How do Gregg and Gloria Varney do it?
How do they raise five children; milk 120 head of Holsteins and Jerseys; run a country store stocked with their homemade foods, knitted goods, soaps and baskets; operate a machine shop; grow most of their own food—and still have time to play the fiddle and harmonica, write a column for Organic Valley's website, serve on the boards of several organizations, hunt, read and have a blast?
Perhaps the answer is in their genes. Both grew up on busy family farms, and both wanted to end up on one of their own.
Gloria is one of ten kids raised on a self-sustaining farm in central Maine. Her family wholesaled broiler chickens, eggs, meat, cheese and butter.
Gregg was born on his family's dairy, Nezinscot Farm. After graduating with a degree in animal and veterinary science and a minor in economics from the University of Maine at Orono, Gregg bought the farm from his parents.
A hay bale brought them together. It was a 40-pound lunker she'd tossed from her family's barn, just as Gregg and his father passed by. "I said, ‘Dad, that was a girl!'" Gregg smiles. "And Dad said, ‘I noticed!'"
Well, Gregg and Gloria soon met officially. They married in 1987. She had gotten a degree in community health education, nutrition and exercise physiology, and worked for a few years as a fitness director in a gym. "But I realized that wasn't the way I wanted to teach people about being healthy," she says. So, in 1991 she quit her job and happily started helping Gregg on the farm. "What I do now is much better than working with people in leotards indoors. I like producing a product people like and are willing to pay for."
The couple has enhanced this special place from the get-go. The farm includes 250 acres they own, plus 200-300 acres they lease, and a mile of frontage on the Nezinscot River, one of the cleanest waterways in Maine and a renowned catch-and-release fly-fishing stream.
This particular spot long has had a welcoming aura. University of Maine archaeologists discovered that the farm is the site of the oldest human habitation east of the Mississippi River in the U.S. Gloria says "Nezinscot" means "to descend upon." She believes it refers to the area's historic gathering place of indigenous people.
"I've been told that our farm has a magical feel to it," Gloria says. "We're 10 miles from Auburn, the closest city, and people are drawn here, sometimes just to come and walk around for the day. They seem to care about what we do, and they say it feels nice to be here." No doubt, they're also attracted by the delicious foods, the appeal of this bustling family farm, and a desire to connect with something real.
Three generations of Varneys have been fortunate to farm this land over the past 100 years, and they've graciously shared it with visitors. "Gregg's family always had six to seven extra people at lunch," Gloria explains. She and Gregg continue to host guests at meals, including interns who want to know more about organic farming.