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Pennsylvania woman carries dairy family legacy into 21st century

Karena Elliott for Progressive Dairyman Published on 28 November 2016
Eliza Walton and Marcia O’Connor

Marcia Itle O’Connor stands today with one foot in her family’s fourth-generation Pennsylvania dairy farm and one foot in the dairy sales industry. As a young professional, she is building on proud traditions while carving out her own future success.

The American story of the Itle family began when their ancestors moved to Pennsylvania from Switzerland in the mid-1800s. Potters and farmers by trade, the men were attracted to the Loretto area due to the rich vein of clay running through the land. The Itle family began selling milk to the local town of Cresson in 1933.

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“That year is when my great-grandfather established the name of our family farm – Vale Wood Farms,” O’Connor explains. Vale Wood describes both the heart of the family’s farm, as well as their location in a wooded valley. “The original 5 acres has now grown to 500 acres that our family still farms, growing crops such as corn, hay and alfalfa.”

In addition to the cropland and the 200-cow dairy herd, the family operates a processing plant and creamery where they transform milk from their own herd along with milk from a few additional local farms into high-quality dairy products. “The dairy products are distributed and sold through our on-farm store, local schools, institutes and grocery stores in a 60-mile radius from the farm,” O’Connor says. The Vale Wood Farms website entitled, “From Moo to You,” argues that “you can’t buy it any fresher.”

Marcia O’Connor consulting nutritionists

O’Connor chose Pennsylvania State University for her collegiate education. “Attending Penn State allowed me to be fairly close to home with the flexibility to start at a branch campus,” she says. “While I was in college, I took advantage of all the opportunities possible to network, participate in internships and work at the university barns and creamery.”

It was a combination of these diverse experiences that led O’Connor to step into the dairy sales industry. A former territory sales manager for Alltech, she currently works for Feed Components, a family-owned business based in East Troy, Wisconsin.

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“My role with Feed Components is to offer technical support to feed mills, dairy cattle nutritionists and dairy producers indirectly through my customers,” she says.

Feed Components currently distributes and supports two products – a rumen-protected methionine and a rumen-protected choline. The company also has an independent research facility located in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. O’Connor, technical sales manager for the company, explains, “These solutions impact the dairy industry by offering research-based products that are priced competitively and assist to maximize ROI and improve herd health through the entire lactation period.”

This busy professional typically travels four days each week, uses one office day to complete paperwork and plan upcoming travel, then spends weekends helping on the family farm. “I help at the farm as much as I can with my schedule,” she says. “Our family members are all extremely supportive of everyone’s career decisions.”

Several of O’Connor’s family members also play a significant role in both the management and the daily work of the dairy, farm, processing plant and creamery.

“I value their hard work, support and all that they put into the day-to-day operation,” O’Connor says. “I would like to fit into the future of the farm in more of a consulting-type role in any area that they need me,” she says. Her interest in dairy cattle nutrition and her growing professional expertise will likely be a future asset.

Eliza Walton and Marcia O’Connor

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One area of primary importance for the entire family operation is the critical need for their business to play an active role in education and agriculture advocacy.

“Educating consumers about where their milk comes from is important to us,” O’Connor explains. The Itle family hosts numerous events throughout the year that welcome the public, including customer appreciation day, Farm to Fork dinner, school tours and a pumpkin patch every weekend in October. “During this time, we will have thousands of school children from local schools at our farm,” she says.

Offering weekly home delivery and a Loretto, Pennsylvania, farm store open seven days a week, Vale Wood Farms boasts an impressive product line. Customers choose from both regular and flavored milks; cream, cheese and butter products; yogurt; and more than 15 flavors of ice cream, in addition to 11 ice cream novelties. Eggs, various non-dairy drinks and juices, and two types of frozen pizzas round out the menu.

In addition to her roles with Feed Components and Vale Wood Farms, O’Connor has personally embraced the role of dairy spokeswoman. She serves as both a public speaker and internet blogger. O’Connor even ran the Boston Marathon as a member of the “Eat Beef” team in order to capitalize on the opportunity to address the role of beef and dairy products in an elite runner’s nutrition.

“I consider Marcia an aptly abled spokesperson for the dairy industry,” observes Dr. Patrick French, nutrition and technical services director for Feed Components. “Her passion and interest is quickly apparent when you interact with her.”

“My passion for the dairy industry started before I was born,” she says. “It is in my blood and my heritage.”  end mark

Karena Elliott is an international freelance writer. She makes her home in Amarillo, Texas.

PHOTO 1: Eliza Walton, left, owner of Martin’s Feed & Fertilizer Inc. in Coburn, Pennsylvania, consults with Marcia O’Connor, technical sales manager for Feed Components.

PHOTO 2: Marcia O’Connor of Feed Components provides tech support to dairy nutritionists such as Justin Brenneman and Chad Shipley of Martinsburg, Pennsylvania.

PHOTO 3: Eliza Walton, left, and Marcia O’Connor, right, work together to support the dairy producers of Pennsylvania. Photos provided by Marcia Itle O’Connor.

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