The interns study Gregg and Gloria's innovative organic dairy practices. Nezinscot Farm was the first certified organic dairy in Maine, earning that status in 1987. Through their involvement with MOFGA and other organizations, the Varneys support others in making the transition to organic.
Organic methods always have made sense to them. "This was how my grandfather taught us to farm," Gregg explains. "We never thought there was any other way. In fact, this land has never seen chemical fertilizers or pesticides, although my father did use herbicides briefly. When you live on the banks of the Nezinscot River, you want to keep it pure and clean for the kids and fish to swim in."
First and foremost, they raise healthy cows. Most commercial dairies over-feed their cows by as much as 20%, and give them growth hormones (particularly rBGH) to make them continually produce lots of milk. RBGH also prevents cows from calving. This makes no sense to Gregg and Gloria. Instead, their cows graze lush pastures and eat organically grown hay and grains. The cows also calve naturally. This is a big plus, because there's a shortage of dairy calves in America, due to rBGH; many calves are imported from Mexico and Canada, and can cost $2,000 each. In addition, the Varneys make sure that each cow's teats are emptied completely after milking, to prevent infections. They keep their barn clean and dry, to prevent diseases. And they use holistic health care instead of antibiotics, to maintain their herd's health. As a result, the Varneys' cows live six to 10 years—twice as long as the average Maine cow.
Their high-quality milk ends up in Organic Valley products sold throughout New England. "People need to know that all organic milk is not the same," Gloria says. "It's important to know where our food comes from, and to take the extra step, and buy local. In New England, something that's shipped from California is just not as good as something produced nearby. Organic Valley truly supports small local family farms. And we believe that, if you can't find Organic Valley products, buy what's produced locally, even if it's not organic. We support farmers who are struggling to compete with big conglomerates that have big money. Unfortunately, that money, and the trend toward bigger farms, help good people make bad choices."
These commitments—to their family, their diverse and sustainable farm, and other small local family farms—plus their buzzing, positive energy, drive Gregg and Gloria. Maybe that answers how the Varneys do it!