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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!