Cooper Funk and Marina Sideris at their Dooryard Farm in Camden, Maine
Cooper Funk and Marina Sideris never shy away from an opportunity, even if that opportunity requires an incredible amount of work and a lot of relearning what they already had mastered. Marina and Cooper had a slow transition from urban to rural life. They spent several years in the Bay Area while Marina attended law school at UC Berkley. After school completed, the couple moved to the foothills of California. Marina began practicing law in Sacramento and Cooper ran Dinner Bell Farm with two partners in Grass Valley.
When a historic farm went up for sale a short walk away from Marina’s childhood home in Maine, they knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and decided, after much back and forth, to relocate their to Maine. For Marina, it meant being able to raise their little boy Julian in the same place she grew up. For Cooper, it meant finally having land of his very own to farm. For both of them, it meant needing to go outside of their comfort zones and study a lot of things they had already mastered in their previous careers in the city.
After working in international development, then deciding to farm instead, Cooper had only farmed in California's mild climate, so farming in Maine (with a significantly shorter growing season, different soils, different blights and pests) was completely foreign to him. The farm had also been left to decay for many years before they were able to purchase it through the Maine Farmland Trust. Just to get the fields back to working order and repair their house and outbuildings was a daunting task. Marina had to retake the bar exam before being able to start working as an attorney. They also had to manage all of these things with a two-year-old running around.
Cooper and Marina are the perfect example of a couple that set out and relearned elements of their professions to translate them to their new environment in the country. Marina is now in the process of starting a law practice with another attorney who moved from California to Maine. Cooper is planning for his second full growing season. He has erected a larger greenhouse so he can get seedlings started earlier. He also plans on adding a high-tunnel, where crops are planted in the ground, to extend his growing season this fall. Their organic farm stand opened last summer and was a smash hit with the community. (Click to jump to their interview)
Q & A
What inspired you to move to the country?
We moved to the country because Cooper wanted to start farming and we were ready to leave the hustle, traffic, lack of green space behind. We wanted to live on, or at least near, our farm.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
We left California somewhat abruptly, and that was hard. Although we'd talked about moving to Maine, we weren't looking to do so. But when a farm (now our farm) went up for sale, we couldn't pass it up. Our decision to move came as a shock to family and friends, some of whom were hurt by it. Later challenges have included: finding work (for Marina); lack of friends and community (fortunately that's starting to change!); missing the diversity of people, activities, food, etc. that life in the Bay Area offered.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
Cooper can't get over how few street signs there are in Maine. Living in the country is a lot of work—not the farming aspect, per se, but managing and maintaining the property, buildings, vehicles (and many other things) that take a beating in winter. Despite the challenges and surprises, it has definitely met our expectations. We still marvel at the beauty of this place.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
For Marina, the changed professional opportunities have been hard to get used to. We miss ethnic food! And we miss the anonymity of a city. And the diversity of people and things to do there, nightlife and music especially. Lack of public transportation, or things being close enough to walk/ride bikes (we use our cars a LOT more than we used to).
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
Yes, but it would be tough as a farmer! Sometimes we imagine moving back to a city for a period of time when we're older (e.g. retired).
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
How community-driven life in the country is. We like the slower pace and the lack of noise and light pollution.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Be realistic about how you're going to earn money or support yourself. Know that you will be intimately connected to and dependent on that community, so pick one whose values you respect.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
1. Visit friends (that's usually why we go)
2. Hit markets and restaurants for spices and foods we can't get in Maine (or at least not easily)
3. Spend money we don't have at the record store
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
The corner of the property where our house is located is surrounded by barns. Walking down beyond all the barns, the fields unfold before you, backed by a ridge of three of the Camden hills. This view never gets old – it is supremely beautiful and simply arriving at that place is uplifting and rejuvenating.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
That it is simpler or slower or cheaper. Managing your existence—your living space, property, jobs (yes, plural) etc.--requires a lot more work, but there are no more hours in the day. Your calendar might not be as full as in the city, but your to-do list is just as long. You might not spend as much money going out to bars/clubs, but there's plenty else that you have to spend money on.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Marina hopes to expand her law practice into new areas, and is currently exploring several that she is excited about. Cooper hopes to make a little more money and affirm that his farm is a legitimate business proposition. They both hope to continue to meet new people, and to deepen their new friendships; and to nurture, support, inspire and love their two year-old as he heads towards three.