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, 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 a farm of their own.
Gloria is one of ten kids raised on a self-sustaining farm in central Maine. Her family wholesaled broiler and layer chickens and had a vegetable stand and butcher shop.
Gregg was born on his family’s dairy, Nezinscot Farm, and after graduating with a degree in animal and veterinary science and a minor in economics, Gregg bought the home farm from his parents.
Gloria 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. “Here on the farm I have created a classroom where I am able to not only produce healthy products for people to buy, but also provide the opportunity to see where and how their food is produced and grown.”
The couple has enhanced this special place from the get-go. The farm includes 250 acres they own, plus 200 to 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.
“We’re 10 miles from Auburn, the closest city, and people are drawn here. They seem to care about what we do, and they say it feels nice to be here,” Gloria says. No doubt, they’re also attracted by the delicious food, the appeal of this bustling family farm, and a desire to connect with something real.
The couple’s goal is to be diverse and sustainable. They grow corn, silage and hay and for their livestock. Their three acres of vegetables, plus their laying hens, broilers, hogs, sheep, steers and turkeys, feed their family and generate income through the farm’s country store. Their goats and cows provide milk for Gloria’s farmstead feta, chèvre, Gouda, Caerphilly and double Gloucester cheeses, which are also for sale in the store. Everything is organically raised or grown.
Handy and multi-talented, Gregg built the barns and other farm buildings. A skilled machinist, he also designs, manufactures and repairs the farm’s equipment. Gregg recently built a grain processing facility on the farm and now the Varneys process local and organic grains for customers and area farmers. He is in the process of designing and adding a slaughter house and butcher shop to the farm.
The kids are following in their parents’ footsteps. The older girls—Natasha and Samantha—even while away at college, help work with the farm’s web and social media, as well as their online business bookkeeping. The younger ones, Mackenzie, Roy and Everett help with daily farm chores. There are always interns and at least six part- and full-time employees who work on the farm alongside the family.
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 the Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association (MOFGA) and other organizations, the Varneys support others in making the transition to organic.
Organic methods have always 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.”
The Varneys use holistic health care methods instead of conventional drugs to maintain their herd’s health. On average, the Varneys’ cows live longer, less stressful lives than conventionally managed cows.
The high-quality milk produced on Nezinscot Farm 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 to buy local. In New England, something that’s shipped from California is just not as good as something produced within the region.”
The Varneys’ commitments to their family, their diverse and sustainable farm, and other small local family farms combined with their buzzing, positive energy, all drive Gregg and Gloria. Maybe that answers how the Varneys do it!