Ashley Young, center, her uncle Brad Young and Alivia Stanley steady one of their heifers as Ashely tries to inject her with pain medication for her burns at Flaggy Meadow Farm in Gorham on Thursday. The farm’s barn burned down on Tuesday night, with six cows perishing in the fire, though most of their herd were not in the barn at the time of the fire and were unharmed. The farm has been a part of the Young family for over 100 years. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

GORHAM — Ashley Young used to ride her bike up the center aisle of her family’s dairy barn. She learned how to rollerblade on that concrete strip between the cow stalls and how to play basketball on the hoop in the upstairs hayloft.

“I grew up here,” Ashley, 32, said. “Everything I learned about cows, everything I learned about life, it’s all here.”

All that remains of the barn at Flaggy Meadow Farm is a pile of charred wood and twisted metal. The L-shaped barn was more than 200 years old, serving the Young family for 100 of them. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Her whole childhood was in that barn, and her whole future was too. She is the fourth generation of Youngs at Flaggy Meadow Farm, and she left Maine for upstate New York in 2008 with the intention of returning someday to run the place with her father. But she rushed back this week because the barn was destroyed in a fire and the family business is in jeopardy.

The Youngs had as many as 50 milk cows and 20 heifers (females too young for milking) – and most were in the pasture at the time of the fire, but six were lost. The L-shaped barn that housed them is now a pile of charred wood and twisted metal and singed hay.

Local farms have taken in most of the surviving cows while the family figures out how – and if – they will rebuild.

“I think had we lost all the cows in the fire, I don’t think – there wouldn’t be a rebuild,” Ashley said. “The cows are our life.”


The original red barn is more than 200 years old – 100 of them under the stewardship of the Young family. The newer addition was built in the 1950s by Ashley’s grandparents. Carroll and Reta Young had six sons, including Walter, Ashley’s dad and the farm’s current owner. Carroll and Reta lived in a red house on the farm in Gorham, and Carroll always slept on the right side of the bed next to the window in hopes that he would wake up if the barn ever caught fire in the night.

Carroll and Reta met on a blind date, Ashley said. When Reta would remember it later, she would say, “When I walked into the restaurant, I knew.” Reta was “everyone’s mother,” said her granddaughter, always patching the holes in your clothes and making sure you didn’t leave hungry. Carroll would always be there to lend a hand. “If you needed a dollar, and he had 50 cents, he would give you a dollar,” Ashley said. Her grandparents were married nearly 60 years before Carroll died in 2013. Reta died this year at 96.

Carroll Young and his wife, Reta, in a photo from August 1958 at Flaggy Meadow Farm in Gorham on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Ashley and her sister Corey grew up in Buxton, where the family has another 100 acres for hay, but they spent all their time at their grandparents’ house. One of their sons, Brad Young, lives in the red house now. The portraits of Carroll and Reta’s boys are still on the wall, and a collection of shiny ceramic cows sits on a shelf. Brad, 67, works on the farm in addition to his job as an RN in the intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Every other day, Flaggy Meadow Farm sells 4,500 pounds of milk to Oakhurst Dairy.


It was around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. The lights flickered inside the house, and Brad looked outside and saw the flash on the electrical wire that ran from a light pole to the barn.


“It started sparking, and that’s what started the fire,” he said.

Within minutes, the building was engulfed. The evening milking was over, so most – but not all – the cows were out in the pasture. Brad and Walter rushed to open the gate for the panicked heifers still inside.

As firefighters worked to put out the flames and news spread, locals and farmers showed up at Flaggy Meadow, ready to offer whatever help they could.

“That’s the way farmers are,” Brad said.

Jeffery Roubo, 14, walks past the burned remains of the dairy barn at Flaggy Meadow Farm in Gorham on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A few cows remain at Flaggy Meadow, and a few went to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. Three dozen went to nearby Wormell Farms. Brendon Wormell – the fifth generation in farming – said his family had dairy cows for years but decided to sell them two months ago. The biggest factor in that decision was the loss of a contract with Horizon Organic, which decided to stop buying milk from producers in the Northeast, and his family is planning to transition into naturally raised beef.

Brendon said his dad rushed to Flaggy Meadow as soon as he heard about the fire and offered the Wormells’ available barn space, and other farmers have shown up at Wormell Farms to deliver sawdust and help with milking and make the cows comfortable in their temporary home.



“As a farmer, you spend a lot of time alone, trying to figure things out and work through issues,” Brendon, 30, said. “But to see so many farms across the area really pitch in when somebody is in their time of need, it’s really humbling.”

Alivia Stanley was out to dinner in Portland on Tuesday when she heard about the fire, and she also rushed to the farm. Now 22, she worked there as a teenager. She called it “The Island for Misfit Children,” a good place for local kids who needed somewhere to go and something to do. Walter gave them all tasks on the farm and taught them about hard work, and she talked about him with respect.

“The farm was just like a safe haven,” Alivia said. “You could come here no matter what kind of day you’re having. You know the cows are happy to see you every time. Walter was a big part of that for me. … He just always had faith in you, even as a kid.”

Alivia Stanley removes the rope from the cow that she just treated for burns at Flaggy Meadow Farm in Gorham on Thursday. The farm’s barn burned down on Tuesday night, with several cows perishing in the fire. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On Thursday, Alivia was applying burn ointment to one of the injured cows, gently dabbing the white cream on the sore spots on her back and sides. Some are dealing with burns or still breathing heavily from their exposure to smoke. As Alivia dabbed, a woman stopped by with a bag containing more ointment and gloves. The farm has received a steady stream of these deliveries – supplies for the cows, doughnuts for the humans, kind words for all. A GoFundMe for the Youngs had raised more than $27,000 toward a $50,000 goal by Thursday evening.

“While the Young family does have insurance, plans for the barn are uncertain,” the campaign’s organizer wrote. “It is unlikely that the insurance will cover the entire rebuilding of a barn. Everyone is at a loss of words, and I cannot begin to fathom the pain and heartbreak the Young family is going through.”



Ashley managed a dairy farm in New York and now works with horses there. On the night of the fire, she picked up her phone to find four missed calls and two desperate voicemails from her dad. She barely slept that night and drove to Maine the next day. Her younger sister, in the middle of moving to Colorado, turned around in Ohio. Ashley warned her about the view that would greet her when she crested the hill on Flaggy Meadow Road.

“Usually you see this big barn,” she said, looking at the burned shell. “Now you just see this.”

The Youngs are waiting for the state fire marshal and the insurance company to do their work before they make any decisions. The business keeps getting harder, and developers keep eyeing their land.

But for Ashley, there is still the goal.

“My biggest dream was to farm with my dad,” she said. “He taught me everything I know about cows and about farming.”

If the fire had started an hour earlier, during the evening milking, all the cows could have been in the barn. That’s one solace.

“If we lost all the cows, I’d be ruined,” Ashley said. “But I have the cows to take care of, so I can put all my energy toward taking care of them. It gives you something to focus on.”

Donations for the Young family can be made through the GoFundMe page, or via check payable to Flaggy Meadow Farm and mailed to 172 Flaggy Meadow Road in Gorham.

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