Pa. Dairy Princess Maria Jo Noble a Farm Girl at Heart

6/1/2013 7:00 AM
By Carolyn N. Moyer Northern Pa. Correspondent

GILLETT, Pa. — Maria Jo Noble doesn’t need to stand on the dividers to reach the pipeline anymore at her family’s dairy farm, but that same eagerness that impelled her to learn how to milk cows as a young girl has only intensified as she has grown.

As Pennsylvania’s leading lady of dairy, Noble’s life is dedicated to promoting the dairy industry — whether that be in the barn dressed in blue jeans, boots and a sleeveless shirt, or as the Pennsylvania dairy princess, sporting dressier fare topped with a crown and sash. As a young girl, she eagerly joined Bradford County’s promotion team, climbing through the ranks and enjoying all of the promotions.

“I remember my first couple of years as a dairy miss and a dairy maid,” Noble said. “I didn’t really understand the full concept of the program back then. It was just fun to go out there and do a promotion and wear a pretty dress. As I got older, I recognized how important this was.”

In 2010, at the age of 16, the Bradford County committee found themselves without a princess candidate.

“My initial plan was to run when I was older,” Noble said. “If I hadn’t ... run that year, Bradford County wouldn’t have had a dairy princess.”

During that year she learned a lot about herself and many of the fine points of promoting milk, and she found herself wishing that the year wouldn’t end. At the state pageant that fall, she was honored to be among the top seven finalists. She then spent a year away from the promotion team and realized that she really missed being involved with the program.

“I just love promoting. If this could be my full-time job, it would be,” Noble said. “What it really came down to is that I call everyone in Bradford County my people’ because they are so friendly and so supportive. Everyone was happy to see me out there promoting again. The farmers were so supportive. So I decided to do it again since I was a little older and more experienced.”

Going into the Bradford County pageant was a little different this time. Noble was on stage with two other contestants, delivering her speech, her skit and answering questions. Her mother, Elaine, wanted to make sure that Noble knew of all the possible outcomes of running a second time.

“A lot of people thought that Maria entered the contest again because she wanted to be the state princess. Going in, she would be honored to be the state princess, but we had a long talk before (the county) pageant and talked about the fact that she could run and not even be an alternate, let alone the princess. I asked her if she was okay with that and she said that whatever happens, happens,” Elaine said.

When they found out that there would be three candidates, mother and daughter talked again to make sure Noble knew what the outcome could be.

“She said that her goal was to be the princess, but if that didn’t happen, she would be part of the team. I knew that she was sincere and that her motives were true,” Elaine said.

As the Bradford County dairy princess, Noble jumped into promoting like she hadn’t taken any time off at all. Her summer months were filled with events and when fall came, she was ready for the state pageant.

In preparing for the pageant, the family took a realistic view of the possibilities.

“When you go to something like that and your child makes the final seven, you kind of think, whatever happens, happens,’” Elaine said. I knew she did really well because she had won a lot of her contests, but that doesn’t always mean anything. I wanted it for her, but I didn’t want to be overly optimistic either. We let her know that if it didn’t happen it was fine. We weren’t any less proud of her if she came home and wasn’t even in the final seven.”

When she was named the 2012 Pennsylvania dairy princess, Noble could hardly believe it.

Her parents and brothers reacted to the news in very different ways.

Her mom, Elaine, looked at her husband, Stuart, as if to say, did they really just call her name? She remembers thinking that her daughter would be so happy and then she remembers thinking, “What are we in for?”

“I just sat there and looked around at the table and realized that I was the only one still sitting there,” Stuart Noble said. “Everyone else was up running toward the stage and hollering.”

Her brother Wesley’s first reaction was to put it on Facebook. Brother Cory mostly remembers the run in the wee hours of the morning to Wal-Mart on the way home from the pageant to purchase pink spray paint. The first thing Noble saw when she returned home was an ag bag with fluorescent pink lettering announcing the win.

From the time of the announcement, the world started spinning faster for the family. Training for the state team began immediately.

“The next day we got information overload about what was expected,” Noble said.

Over the next few months the state promotion team began to travel to the corners of Pennsylvania and many places in between promoting the dairy industry.

“It’s fun traveling all over promoting, but it is so much more than that. It’s about learning all kinds of new skills. Jessica, our coordinator, gives us all kinds of roles and teaches us different skills — things that we can use through college and beyond,” Noble said.

As a princess, Noble goes into each and every promotion with an open mind, ready to reach out to the public, and has been excited to reach people on all levels.

“In Philly there is a farm and food fest that I got to attend this year and you would just think that because it is in Philly that everyone is so disconnected with agriculture. But it’s not necessarily so. They are so eager to learn and have so many questions.”

The many miles of travel have been eventful too.

“One day, I could be leaving from home and go out to western Pennsylvania and then down in Harrisburg and then go back to Western Pennsylvania that night,” Noble said.

“She jumped in the car and headed to Washington, D.C., all by herself for National Ag Day,” said Stuart Noble. “I wouldn’t do that by myself.”

Growing up on her family’s Jersey farm in the rolling hills of Bradford County, Noble, her two brothers, Wesley and Cory, along with her cousins represent the eighth generation on Nobledale Farm, which was established in 1832. Since 1991, the farm has been operated by Noble’s father, Stuart, in partnership with her uncle, Steve. Steve’s wife, Donna, and daughter, Stephanie, along with Stuart and Steve’s sister, Sharon, have strong ties to the farm. Sharon’s daughter, Michelle, was involved with the farm as a 4-H member.

While promoting milk and the dairy industry is her top priority, Noble also doesn’t shy away from telling people about her love for Jerseys.

“They’re still my favorite,” she said.

Stuart added, “We’ve had registered Jerseys since 1888.”

Until recently there were only Jerseys in the barn. Wesley, after years of persuasion, got his wish to have a registered Holstein to show. She now stands in the barn surrounded by the Jerseys.

Currently they milk 80 cows with about 160 head total, averaging 15,900 pounds of milk.

They grow hay and corn and rely on pasture during the summer months.

Noble’s father credits his mother, Shirley, for instilling a love of dairy, especially Jerseys, in his children.

“My mother would always give out recipes and tell everyone, You’ve got to use Jersey milk,” said Stuart Noble. “I’m sure Maria repeated a lot of that stuff.”

Maria Noble also learned the value of hard work from her family.

“We always had to do chores around the farm and while we sometimes thought it was a pain, we learned how fun it could be growing up on a farm. And, while baking with Grandma, she always showed us the recipes and said, here are some that you can make and have your family come together after chores and sit down for family time,” Noble said. “That’s probably where it all started.”

As she learns more and more about the finer points of promoting, she finds that things she didn’t notice before being a princess are now done as second nature.

“People don’t like going to the grocery store with me,” Noble said, “When we get to the dairy case, I always stop and pull the milk to the front and make sure things are neat. All of us dairy princesses have picked that up from Jessica and she has a good point. We’re paying for that product to be in the store and we work hard for that product to be in the store, so we want the dairy case to look as good as it possibly can. So, if it takes me a couple of minutes of my day, why not?”

A true dairy promoter at heart, Noble plans to return to SUNY-Cobleskill in the fall, majoring in ag business. In the future, she hopes to transfer to Cornell or Ohio to major in agricultural communications. She is also one of 15 members of the inaugural class of the Dairy Food Advocacy Network (Dairy FAN) through the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council. After training, she will get to travel throughout New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey promoting dairy.

“We’ll see where this takes me,” Noble said. “I know I will always be a promoter, but this takes it to the next level.”

As her summer schedule heats up and she moves toward the last few months of her reign, Noble can’t thank her supporters enough.

“Thank you to all of the farmers who do what they do every day,” she said. “Without you, my job wouldn’t be possible.”

She also encourages farmers to promote their own product.

“Speak up! Have pride in what you do,” she said. “It’s a great industry and a passionate industry. We’re almost like one big family.”

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