TURNER, Maine -- On a windy morning, Nezinscot Farm is humming with the nervous urgency that defines fall on a Maine farm. Fields needed to be cleared, firewood stacked, and the harvest put away in freezers and the root cellar.
On this land just outside Lewiston, those tasks go to Gregg Varney, 51, and his wife, Gloria, 39, who bought the 250-acre place in 1986 from his parents (it was originally owned by Gregg Varney's grandfather G.W. Varney). Today, the challenge for the third-generation Varneys -- for all New England farmers -- is making the land viable year-round, once the harvest is over and there are no more fresh vegetables. To that end, the Nezinscot farm store, housed in an old milking barn, sells all kinds of goods grown or made on this organic farm: yarn from their own sheep, prepared foods, bacon, milk, farmhouse cheddar, goat cheese, feta, and an array of old-fashioned pickles. With milking cows, dairy goats, cattle, sheep, pigs, laying chickens, and turkeys, the Varneys have created a model for what a diversified organic family farm can be.
Framed by ancient sugar maples, the store's front porch is lined with rocking chairs and piled with winter squash and pumpkins. Jack Daniels, the Varney's giant, 12-year-old mutt, is usually napping in a sunny corner. Willie Nelson, a three-year-old border collie, chases his tail. Inside, tall shelves are packed with cookie jars, handmade goat-milk soap, mustard pickles, dilly beans, raspberry jam, pumpkin butter. A countertop holds cooling pies and breads. Behind that is Gloria's rustic kitchen, where everything from French toast to hamburgers is made from scratch and cooked to order in well-seasoned cast iron pans. Gloria grew up a few towns away in Livermore, helping her parents run a farm with a butcher shop; she graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington with a degree in health education. Gregg was raised on the farm and studied agriculture at the University of Maine at Orono.
When they first bought the place, Gregg stepped into his father's old job of milking the cows. Gloria gardened, tended a small flock of sheep, and ran a small yarn store out of their farmhouse. She soon realized that customers who came to buy yarn were just as interested in what she was cooking, so 15 years ago she started selling food from her kitchen. ''I've eaten well all my life," says Gloria, who was raised on fresh food, all made at home. ''In our family there were three boys and seven of us girls. Breakfast was eggs and donuts. Lunch was meat, potatoes, vegetables, soup, and fresh bread. Supper was casseroles and pie for dessert. I opened the farm store to teach people about where their food comes from, and to share some of that good eating and good health."
Since the store opened in 1995, it has become a gathering place for the community, and an outlet to sell just about anything that the Varneys can produce on pastures and cropland that roll and flow down to the Nezinscot River. Gregg tends 300 head of cattle, including 100 milking Holsteins -- this was the first certified organic dairy farm in Maine -- and manages field crops. Gloria husbands the other animals, small and large, including llamas, alpacas, donkeys, and horses.
On this crisp morning, Gloria is loading the oven with rye breads, mixing up a batch of molasses-flavored anadama loaves, and putting together lunch sandwiches for the workers (she is known for these; every day she makes hearty meat and cheese sandwiches with homemade whoopee pies for dessert).
She is up between 4 and 5 a.m. to start the day's baking. With Gregg and their five children (Natasha, 14; Samantha, 13; Mackenzie, 8; Roy, 5; and Everett, 3) still asleep, she heads to the store. Around 5, Gregg goes to the barn to supervise the morning milking, which is picked up by Organic Valley, a farmers' cooperative. Most of this milk goes into Stonyfield Farm yogurts, based in Londonderry, N.H.
Because the farm is close to several colleges, including Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby, there is always a lively pack of interns around. In the cheese room, Christine Chasse is cutting curds for the Glorianna cheddar (named for the farm owner) and inspecting the chevre and feta on the draining racks.
Midday, Gregg and his twin brother, Gary, stop by for big squares of pizza with onions and peppers. Gary, recently retired after a career in the Army, has been spending a few days a week at the farm. He still lives in Burlington, Vt., where he was last stationed, but plans to move back to the farm as soon as his wife also retires. The brothers grew up with three other siblings, milking 60 to 80 cows, tending a small garden plot, and managing a woodlot for firewood that heated the house and was sold in town to make ends meet. Today, taxes make it impossible to raise a family and farm on that small scale.
Soon after they bought Nezinscot, Gregg and Gloria figured out that their best shot to make it over the long run was to grow organically and diversify. ''Diversity keeps us going and it keeps things interesting," says Gloria. ''It may look overwhelming, but everything we do here has its time and everything has its season."
So far, the family is a success story, but they worry about the future of small family farms. ''There are still about 60 organic dairy farms in Maine," says Gloria, ''but just this past year two folded." The couple love the life here. ''People are always telling me that I work too hard," she says. ''They say that I should take some time to smell the roses. I say hell, look where I am, look what I do. I can smell the darn roses anytime I want."
Nezinscot Farm, 284 Turner Center Road, Turner, Maine, 207-225-3231; www.nezinscotfarm.com. On Oct. 29, the Varneys will host their fifth Octoberfest, with lunch ($25 for two; $15 for one; $8 for children), fiber workshops, and live music.