A Family’s Deep Love of Farming
After earning a degree in dietetics, Selina Rooney asked herself, “Can I afford to farm?” She paused and heard a whisper from her heart that said, “You can’t afford not to.”
Although she has had a successful community supported agriculture (CSA) business, spent time teaching biology at a local community college, and worked as a registered dietitian, farming is something she and her family have always been passionate about.
Eight generations of Rooney family members have thoughtfully stewarded their land in Lamoille County, Vermont. In the 1940s, Selina’s grandfather purchased land and shortly after purchased a barn. They started a maple sap operation, and while they have been sugaring and producing syrup nearly every year since, in the 1950s the family also began dairy farming.
Transition to Organic
In 1998 they transitioned the farm to organic. The Rooneys’ veterinarian at the time shared his knowledge of homeopathic medicine and organics with the family. He also encouraged them to make the complete transition to organic. It’s a decision the family says they’ve never once regretted.
Selina shares cheerfully that farming has been a family affair. Today they milk 50 to 60 cows. Selina’s father, David, who is 78 years old, works on the farm from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Her mother, Charlene, milks the cows nightly.
Selina is no stranger to hard work and the occasional surprises that come with day-to-day farm operations. What no one expected was notification in August 2021 that their existing dairy contract would not be renewed, leaving them nowhere to market their milk.
David, Charlene, Selina, and everyone who devoted their hearts and livelihood into the Rooney farm felt shock and disbelief. Together, they faced the harsh reality that they may not have a market for their milk.
After the news settled in, the Rooneys got to work calling every cheesemaker and dairy hauler in their area and all but begged for an outlet for their farm’s milk. Time and time again, they heard a “no” on the other end of the phone. Nobody needed milk. The Rooneys’ shock and disbelief shifted to a feeling of hopelessness.
Yet the daily farm chores continued. David was still in the barn at 5 a.m. Selina greeted the cows each day and completed the morning milking, while her brother-in-law worked on a silo. And every night, Charlene would head to the barn for evening chores.
The future of the farm, and everything the Rooneys worked toward for eight generations, was faced with uncertainty. While a sense of hopelessness followed them around, they never gave up hope entirely.
Finding a Milk Hauler
Selina also never gave up on making regular phone calls to dairy processors in their area. In early spring of 2022, the Rooney family felt disbelief again, but in a very different way. They were in disbelief that instead of hearing another “no” they finally heard a “yes” and had gained the interest of Organic Valley as a potential milk hauler.
The next thing they knew, a team of eager Organic Valley employees arrived with an invitation to become members of the cooperative along with about 50 other farms in the Northeast. In that moment, while signing paperwork, Selina said the family collectively felt a great sense of ease and knew, for the first time in a long while, that things would be OK.
For years, watching a milk truck pull into their driveway was customary, but on Aug. 3 it felt strangely new and exciting. That is the day family, friends, state officials, and Organic Valley team members gathered to watch and celebrate a new partnership. This meant another family farm could survive. The Rooneys would have another paycheck, and their deep love of farming would be sustained for generations.