Andy and Valerie Cole are the husband and wife team who own Andy’s Agway in rural Dayton, Maine. It’s an impressive operation - in no small part because the Coles still run their agricultural business on the fundamental values their family began with over a century ago.
Andy’s Agway started as a family farm purchased just after the Civil War. At first, the farm supplied only the Cole family but slowly it grew to provide for surrounding families, producing vegetables, hay, wood, and ice for nearby communities. In the 1920s, the farm went into dairy production and provided milk deliveries to Biddeford and other towns in southern Maine.
During my visit to Andy’s Agway with USDA Administrator for Rural Business and Cooperatives Service Bette Brand, we got the opportunity to meet Andy and Valerie and watch them enthusiastically waiting on customers. Clearly these folks take both agriculture and customer service to heart, and it’s not surprising given that’s what they were raised on. Andy grew up on the family farm, studied Ag Mechanization in college, and began working as a management trainee for Agway as soon as he graduated. His wife Valerie owned horses and many other pets as a child, then studied Animal Science in college. The couple met while working at Agway and made agribusiness their life’s work when they opened the store in Dayton.
The business recently received a Rural Energy for America Program Grant from USDA Rural Development to install a solar photovoltaic system nearby the 1903 barn that houses the store. This modern technology will help the business save money on energy. The solar panels will save $2,700 per year and generate nearly 29,000 kWh annually, replacing all of the energy needs for their business. Valerie said, “We feel very strongly about reducing our carbon footprint and using resources that are cleaner and greener.”
Many things have changed at Andy’s Agway through the years - but not the values that make Andy’s Agway a staple to the local farming and agricultural community. Despite the present-day solar technology near the antique barn, the principles Andy’s Agway was established on generations ago have remained: Christian values, good work ethic, and a positive ‘help-your-neighbor’ attitude that is apparent in the day-to-day operations at the store.
The Cole family has remained in agriculture throughout multiple generations because, according to Andy, “We want to help people realize the importance of agriculture, especially local agriculture. We enjoy helping people to be as self-sustaining as they want to be and we make it easy by delivering things right where people want them - whether it’s on the front porch, in the barn, or right on the edge of the garden.”
It’s investment in rural small businesses and producers like the Cole family that helps our rural communities not only survive, but thrive – and when rural America thrives, all America thrives. Operations like Andy and Valerie’s Agway are the underpinnings of our nation’s economy, and I’m proud we could be a part of helping them grow.