Peter Loveitt, a friend and neighbor, works on securing the roof trusses while helping the Youngs rebuild the barn that burned down over the summer at Flaggy Meadow Farm. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

When an electrical fire destroyed their family’s dairy barn in August, Ashley Young surveyed the damage and called her sister. Corey Young was still on her way, and Ashley wanted to prepare her for the burned shell she would see when she crested the final hill.

The original red barn stood for 200 years – 100 under the stewardship of the Youngs. Carroll Young, Ashley and Corey’s grandfather, built an addition in the 1950s. Walter Young, their father, runs the farm today.

“Knowing that my grandfather hammered those nails himself, seeing those nails sticking out of the burn pile …” Corey Young said, but stopped short as she recalled the scene.

Most of the cows were in the pasture and survived the blaze. But the future hinged on whether the sisters – the fourth generation of Youngs at Flaggy Meadow Farm in Gorham – wanted to continue the business. Their industry is shrinking; the number of dairy producers in Maine went from 4,578 in 1954 to 286 in 2017, the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ashley, 32, and Corey, 27, decided they did want to keep the family farm going.

Now, the view over the hill is of a construction site, the frame of a new barn rising on the old foundation.


“We had conversations going both ways,” said Ashley, 32. “Do we sell, or do we rebuild? I think we all wanted to rebuild, but it was: Can we?”

The fire started on the evening of Aug. 9. Flaggy Meadow Farm has about 50 milk cows and 20 heifers (females too young for milking). Six died in the blaze, but most were in the pasture at the time, a blessing that prevented further tragedy. Some cows rescued from the barn suffered burns, but the family said their recovery is going well.

One milk cow nicknamed Chunky is still getting regular treatment with special creams, and she was featured on an ornament for a Christmas fundraiser. The farm has posted regular updates about Chunky on its Facebook page.

Sisters Ashley Young, left, and Corey Young on their family’s dairy farm. The Youngs are in the process of rebuilding their barn, which was completely destroyed in a fire over the summer. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“While this dear sweet Chunky has been a lot of work to manage, she’s also been a great example of perseverance,” said one post in December. “She hasn’t given up on us and we’re not giving up on her. She still has a ways to go, but we’re happy with the progress that’s been made.”

“These girls are so much more than cows to us, they’re our family, and we thank you so very much for helping us heal.”



After the fire, the family received an estimated $100,000 from a GoFundMe and direct donations. Friends and strangers sent money or dropped off supplies for the cows. The rebuild is a volunteer effort.

“We thought about moving on and seeing what else was out there for us,” Ashley posted on the Facebook page on New Year’s Eve. “We all but gave up; then the community rallied around us, they gave us hope, and support; they reminded us that we are valued and that we are not the type to give up.

“Our community has taught us more about ourselves in the last six months than we may have known before. This family is strong, tough, valued, and resilient. 2022 certainly was not our year, but we’re heading into 2023 with a new drive, a new direction, and a new desire.”

The cows have been staying at nearby Wormell Farms in Cumberland, where another longtime family owner had dairy cows for years but decided to sell them last year and transitioned into naturally raised beef. Flaggy Meadow Farm still sells about 4,500 pounds of milk every other day to Oakhurst Dairy in Portland. Every day, Walter Young leaves his home at 5 a.m. and drives there for the first milking. Then he drives to his own farm to work on the barn for hours before he goes back to milk the cows for a second time.

The framing of the first part of the new barn at Flaggy Meadow Farm on Tuesday. The Young family, who have owned the dairy farm for generations, decided to rebuild after the fire over the summer that completely destroyed the original barn. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

He doesn’t want to talk about the emotions he felt on the day of the fire.

“It took me about two-and-a-half months before I even got my brain wrapped around it,” he said.


The new barn will be a slightly different layout and more flexible in case the farm wants to transition to raising beef cows or create a horse arena. Walter hopes to finish the first phase of the build and bring the cows home in the beginning of February.

The building crew consists of whoever is available to help, and a few neighbors and friends from the farming community were on site Tuesday. “That’s about all my shoulders can take,” one guy said to Walter as he headed out for the afternoon. Waving goodbye, he promised to take ibuprofen and return the next day.

Why rebuild? His daughters live out of state – Ashley in upstate New York, where she works with horses, and Corey in Colorado, where she works as an occupational therapist – but the fire has only solidified their plans to return to Gorham someday. So his answer was straightforward.

“The next generation,” he said.

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