One of the greatest parts of my job at Farm Aid is the work I do directly with farmers and farm organizations. I visit farms almost everywhere I go, and get a chance to talk with farmers engaged in all types of agriculture production from wheat producers on the Northern Plains to potato growers in the great Northwest. I’ve visited small organic vegetable farms in Mississippi and North Carolina and organic dairies in Wisconsin and Massachusetts; sheep and goat farms in Vermont and sugar cane farms in Louisiana. Not long ago I visited an extraordinarily diverse family farm operation in Turner, Maine. It’s the Nezinscot Farm, run by the Varney family, which has been operating the farm for more than 100 years.
It’s a true family operation with Gregg and Gloria Varney holding the reigns today, and their children pitching in where they can. And on this farm there are many, many ways to get involved. The Varney’s operate the first certified organic dairy in Maine, they milk goats and cows and operate the Turner Centre Creamery where they turn milk into cheese, which they sell in their farm store, along with organic milk, vegetables, meats and eggs. They bake bread, can and sell jellies, jams, relishes and pickles. They operate a CSA, have a small café and a wool and fibre shop. It’s hard to imagine where they find the time to do all of these things, but they do, and they are successful.
On my visit, Gloria told me she’s seen a huge change among people who want to know where their food comes from. They want to build relationships; they want to know the farmers who are growing their food. And while I was at the farm, Gloria was eager to introduce me to one of the family’s stars: their dog named Willie Nelson, a mild mannered hound of indeterminate breed who helped out where he could, but mostly just sat out on the front porch taking it all in. As near as I could tell he wasn’t singing or playing the guitar, at least not while I was visiting.