Sometimes I joke that my status as a landless farmer and the on-going search for Runamuk’s forever-farm has given new meaning to the name “Runamuk”. Originally I named the farm after the chaos homeschooling 2 rowdy boys inspired in my life, but we’ve had 6 moves in Runamuk’s lifetime (7 years). Lack of capital and land-access are the number one challenges beginning farmers are facing, so I know at least that I’m in good company. With so many moves it’s been hard to get ahead in the business; each move is a financial set-back and only serves to delay the good work that I could be doing.
A farm is built up through the farmers’ efforts at building soil, crops and livestock year after year; that can’t happen unless there is a long-term situation for the farmer. I feel almost as though I am in suspended animation. There are plants I want to grow, agricultural and conservation methods I want to try, animals I’d like to raise, and the kind of production that can only come through years and years of dedication to the same piece of Earth.
But Runamuk is meant to be so much more than just a farm. Runamuk is a conservation and demonstration farm.
We’re practicing regenerative agriculture and bee-friendly farming to lead by example, teaching others how they too can live in coexistence with pollinators and the natural world around us. Agritourism is meant to be part of my business with on-farm workshops, bee-schools and tours. In our current situation the apiary is located on someone else’s farm, while we live and homestead in a situation that is not conducive to having the public stop by.
Farming isn’t always picture-perfect, but to sell a product or idea, to influence folks to your way of thinking (as in to persuade the public that bee-friendly living and farming is a good idea)─you have to meet folks halfway. The reality is that people have preconceived perceptions of what a farm looks like and in order to change someone’s way of thinking you have to meet them half-way in order to gain any traction with them.
That’s why I’m still searching for a forever-farm home that fulfills the vision I have for Runamuk. It’s also the motivation behind my 2-part campaign I’ve dubbed rhe: “Runamuk FarmRaiser: a Bee-Friendly Farm”
The Vision for Runamuk (the short version)
Set in the heart of the western Maine mountains, this 100-acre conservation farm will be ideal for raising superior honeybee stock adapted to Maine’s challenging conditions. Perennial food forests and gardens will be laid out to feed both the farmer and the bees, along with wildflower meadows and pastures which are rotationally grazed or mowed to conserve wildlife and local populations of beneficial insects like pollinators, while still allowing income and management of the fields.
Well-defined walking paths will lead the way throughout the conservation farm, with plaques identifying the habitat and the wildlife supported by it. Nesting boxes for birds, bats, bees and butterflies will be scattered about the conservation farm attracting wildlife and educating the public─with a grand “bee hotel” providing habitat for a spectrum of native bees.
Visitors will find benches about the farm for sitting, allowing them to absorbing nature and take in the extensive demonstration gardens. A picnic area and a fire pit for community gatherings and celebrations will attract school field trips or families on vacation. The Runamuk Conservation Farm will be a welcoming stop for tourists passing through the area, and a destination for anyone looking to learn about beekeeping, pollinator conservation, bee-friendly farming, regenerative agriculture or sustainable living.
Read the Vision for the Runamuk Conservation Farm in it’s entirety.
Going for it
This is the vision that I have for Runamuk and whether it is I that cannot let go the dream, or the dream that refuses to let go of me, I cannot say. I only know that it burns inside me and I have neither the strength nor the will to deny it any longer. I’m going for it.
In 2 parts, friends and followers can help Runamuk find it’s forever-farm home and raise funds for the down payment on that property.
Part A: Utilizing social media to spread the word about what we are looking for to connect with a land-owner who might potentially be willing to work with us to preserve their property for future generations. I’ve listed below the kind of things I’m looking for in Runamuk’s forever-farm and created a sharable graphic to make it easy to circulate the information. Begin: NOW!
Part B: Crowdfunding for the down-payment on that forever-farm property. I’m shooting for $20K─that would give us a 20% down-payment on a property with a $100K price tag, but any amount raised will help in the purchase. If we should raise more than that it would mean a lower mortgage or a better property (maybe even one with housing?), and if we don’t raise that much that’s ok too─at least we’ll have a chunk of change to offer.
I’m brainstorming a list of perks to offer in exchange for a pledge of support for my cause. Some of the ideas I have include: pollinator-themed refrigerator magnets, a Soap CSA─3 bars a month for 12 months, gift certificates for pollinator plants, Beekeeping 101 with me (either at my apiary or via Skype). Those are just a few ideas; I’m open to suggestions, and if you’re interested in being a part of the team to help organize this campaign and finally take Runamuk home to begin the work of promoting pollinators in earnest, please let me know.
“Runamuk FarmRaiser: a Bee-Friendly Farm” Campaign Launches: September 1st, 2017.
What we’re looking for
You can grow a surprising amount of food on a smaller parcel of land and increasingly farmers are doing just that. I’m helping Paul to establish a perennial food-forest garden right here so that his Norridgewock property will support itself. For the scope of the Runamuk project however, we’re looking for at least a hundred acres to farm on.
Price: I’d prefer to keep my debt as low as possible, so I’m shooting for a price tag of about $100K. The bigger the number the more queasy I get. After scouring the market for the last 5 years I know that the beautiful old farmhouses with acreage still in-tact can be anywhere from $150-$360 or even more. So unless a golden opportunity comes along, we’ll probably be looking for land without existing infrastructure.
A View: Such an view on the horizon lends much beauty to the setting, and Runamuk will surely inspire it’s guests to make big changes in their lives.
Secluded: My strategy is to develop a hygienic honeybee strain that is adapted to the mountainous region of western Maine, tapping into potential feral colonies that might still reside in the reserved public conservation lands in that part of the state. A location apart from the state’s other commercial apiaries offers more control over genetics.
Phillips-Area: After spending so much time pouring over realty listings, I’ve only recently come to realize that the area around Phillips, Maine seems to best meet both my vision and my needs. It’s not too terribly far from Madison-Anson to Phillips, and Route 4 is a main avenue for tourists traveling to our Rangeley Lakes region. Set right in the heart of the mountainous Maine wilderness with some great farmlands along the Sandy River, this area really speaks to me.
Those are my must-haves, but I have some other things that I’m looking for when exploring property. Here they are in order of importance:
Pasture: This is actually very high on my list and I warred with myself on whether it should have been listed with the must-haves. 5 acres of open pasture would allow for quick set up of the Runamuk farm, offering open ground for gardening, bee-forage and a source for the medicinal herbs and flowers I use to make our value-added beeswax products. I would only be willing to sacrifice the pasture for “the Right” property.
Gnarly trees: I have a thing for old gnarly trees and would love to have some on my property. And I have a thing for mature-growth forests─forests that have not been cut for a long, long time. I am the proverbial tree-hugger.
Water-source: Having some kind of water source available would be a big boon to the operation, be it a stream, farm pond, or old dug farm-well.
History: There’s so much to be learned from those who came before us, and a sense of richness that comes from that kind of depth in a property. I would love to have one of the old 1800’s farmhouses with the fields all bisected by rockwalls and gnarly old trees lining the drive. Or even just a chunk of land that had once been a working farm, but has since been reclaimed by the Maine wilderness─with rock walls dividing the forest, an old stone-lined well or the crumbling stone foundation of the farmhouse that once lived there hidden amid the growth of the forest-floor like ghostly whispers from the past lingering to tell the story of that land.
Housing: I have very mixed feelings about our current housing situation, but because Paul has this remodeled trailer I have quite a lot of flexibility in this department. Even a run-down house will drive up the price of my forever-farm; by looking at land-only we can afford the larger acreage that we really want. These factors have moved existing housing lower and lower on my list of priorities for my forever-farm property.
How you can help
Lack of capital and land access are the two largest obstacles facing new farmers today and they have certainly played a role in Runamuk’s journey. Investment in the right property would enable us to establish a permanent location, allowing for Runamuk’s expansion into agritourism as a conservation farm.
Share our Story! You can help Runamuk right now just by sharing our search for our forever-farm property! This can help just by connecting us with land-owners who might be able to help us, or it might inspire friends in your network to share our story too. Sharing also helps us to grow our blog and reach new people who have not heard of Runamuk or our mission to save the world by saving bees. Share our forever-farm graphic, share my articles, share the link to our website or our facebook fanpage; share share share!
Make the Connection! Sometimes land-owners and new farmers work out arrangements that allow the beginning farmer to purchase land when traditional financing is not an option. If─by chance─you or someone you know has property in the Phillips, Maine area that they are committed to preserving for future generations, and if that someone has the means to offer a beginning farmer like me an owner-financed option, by all means─please share our search for Runamuk’s forever-farm home with them!
Join the Team! Crowdfunding is a big deal and not to be taken lightly. It’s a lot of work to run a successful fundraising campaign. If you’d like to be a part of bringing the Runamuk Conservation Farm to life, feel free to drop me a line. We could use all the help we can get!
Donate! If you are able to donate and want to give to our project we are humbled and grateful. Every dollar pledged will be used to secure a forever-farm home for Runamuk so that we can build this pollinator conservation farm, allowing us to teach bee-friendly coexistence and make those lessons accessible to the public. You can wait until the official start of the crowdfunding campaign on October 1st, or feel free to donate now using the “Buy me a coffee” widget in the lower left-hand corner of our site (powered by PayPal). Local friends and supporters who wish to help can pledge their support in person too, which actually means we’ll get to keep the entire donation as opposed to online transactions which accrue a processing fee.
For the good of us all
Runamuk’s income is growing─I’m projecting Runamuk will gross over $12K this year; that might be enough to go for a loan with the FSA or Farm Credit East. Regardless of which path I take to farm-ownership I know I’m going to need a down payment. Currently I’m working at Johnny’s Selected Seeds part-time to be able to bring my dream to life. I have $1200 saved and I’m working hard to keep expenses down so that we can continue to save for our forever-farm property.
I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not to attempt a crowdfunding campaign for Runamuk. It’s not easy to ask people for money─hell! I have a hard time sometimes just charging friends for eggs! The idea of exposing myself online in such a big way is terrifying and I hesitate even as I am continuing to work on this infernal campaign. Yet, sometimes strangers actually do donate to Runamuk─see the “Buy me a coffee!” graphic at the bottom of the sidebar along the left here? Sometimes total strangers actually donate significant chunks of change because they found the info on this site useful, or because they were inspired by our mission. That was the deciding factor in the “Runamuk FarmRaiser: a Bee-Friendly Farm” campaign. People are noticing that our pollinator populations are significantly reduced and they want to help.
In a bizarre twist of fate, the girl who was once fearful of “bugs” has found her calling in life working with bees and for bees and other pollinators. Whatever the reason, this dream that I have for the Runamuk Conservation Farm won’t leave me be and so I must try however I can to see it brought to life. For the good of us all, people need to know how they can help pollinators; much in our world depends on these tiny creatures and the job they perform. If I can help through my work with the Runamuk Conservation Farm, then I feel I will have served the Earth and society in the best way I could.
You can help Runamuk find it’s forever-farm just by sharing our story with friends and family! Be sure to check back soon for more updates! Things are getting interesting!