Devney family celebrates a century of farming in Farmington
When the Devney family came to Farmington they drove a horse and wagon down a gravel road to the newly purchased family farm. That was in 1908.
A lot has changed since then. That gravel road is now Highway 50, and the farm has grown from 400 acres to roughly 2,300 spread around the Farmington area. But the Devneys are still here.
On Aug. 2, the family celebrated that fact with a party that drew somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 family members, friends and business associates.
"We just wanted to have our friends and people out here to show our appreciation for what they've done," said Maryann Devney, who lives with husband John in one of three Devney family homes along Hwy. 50 west of Pilot Knob Road.
It was John Devney's father, Mike, and his grandfather, also named John, who brought the family to Farmington a century ago. They came from Wisconsin in search of better land and to be closer to the elder Devney's brother, who had a farm of his own in Pine Island.
"Dad used to say, the saying in that time was 'Go west, young man. Go west,'" John Devney said. "I think that had something to do with it."
Back in those early days the Devneys used horse-drawn machinery to plant corn and small grain. They had pastureland across the road where a herd of dairy cattle grazed.
The current John Devney was born and raised in the white farmhouse that still stands on the property. It is the only current building left from when the family moved in. He grew up working on the farm.
"It was a pleasant experience," he said. "I remember driving the horses, especially when they were haying.
"I enjoyed watching Dad farm. Seeing the crops grow. It's quite a thrill to watch the corn come up and harvest it."
That thrill has kept John involved in farming all his life. He studied agriculture at the University of Minnesota and today lives right next door to that original white farmhouse, which is currently occupied by son Pat and his family. Another son, Mike, lives on the other side of the elder Devneys.
"It was a wonderful place for the kids to grow up," Maryann said. "They got involved in 4-H and FFA. That work ethic followed through with their kids."
Both Devney sons are involved in the farm. Twenty-five years ago the trio formed a partnership called Devenshire Farms. Mike and Pat have since bought out their father's share, but John is still involved in the farm.
Over the years, horse-drawn equipment has given way to bigger and bigger machinery.
"I think the first tractor I drove, the lawnmower has more horsepower today," Mike Devney said.
The farm has changed, too. The overall size of the operation has grown even as pieces of the original homestead have been carved away by easements for roads and pipelines. Fifty years ago the family lost land to a radar installation for the FAA air traffic control center built in Farmington.
These days the Devneys grow corn, beans, peas, hay and wheat. A barn that once housed hogs now provides shelter for a growing herd of alpaca.
It takes a lot of work to keep a farm going for 100 years. John Devney remembers nights when his father would work the thresher until 9 p.m. then milk a barn full of cows. There were times when the weather hurt them, or when the market was down.
The Devney family will receive recognition at this year's Dakota County Fair for weathering everything they have faced over the past 100 years.
The younger Devneys still enjoy farming, but nobody seems to believe the family farm will be around for another 100 years. There's too much pressure these days to sell land to developers. A few years ago, when Farmington was at the height of its growth, family members heard from potential buyers on a weekly if not daily basis. Even now that development has largely stalled in the city, much of the Devney land is in a prominent enough location that would-be developers still come around every once in a while.
The day will come when it's time to sell, but for now at least the family is happy to see just how many years it can keep the farm running.
"(Maryann) doesn't want to move and I don't want to move and I think we'll be here until we go to the nursing home," John Devney said.