FARMINGTON — Five new-generation farmers talked about their work to  provide quality, locally grown foods during a recent forum at the University of Maine at Farmington.

The UMF alumni found a niche in farming.

After Gloria Varney of Turner earned a degree in community health education, nutrition and exercise physiology, she helped people create plans to achieve health. But she decided there was “a better way to teach health,” she said. She quit her job and started working on the farm.

Before graduating, Varney and her husband, Gregg, purchased Nezinscot Farm in Turner in 1987. 

Other animals were added to their milking cows. She created a yarn store in her home and made her own fiber to sell. Customers would smell the bread or soup she was making for her family and want to buy some, she said.

The retail store grew. They started selling meat and produce from the farm. A creamery was added, as well as a café where people could have meals made from mostly farm-grown products, she said.

Diversity has been a key component of their success.

It’s seven days a week but I’m happy,” she said of  her choice to farm.

Diversity has also been key for Black Acres Farm in Wilton, where James Black joined his father, Russell Black, to run their farm.

A secondary education major at UMF, the younger Black also held a career in education along with farming.

“The farm is family oriented,” he said.

They raise grass-fed beef, poultry and pigs. The farm also has a store where they sell honey, eggs, beef and maple syrup.

People seem to like coming to the farm, seeing the animals and buying food produced there, he said. They also run a firewood business on the farm.

Andrew Marble of Farmington grew up on a four-generation farm. His parents, Richard and Weslene Marble, lived on the homestead most of his life. They grew a large garden, but mostly for family use, he said.

Andrew Marble and his wife, Sarah, were both biology majors at UMF. She centered on botany and he, on nutrition, he said. Plants and nutrition were a perfect combination to lead them into farming.

They joined his parents to establish Marble Family Farms.

After growing fresh spinach in greenhouses, they started to expand and diversify, he said. A commercial kitchen was built, but ideas for a product didn’t come, he said.

Sarah started baking bread and cookies for local stores, and they continued to sell their produce through local farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture.

But they realized they were too diversified and stretched too thin, he said. They needed to find a way to pay the bills but still make the farm work.

Now, they concentrate on one farm-produced product Hotties, a frozen pocket meal of dough filled with produce grown on the farm.

Just starting their third year in farming, Erica Emery and Dave Allen have created a vegetable farm, Rustic Roots Farm in Farmington, catering mostly to Community Supported Agriculture customers.

Community investments in the farm, made at this time of year, allow the farmers to purchase seeds and supplies to grow crops in the summer, Allen explained. The member receives a box of vegetables once a week for 20 weeks when the crops come in.

They do sell produce at the markets and to local stores and restaurants, but members are always taken care of first, she said.

Any produce not sold by the last market on Saturday is donated to places such as the Western Maine Homeless Outreach shelter, she said.

“I believe in food justice,” Emery said. “Everyone deserves to have good food.”

The owners are still figuring out how to make it all work and make the farm profitable, she said.

Emery was an education/English major. Allen’s degree was in interdisciplinary studies, ecology and geography.

The forum was part of the Good Food Co-Lab on campus this semester, professor Grace Eason said.

“We want to connect our students with local farmers to hear why young people are coming back to the land,” she said.

abryant@sunmediagroup.net


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