer in exchange for donations.

Not only did we have a good turn-out, but we managed to fill the meeting room at the East Madison Grange and we had a long list of performers in a wide range of ages and skill levels that made for a really great show. There were guitar-players, a trumpet-player, an accordion and a dulcimer, a fiddle and banjos, even a story-teller.

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ellen and dog special guest judges
Our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog!

 

It was especially fitting that our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog, 2 of our market’s most devout patrons. They did a great job awarding recognition to the various talents who entered our show, designating “Best Trumpet Player” and “Best Story-Teller”, “Crowd Favorite” and “Best Performance by a Band”, were among some of the winning categories.

Winning performers had their pick from a table laden with various gifts, trinkets and prizes our market-members had assembled, including a gift basket of soaps and body rubs from S&S Kid Farm, a big beautiful potted petunia and a basket of fresh eggs from Hide & Go Peep, and a pair of wooden book-ends depicting a horse to name a few.

Here’s my group below: “The Appalachian Sheep Dawgs”, including Alyssa (all but hidden behind the curtain from this angle─sorry Alyssa!), Ken Hahn (my banjo instructor), myself (in red) and the daughters of Ken and his wife Kamala: on guitar is Victoria , and Amelie on the fiddle.

Note: Don’t laugh at me when you watch this!!! I’m still a novice when it comes to playing the banjo, with only a year’s experience on the instrument under my belt. It takes utter concentration for me to not drop the ball in front of a room filled with 70+/- people!

At the very end of the evening we raffled off the tub-trug gift basket donated by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, containing an assortment of seeds, garden gloves, a Johnny’s beanie, a trowel and a hand-held seed-sower.

jss gift tub trub
Gift tub-trub donated by Johnny’s filled with misc. garden supplies!

Thanks to everyone who participated and came out for this show, our market was able to raise nearly $300 between the raffle and the tickets-by-donation. These funds, in addition to a $500 donation from Backyard Farms and a $200 donation by Paine’s Dairy Farm (both of Madison, Maine), means we have surpassed our fundraising goals and we will be able to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market! Yaaaaay!

No…I can’t take credit for what happened at the East Madison Grange on the night of Sunday, May 27th, but as I sat there amid the crowd gathered together to watch this wide-ranging display of talents in the name of local food, local farms, and community support, I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of love and affection, and I knew that I had contributed to something really special. In rural central Maine, a small, wayward band of grassroots activists─also known as farmers─collaborated to bring the public out in direct support of the community they serve. Life doesn’t get much more beautiful than that, if you ask me, and I am grateful every day to be able to call myself a farmer.

Thanks for reading and following along with my story! Feel free to leave a comment below if you are inspired to share with us. And be sure to subscribe to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly to your in-box!

Farmer Talent Show to Benefit the Madison Farmers’ Market

I’m donning my hat as Director of the Madison Farmers’ Market for this post, to unabashedly promote the market and our upcoming “Farmer Talent Show”.

madison farmers market
The Madison Farmers’ Market is held Saturdays May through October, 9 to1 at the Main Street Park in Madison, Maine.

It was a selfish endeavor, really─when I undertook to organize a farmers’ market in my rural hometown of Madison, Maine. I was a beginning farmer looking for a market close-to-home where I could sell my products to the community. The Madison Farmers’ Market is going into it’s 6th year now and it has become one of the most positive things in my life: a community of fellow farmers and caring patrons committed to fresh, nutritious food and to supporting their local economy.

Twenty-Mile Market

In a part of Maine where the loss of manufacturing mills and the waning timber industry has left 12% or more of all households living below the poverty line, I see a return to our agricultural roots as a huge opportunity for the people who live here. We can use agriculture as a means to boost our rural economies. Agriculture can enhance food security, reduce poverty through rural development, and we can even reduce the environmental impact of agricultural production. Pastoral economies need to take responsibility for themselves, promote creative new businesses that can sell to customers from outside the community and the new local food movement opens a lot of doors for those who are willing to think outside the box.

alice loves maine markets
This is Alice! She has a garden of her own, but makes it a point to stop in and visit regularly with our local farmers!

It’s been difficult to attract new farmers to the Madison Farmers’ Market because it is not a big money market like the Portland Farmers’ Market or the Lewiston-Auburn Farmers’ Market. Farmers who are making their weekly paychecks in a single farmers’ market want to join established markets where the customer base is reliable. In Madison, we’ve been faced with educating the community about the benefits and realities of food production as we grow our market in this traditionally conservative rural Maine community. This role is also not something that every farmer wants to take responsibility for.

As a result, the farmers I’ve managed to recruit for our rural farmers’ market are all located within a 20-mile radius of Madison, Maine. They are dedicated to this region because it’s their home, and they’re devoted to the community we’ve cultivated, committed to the support of each other, and together as a group we make up the Madison Farmers’ Market─one of the friendliest markets you’ll ever visit. We just enjoy each other’s company, and we enjoy the time spent outdoors selling our wares, doing what farmers are born to do: feed the people and nurture the Earth.

Accepting SNAP/EBT at the Madison Farmers’ Market has been instrumental in the growth of our community of faithful market-shoppers. Once we began participating in the Maine Harvest Bucks program, the Madison Farmers’ Market really saw a dramatic increase in attendance as low-income families came to take advantage of the “Bonus Bucks”.

Here’s how it Maine Harvest Bucks works:

The program is geared toward increasing the nutritional value of the federal nutrition assistance dollars─SNAP/EBT. It allows those shoppers to buy more healthy food, supports local farmers, and keeps food dollars within the local economy.

Since we serve a part of the state that is economically depressed, the members of the Madison Farmers’ Market are all in consensus that it’s important to be able to offer this program at our market. None of us are getting rich doing this, but we’re serving our community and working in direct support of ourselves and in direct support of the people around us. It all brings a sense of intrinsic reward that lends meaning and value to the farmer.

harvest bucks
The Maine Harvest Bucks program allows SNAP shoppers increased access to fresh, locally produced fruits and vegetables!

Each year, well before the start of the market season, the market applies with the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets to participate in the Maine Harvest Bucks nutrition incentive program. MFFM secures federal funding and various grants for the program, and then redistributes funds to participating markets accordingly. This year however, there is a funding gap and participating markets like Madison’s have had to decide whether or not to temporarily suspend their MHB programs, or to take on the responsibility of raising the funds themselves to cover the costs of the incentive-program.

Members of the Madison Farmers’ Market were adamant that we should do everything we can to keep this program running, and to that end I’ve devised a fundraising strategy to help us raise the $800 dollars the market needs to support the Maine Harvest Bucks incentives─including a really exciting Farmer Talent Show!

talent show
TALENT WANTED: You should do it! You’re pretty cool!

In return for a donation we’re offering a fun-filled show for the whole family, with free popcorn. There will be a raffle and a bake sale, too. I’m working on lining up special Guest Judges, and prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place performances. Already Johnny’s Selected Seeds has donated a tub-trug of garden supplies in response to the flyers I put up about the office, and the emails I sent to the entire company announcing my search for farmers with talent.

Sonia Acevedo from Hide & Go Peep Farm of East Madison, Maine.

We’re looking for farmers and gardeners from across the state of Maine, and especially those who are local to central Maine, to perform in our Farmer Talent Show. Open to any special talent: musicians, singers, dancers, rappers, actors, comedians, magicians and more─and, while we’re putting farmers in the spotlight, the members of the Madison Farmers’ Market are an inclusive group and we would never turn away anyone who wanted to perform.

So far we’ve got 3 acts─including myself with my friend and banjo instructor Ken Hahn. When I told Ken about the upcoming show he offered to play alongside me, and we’ve already picked out 3 songs to polish up before the big event. It’s going to be a really great time, so if you’re reading this and you’re a Maine-resident─and especially if you’re local to Madison and the Somerset County area─be sure to help us spread the word!

Find the Madison Farmers’ Market on Facebook and share our Farmer Talent Show event with friends. OR: share our Talent Wanted graphic (available on our Facebook page) on your timeline to let friends and family in your network know that we’re looking for talented people to perform. Stay tuned for more updates coming soon from Runamuk!

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!

Change of heart! I have a Sale Agreement!

at the orchard

I’d all but given up on the Swinging Bridge Farm, accepting it as being out of my reach and beyond my control. However, sometimes in life, good things come to us when we least expect it.

I was in the process of letting it go─wrapping my head and my heart around the idea that it wasn’t meant to be. I spent yesterday picking myself up once more. I worked in the garden, in the soil and the sun, easing my wounded heart. I made sauce for cabbage rolls to feed my family, and ran some errands in-town. After school let out, my sister Marie came over from Farmington and we went together with my younger son to the apple orchard.

at the orchard
Marie (my sister), myself, and my younger son.

That’s where I was while my realtor, Leah, was frantically trying to reach me with the good news. When I returned home there were messages from Leah in my email and on facebook messenger: “CALL ME!!!” and “Sam! I have good news!!!”

I called Leah and she said the most wonderful words: “Sam─you got it! You got the farm! We’re under contract!”

Reportedly, the Seller went to bed Tuesday night and did not sleep well. She was overwhelmed by the number of offers for the old place, which had belonged to her late husband. She had everyone coming at her and she just needed some time to sort it all out. When she woke the next morning she knew she wanted to help me get my farm and signed the paperwork.

I was overjoyed. I am overjoyed.

This is a HUGE win for Runamuk. And for me. But it’s just the first hurdle.

In my mind I envision the path to farm-ownership as an old fashioned steeplechase─the kind where horses and riders race from one town’s steeple to the next. Along the way runners have to jump streams and low stone walls, duck low-hanging branches and fallen trees on the path. Right before the finish-line there is one last colossal obstacle to overcome.

Getting a Sale Agreement for a property to farm on has been a bigger obstacle than any I’ve encountered thus far, but the barrier looming before me now is the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

When I went in March to see Janice Ramirez at the Somerset County USDA office to get more information about the options available to me as a beginning and female farmer, I learned that the FSA does not consider farm incomes of just a few thousand dollars to warrant property investment. My farm income for 2016 had been just over $6K, which could have been considered as such, so at the time I opted to wait until I was in a stronger financial position to make such an attempt for financing.

I’m expecting to bring in about $14K through Runamuk this year. My cash projections for the last few years show that I have more than doubled my farm income every year for the last 3 years, and indicated that trend continuing over the next 5 years.

I’ve done my homework. Extensively. I make 3-5 year plans and revisit them every January as part of my farm-planning process. I’ve worked toward carefully crafted goals year after year to put myself in a good position to make this happen, and now the time has come to put it to the test.

I am a tumult of emotion.

Largely I am confident this is going to happen─that my time has finally come. Yet there is a part of me that is terrified that I will make this big bold attempt to leap over this last monumental hurdle─only to come up short. I’m afraid I will fail and everything will come crashing down on my head, leaving me bloodied and broken in the ditch. I am afraid of losing the respect and faith my community has placed in me, and that I will never have another opportunity to make another play for a farm of my own.

Still, I have come too far to turn back now. There’s too much at stake to even think about giving up. It’s not just about me anymore. There are people who have helped me along my journey, people who look up to me, and even a few who depend on me─whom I owe this to. There are beginning farmers and women farmers out there who need to see someone succeed so that they can have hope of someday obtaining their own farms.

There are my own aspirations of doing more to help pollinators, to teach the world how we can all be just a little more bee-friendly. And there’s me─I’ve worked to make something of myself, of Runamuk, and I owe it to myself to see this thing through.

So rejoyce with me in this victory. I have a legally binding Sale Agreement for the Swinging Bridge Farm!!!

Now brace yourself, because I have just 45 days to obtain a Letter of Qualification from the FSA for financing. Eeeeeeek!

Check back soon for more stories about my journey to farm-ownership and my mission to cultivate a pollinator conservation farm! Save bees, save the world!

Gaining perspective

Murphy and I, along with a good friend of mine, climbed Pleasant Pond Mountain in Caratunk on Friday, reconnecting with another passion of mine: hiking and climbing mountains.

hiking the at
The AT trail up Pleasant Pond Mountain.

Not the scaling rock kind of mountain-climbing where you need harnesses and specialty rope─noooo, I’m not that coordinated, lol. But the Appalachian-Trail kind of hiking and mountain climbing for sure. I’ve even toyed with the idea of hiking the AT, but so far I’ve just climbed a few random mountains across Maine and New Hampshire.

I admit I’ve been pretty down and broken-hearted about losing Jim’s farm─going through the whole gamut of emotions one would typically expect when they lose a loved one: grief, sadness, anger, self-doubt…more sadness. And just when I think I have a handle on it all, there comes a rain shower falling so beautifully upon the meadow, or a glorious sunset over the mountain view, and it puts me to tears all over again.

Despite the emotional roller coaster I am picking myself up. I know these are the challenges beginning farmers face. I know I am not the only one going through this kind of upheaval; at least 2 other farming-friends of mine are experiencing farm-displacement this season. I did everything I could to try to make it work at Jim’s place. Believe me when I say I’ve exhausted all options and I am exhausted. Their brother is long gone and the Murphy family want to sell the place and be done with it. At this point in time there is nothing that I can do to bridge the gap to secure this farm for Runamuk. I have to accept that, and so do my supporters.

This is not the end for Runamuk or for me, but it has made me question who I am, what I’m doing, and what’s actually important to me. I can make a living on less land for sure. I don’t need the big house and the big mortgage only holds me back.

It’s the dream that tears me up the most I suppose. My grand dream for a pollinator conservation center here in this region of Maine. Picture a park-like setting akin to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, with varying types of gardens and meadows geared toward different types of pollinators. There would be walking paths through the gardens, meadows and forest, will plaques identifying the habitat and informing visitors about the flowers planted there and the pollinators who visit them. There would be bird houses for a variety of species, a bat house, and an education center where visitors of all ages could come to play and learn. Picture a shaded area with picnic tables, and imagine rustic wooden benches in secluded sections of the trail where visitors could stop and sit awhile to admire the sound of insects pollinating, to bird watch, or to meditate. And there would be a view of the western Maine mountains to top it off.

maine mtns
Personal note: I have a mountain fetish.

Imagine the kind of tourism that such a park might bring to the economically depressed region that is Somerset County. With papermills closing and much of our manufacturing jobs outsourced overseas this region needs more businesses and more people coming to the area to spend their money.

Madison-Anson is along the route between the coast and the mountains and Canada. There is a lot of traffic moving through our area heading in one direction or the other, but we see very little business from that traffic. This conservation center could entice more travelers to stop for a visit on their way north or south, and I hoped it would bring some tourists away from the coast to visit inland Maine.

That’s the dream I have.

view from pleasant pond mountain
Maine’s coast is beautiful too, but the state’s western mountain ranges are glorious too.

But that dream is out of reach at the moment. I’m putting it aside; tabling it for the time being, while I focus my attention on the apiary and building an income. I need stability and security after all this, and I know I can generate an income with the bees, and─hopefully─with my writing.

Atop Pleasant Pond Mtn_Selfie
Murphy and I at the top of Pleasant Pond Mountain.

I’m choosing to focus on the things that are most important to me. Breaking away from the industrialized and commercialized mainstream, growing food to feed my kids and myself, moving toward a more sustainable existence, being close to nature, spending time with the people in my life, and sharing my experiences and knowledge with others in hopes of inspiring more to do the same.

Those are the things most important to me. Sometimes I need to climb a mountain to regain that perspective, to connect with the Earth and remember why I started all of this. Through all of this I have had friends and family, and many of my followers and supporters─lifting me up, listening to me as I work things out, encouraging me to not give up, and just being there to offer a hug or a laugh. I am so grateful to each and every one of you, and I want you to know that I am O.K. Runamuk will persevere, and I will continue to be a part of the Madison-Anson area communities in some form or fashion.

Stay tuned folks!

 

Establishing Somerset Beekeepers

Faithful readers of my blog might be aware of the plight of the environmental activist in central Maine–which is that the clubs and programs to encourage participation and education among the community are all but non-existent in this area.  This is true of the Maine State Beekeeper’s Association as well.

As an extension of my organic-gardening pursuits, I set up my first beehive this year and was quickly consumed with what is referred to as “bee-fever”.  I was anxious to learn more about the handling and care of my bees, and as a passionate eco-enthusiast and homeschooler I was eager to share my fascination of bees with others.  The logical place to start was with my local beekeeper’s club.  ….Imagine my disappointment when I learned that Somerset County did not support one!

I mulled this over during the summer and fall as I worked my hive and prepared my colony of bees for the impending winter, grinding my teeth in frustration at the lack of environmental coordination in my region.  How could I participate in the environmental movement if I couldn’t get to the organizations!?

honeybeeThen in November I posted a tentative query on the MSBA Facebook page asking how to go about starting a new chapter of the MSBA in Somerset County.  Since that day the ground-work for the Somerset Beekeeper’s Association has rolled out before me and I am very proud to say that the first-ever meeting will be held at the Somerset County Co-Op Extension in Skowhegan, Maine on January 12th at 6pm.  It couldn’t have been easier to get the club underway–the president of our MSBA, Erin Forbes, as well as Kathy Hopkins at the Co-Op Extension, were only too eager to help, and I discovered that these organizations want more clubs to be established.  All it seems to take is a healthy dose of enthusiasm–and that I have in spades.