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Family trees roots run deep on land in North Plains


VanDomelen family receives Century Farm & Ranch award for 150 years of service

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Vanessa VanDomelen stands next to her familys brand new Century Farm & Ranch sign. VanDomelen still farms the land thats been in her family for about 150 years.A new sign on a North Plains roadside will mark 17 acres of farmland that has been owned and operated by the same family since before Oregon was a state and before Abraham Lincoln was president.

But the marker will represent more than just 150 years of official ownership. It will represent multiple generations of childhood memories for the VanDomelen family — and continuing influence on their lives as adults.

The VanDomelens, along with nine other families, will receive the Oregon Farm Bureau’s Century Farm & Ranch honor at the Oregon State Fair Saturday, Aug. 24.

The program recognizes Oregon families with century-long connections to their land.

To receive the award, families must apply and include documentation — photos, deeds, property records, personal stories, historic records — to prove continuous family operation of the farm for at least 100 years, a gross income of no less than $1,000 per year for at least three out of five years prior to application, and that family members still live on or actively manage the farm or ranch’s activities.

Among this year’s honorees, the VanDomelens are the only ones who’ve made it to 150 years—one of 26 such sesquicentennial farms in the state. The Oregon Farm Bureau gave them the coveted Century Farm & Ranch sign to mark their land on Northwest Dairy Creek Road.

Vanessa VanDomelen grew up on the land and now co-owns it with her sister, Valerie Purdy.

After all this time, Vanessa feels a sense of “responsibility to preserve the soil for future generations and keep the land in agricultural production for local consumption,” she said. “Farming and the land is part of our identity. It’s something that never leaves you.”

Vanessa — who still grows produce on the land to sell at the North Plains Farmers’ Market under the name Mountaindale Farms — compiled the application and necessary records for the bureau.

She said Flemmon Dobbins, a half-brother to her great-great-grandmother, received 320 acres in 1851 after filing for an Oregon Donation Land Claim.

Flemmon’s half-sister, Louisa Dobbins, married George Corey, and the land eventually transferred to the couple after Flemmon Dobbins’ death. It later transferred to the couple’s son, James Corey.

James’s daughter, Pearl, inherited the land as a teenager after both of her parents died. Splitting the parcel with her siblings, Pearl ended up with 60 acres of land with all the original buildings.

Pearl later married Jacob VanDomelen.

Pearl and Jacob’s son, Melvin VanDomelen, married Mary Ellen Reed, and they still live on 16.9 acres (after Pearl’s 60 acres were divided among Melvin and his siblings) situated in an oak grove, in a ranch-style house they built in the early 1960s.

Melvin grows a small amount of nursery stock alongside his daughter Vanessa’s vegetables.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Melvin and Mary Ellen VanDomelen still live in a house nestled in a tree grove on the family farm, where the original outhouse still stands. Melvin recalls when the Columbus Day storm blew over a barn.

When Vanessa sifts through her memories, learning to drive in the hay truck stands out. Before she could see over the dashboard, her dad and her uncle, Dale VanDomelen, stacked Sears & Roebuck and Wards catalogs on the seat for her to sit on — and her long legs could still reach the pedals.

Her uncle also taught her to milk his cows, inspiring Vanessa to care for a small goat herd she took to the fairs.

Like Vanessa, Melvin said many of his childhood memories center on the farm.

While manning the North Plains Historical Society booth at an annual community event, Melvin, 81, recalled Emil Bigealow clear as day. His mother hired Bigealow when she was just a teenager to help her run the farm, and he stayed for decades.

“He was like a grandfather to me,” Melvin said. “He was a real big guy with great bony hands.”

Melvin and his father have found countless Native American artifacts on the property through the years, including arrowheads dating back more than 5,000 years, according to a Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde archeologist.

Melvin split his time working for Teufel Nursery and on his own farm, where he spent his youth helping his father care for the dairy cows and raise lima beans, garden peas and squash for the cannery, and beets and carrots for seed.

He spent nights on the sleeping porch in the old farmhouse — starting when he heard the frogs in the spring and stopping when he began hearing crickets in the fall — and noted the family ate pancakes every Friday morning.

“We were a tight family,” Melvin said.

Vanessa, now living in Hillsboro’s Orenco neighborhood, agreed.

“I’ve met a lot of people whose huge regret is that their families sold their farms, but they realize it too late,” said Vanessa, who tills the same soil as her ancestors and takes her breaks under the same oak trees. “I hope to live on the land again one day.”