Working off the farm

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It’s a fact that many farmers need to work off the farm to cover their living expenses or to have access to health insurance or other sorts of benefits otherwise not available to them. And while I strive to reach a point where Runamuk is infact a self-sustaining business that pays its farmers’ living expenses, we are not there yet, and I suppose if I were being realistic I would admit that it may never reach that point. That’s a dismal sort of thought for me though, so I still work toward my end-goal of working for Runamuk and Runamuk alone.

And in the meanwhile, to supplement my income and pay for my living expenses I’ve taken to working off the farm. I took a seasonal position in the call center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds back in January, and that worked out well–other than the fact that I was sitting at a desk inside all day. The people I worked with were all fantastic–farmers, gardeners, and homesteading-types, with a creative energy and an atmosphere that I really responded to. I was able to work on other projects while I was there–writing, blogging, organizing for the beekeepers’ group or the farmers’ market–I could do while I was “at-work”, which made my load a little easier to manage.

In the spring I took at job closer to home at the local Campbell’s True Value right in Madison, but while the people I was working with were all really good people, I  found the company itself to be more corporate than I’d realized and my personal values and principals may also have been something of a sticking point for them too. In the end the company and I parted ways after just a few short weeks. I still shop there and chat with my former co-workers, but I am relieved to not be working there.

I know I could get any entry-level job in a convenience store or the local Hannaford, I could take a job working long hours in a kitchen, or go back to waitressing as I did in my early twenties–but those are all soul-crushing atmospheres and I would be more than miserable. It’s just not worth it to me to live miserably; I would rather drive farther, or work fewer hours for a paycheck earned doing something I could at least relate to on some level.

And even though I’ve managed to find work and people that I enjoy–it all pales in comparison to the work that I do on this farm. The checks I receive from the MSBA for doing the BeeLine brings me more satisfaction than a “paycheck” earned off the farm. $45 earned at market may be a much smaller take-home than my paycheck from Johnny’s, but it has a much higher value to me.

With the busy season in the call center at Johnny’s long behind us, and the threat of winter looming ahead, I took a job recently at North Star Orchards in Madison. I’m working around 30 hours a week there packing apples for the Dimmock family. It’s still a bit of a bitter pill to swallow to have to be off the farm, but the work isn’t bad–I’m learning a lot about apples and apple farming–and the people at North Star are all really good people.

But working off the farm doesn’t mean that I farm less, or give up farming. On the contrary–I’m working longer days now because the work still needs to get done–especially if I am ever to achieve my goal of working for Runamuk alone.

I’ve created multiple income streams for Runamuk: selling at the farmers’ market, putting together the BeeLine for the MSBA, this blog, the on-farm workshops, bee-schools, honeybee and wasp removals, online sales…. The farm is beginning to gain some momentum and I’m pleased to say that Runamuk is paying half the rent this month. That in itself if cause for celebration and I think I will pick up some Sammy Adam’s Octoberfest this Friday evening in honor of the accomplishment.

Course–truth be told–I would have “celebrated” a much smaller feat for an excuse to enjoy some fall brew. The tree tops are beginning to change to their fall coloring here and the selection of fall beers in the stores have me thirsty to try them all. Stay tuned folks!

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