Marcia Dean and her family were recently honored as the Maine Dairy Farm of the Year and Green Pastures Award winner.
Nearly 30 years ago, the future of Cooley Farm was put into the hands of the owner’s 14-year-old granddaughter. On Aug. 25, 1990, the farm’s milking barn burned down, killing about 60 of their milk cows. Rufus Cooley asked his granddaughter Marcia if she wanted to keep farming.
“I said ‘Yuh’,” Marcia remembers. And so the barn was rebuilt, and cows were back in there, being milked two months later. Marcia farmed side by side with her grandfather until his recent passing on Sept. 10.
“He was pretty active on the farm right up until the last two or three months,” she says. Rufus had been diagnosed with cancer four years earlier, but he was still able to get around the farm, checking on the fields and the cattle.
On Sept. 13, Marcia and her children Hunter and Hannah traveled to the Big E Fair to accept the Maine Farm of the Year and Maine Green Pastures Award for the Cooley Farm. The family has placed a bench memorializing the award next to her grandparents’ headstone in the family cemetery, which abuts the pasture.
Marcia accepts Green Pastures Award at the Big E in September with her children. Courtesy photo.
“It’s a huge honor,” Marcia says. “We’re working to carry on my grandparents’ legacy. They left big shoes to fill.”
The Ripley farm has been in operation since Rufus and his wife Janice started it in 1968 after clearing the land with help of a nephew and some friends. A tiny camp was added on to and still remains part of the Cooley home on the property. They started with half a dozen cows, supplementing their income with Rufus’ logging and Janice working in the local shoe shop. When they rebuilt after the fire in 1990, they had grown large enough to build a barn to house 95 cows.
Jaws the Jersey is the family pet. Jaws’ daughter Josie is pretty friendly, too.
Except for three years that she worked on Piper Farm in Emden, Marcia has spent her whole life on Cooley Farm. She said she came away from Piper Farm with many ideas that she was able to implement on her family’s farm. She moved back in August of 2003 with her husband Stacy, who had worked on the Piper farm for 11 years, and their son Hunter, who had been born the previous year. The young couple built a new heifer barn that first year and a new free stall barn for the milk cows the next and then a new barn for dry cows (cows on vacation before having their calf). The farm has continued to change and grow, and the family now milks about 160 cows, mostly Holstein with a handful of Jerseys and some Brown Swiss crosses.
Marcia’s work revolves around the cows and calves and taking care of the farm’s finances (she also carts her kids back and forth to sports practices and is a coach herself, currently coaching middle school soccer at Ridge View Community School in Dexter). Stacy feeds the milk cows and is responsible for all the field work. On the day I visited the farm, they were chopping some of their 150 acres of corn to get ready for winter (they also have 180 acres for grass and hay and 20 acres of pasture). Marcia would normally have been helping out by driving one of the trucks back and forth from the fields to the farm with loads of corn silage. But her cows were scheduled for their pedicures that day, so she was in the barn, working with the hoof trimmer, Karl Greenman. The Deans have two full time employees but also rely greatly on their children Hunter, a high school junior, and Hannah, an eighth grader.
Marcia Dean operates Cooley Farm, which was started by her grandparents Rufus and Janice Cooley, with her husband Stacy and children Hannah and Hunter. Courtesy photo.
“The kids are highly involved on the farm,” says Marcia, adding that Hunter serves as an equipment operator and helps his father with the field work, “and he can milk cows, which he does on Sundays.”
“Hannah is like me,” she says. “She can do anything with the cows. She can breed cows, handle any calving cases, and she can do any minor vet work.” Marcia adds that cow health is a top priority for the farm, and it’s rare that a vet is ever called to farm aside from the routine Friday morning herd checks.