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Country kids continue century of farming

COURTESY PHOTOS - Jennifer and Joe Finegan and their four children work on the family farmland for a living. One of their properties was just granted Century Farm status by the Oregon Farm Bureau. When visitors arrive at his late grandfather’s farm, nine-year-old Owen Finegan greets them with facts about bygone crops and livestock that sprouted his family farming traditions.

His excitement — and his talking — increases en route to the old, red barn that smells of dust and straw, where he’ll show off the antique leather horse tack, dusty and hardened now that it’s been rendered obsolete. The once indispensable six-horse team that used to work the fields has long since been replaced by tractors.

Harnesses and wagons have been replaced by combines and trucks. But that’s still Owen’s favorite part of the farm’s history. “I’m more of an animal person,” said Owen, one of Jennifer and Joe Finegan’s four children. “I like how big of an impact they had on the people who had them. They saved the people’s lives without even knowing it.” Many of the old barn buildings are too small to house modern, monstrous tractors. One of the old barns had to be removed for a Washington County road widening project but most still stand.

A short tour with Owen reveals why the Finegans bought the place — Joe’s grandfather’s — and applied for Century Farm status from the Oregon Farm Bureau, which recognizes farms throughout the state that have been continuously farmed by the same family for at least 100 years. (See sidebar)

The Century Farm sits off Northwest Cornelius-Schefflin Road outside Cornelius.

“It’s been here for more than 100 years and we wanted to have it for our kids,” Jennifer said. “If they want to, we want to have opportunities for all of them.”

Right now, Joe and and his brother, Ken, manage Finegan Farms Inc. field operations while Jennifer is the office manager. Joe and Jennifer’s oldest son, Thomas, 13, helps his dad in the fields. And while Joe’s father, Melvin, is technically retired, he’s still active on the farm as well.

The Finegans’ farm holds about 2,000 acres, 1,000 of which they own. Their newly designated Century Farm accounts for only 72 of those acres, 50 of which are actively farmed. Their stead has grown quite a bit from the family’s original 10 acres with a shack house and a few outbuildings. Henry Taghon always had a love for his family farm and was very pleased when his grandsons decided to continue the tradition. Hes pictured here in 1939 with his horses.

Crops include nursery stock, grass seed, clover seed, sweet corn, wheat, green beans and more. The Finegans keep their crops diversified so they’re never counting on just one to make ends meet.

It’s paid off. They had significant acreage invested in nursery stock for Glenn Walters Nursery, which went out of business. That blow came after the nursery market crashed after years as the front runner of Oregon’s most lucrative agricultural commodities.

Crop variety ensured the Finegans weren’t devastated and gave them enough bounce-back time to plant a lot of that acreage in other crops.

Unfortunately for Owen, though, Finegan Farms no longer rears animals. At one time, Joe’s grandparents, Henry and Irma, kept pigs, chickens and a small herd of dairy cows. Henry milked the cows twice a day in the blistering heat and freezing snow, and sent the milk to McMinnville to a company that later morphed into Darigold. Irma took eggs to the Forest Grove Creamery. The couple used the pigs for family meat and used to have a smokehouse.A neighbor ordered the old farmhouse that still stands today out of a Sears Roebuck Company catalog. First generation Century Farm farmer Theophile Cappoen purchased this house for merely the price of the train freight when the neighbor could not pay the shipping charges.

“They lived frugally,” Jennifer said of her husband’s grandparents. “They didn’t have a lot.”

Henry liked farming, Jennifer said, but she thinks his favorite part was “being with family and the closeness you develop through hard work to survive. Not everything is fun. Your relationships are built on hard work and daily struggles.”

And working in such close quarters gave family members a chance to really know each other. Jennifer’s and Joe’s kids got to know their great grandfather Henry, for example, as others knew him. They still have his old truck and the rusty metal chair he nailed to an old stump, where they remember him sitting every day while he drank one beer after lunch in his striped coveralls.This photo, taken in 1949, shows advancements in technology as the years pass.

Henry lived on the farm nearly his whole life until he was 89. At 91, he passed away.

At a ceremony at the Oregon State Fair in August, the Finegans will receive their coveted Century Farm sign, which they’ll display near the road.

“It’s recognition of all the years of all the hard work,” Jennifer said. “I was hoping Henry would see this. He’s not here physically anymore, but I’m sure he knows.”

A family affair

Jennifer Finegan took it upon herself to trace her husband’s family history and track down county property records. Here’s the timeline she dug up to prove the family’s consistent 100-year ownership and farming practices.

- In 1909, Theophile Cappoen moved to Oregon.

- Theophile married Julie and they had five children — Celine, Pauline, Julianna, Marie and Jerome. They purchased the Century Farm property in 1915.

- Pauline married Rene Taghon and they had one son, Henry Taghon in 1916. Rene had little farming experience, as he was a butler in Belgium before he moved to Oregon. He learned quickly, though.

- Henry grew up on the farm. He married Irma in 1940. They had three children — Marie, Louise and Remi.

- Marie married Melvin Finegan and they had six children, Joe and Ken among them.

- Joe Finegan married Jennifer and they had their children — Thomas, 13, Everett, 11, Owen, 9, and Kara, 8.