Farm Stand And Gourmet Shop In Rural Maine Awarded One Of Six James Beard American Classic Awards

Most James Beard Classic Awards are given to chi-chi restaurants on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or farm-to-table eateries in San Francisco, but rarely to places such as Nezinscot Farm Store, located in rural Turner, Maine, a town of 5,817 people, about an hour’s north of Portland, Maine.

It was, in fact, the first time a farm stand has received this accolade. And Gloria Varney, who co-owns Nezinscot with her husband Greg, was equally surprised. When Gloria was first contacted by the James Beard Foundation about winning, her first reaction was “they had made a mistake. Was this real?” Greg thought it was a prank. Now that it has settled in, Gloria said, “she feels honored.”

Moreover, since the award was bestowed, her café business has spiked by about 70%, which she attributes to the publicity.

Since the couple took over the farm 27 years ago in 1986 from Greg’s parents, they keep expanding it. It now includes a gourmet food shop, café, coffee shop, bakery, fromagerie, charcuterie and yarn and fiber store. That all happened (no pun intended) organically.

A rural farm that turned into a multi-faceted farm stand and café Nezinscot Farm Store has been growing its business, winning awards and seeing it revenue rise.

In fact, since they took over the reins, Nezinscot Farm has transformed from “wholesale to retail, and now involves a dozen value-added products including yogurts and cheddar-cheese,” she stated.

And that produces varied revenue streams. It boils down to 41% of revenue from its bakery and café, 10% creamery, 8% boucherie,8% fiber studio, and 33% from store sales of bulk baking items such as pasta, rice, herbs and spices.

The multiple revenue streams “create the success of what we’re doing,” Varney asserted. “If we just had a fiber studio that limits my traffic. People come for one reason and then get exposed to the six other avenues of the farm and are more apt to buy.”

Gloria Varney describes Nezinscot Farm Store as a “diversified organic dairy, whose end goal is to educate on the importance of knowing where your food comes from, how it is created and caring about local economics and its importance in healthy communities.”

It was the first organic dairy to be certified in Maine. What makes it organic, Varney revealed, is that “We don’t use any chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, to control pests. If you’re raising animals, you can’t use antibiotics, hormones or drugs to increase production.”

Its farm produces a variety of items including, “retail meat from our sheep, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, duck, goose and goats, and cheese from both goat and cow’s milk from our herd,” she explained. Then it also produces canned goods, jams and jellies from their produce and fruit. And finally it yields extensive fiber products from its wool yarns from its flock of sheep, angora goats, rabbits and alpacas.

The eggs that are served in the café have been hatched, usually the day before, which ensures freshness, or when they say straight from the farm, they mean it.

“The café and farm,” she notes, “serves as the hub that allows people to come by and taste all that we have to offer.”

That enables them to keep seven full-time employees, which is boosted by two or three more full-timers in summer, which produces about 70% of their annual revenue.

They also generate some wholesale revenue via selling raw milk to Organic Valley, a Wisconsin farmer’s cooperative and bread and eggs to several stores in Maine, within a radius of an hour. It doesn’t get involved in any ecommerce.

It has two divergent seasons. In the winter, it “caters mostly to locals and people heading to the mountains while the summer visitors include a large number of tourists who vacation within a 10 to 20-mile radius or have summer homes on lakes and ponds in the surrounding areas,” she noted.

Greg manages the dairy and farming and all things mechanical, and Gloria is the baker and cheesemaker and manages the staff.

Why is farming so important? Varney replied, ”Because you need two major things to survive: food and water. And knowing where your food is coming from is critical. We have to support local and regional systems that produce food and water.”

Asked about the future, Varney said she “envisions continuing to do what I’m doing and employing some more people in key areas of growth in the creamery and café.”

Since the couple took over Nezinscot Farm Store 27 years ago in 1986 from Greg’s parents, they keep expanding it. It now includes a gourmet food shop, café, coffee shop, bakery, fromagerie, charcuterie and yarn and fiber store.