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Final harvest

CENTRAL POINT — A local farm stand that's been offering peaches, watermelon and corn for over 128 years opened for business one final time Tuesday morning.

The Beebe Farms stand closed for good that afternoon after longtime customers trickled in for their final stash of winter squash, apples and pumpkins.

Elena Gealon, who grew up playing — and later working — at the farm, has owned the land with her family for two decades.

Gealon said the trio of families who have kept the farm running for the past century had tackled everything from development woes, loss of well water, increased operational costs and even loss of labor to the growth of marijuana farms.

The sign that “it was finally time” came when Orchard Operations Manager Saul Jacuinde decided to retire this year.

“There’s no Beebe Farm without Saul, and it was time for him to retire. This was his last season,” Gealon said, piling Fuji apples into a box.

Serving a steady flow of customers Tuesday, Gealon said the memories were endless. She worked the produce stand as a young child, as did her own daughter, and, this summer, her 8-year-old granddaughter helped pick peaches and learned basic math by serving customers at the stand.

Gealon’s father, Gus Picollo, bought the farm after Ken Beebe, the final descendant of the farm’s original owner, passed away in 2003, with Picollo’s children and Jacuinde’s family helping to continue farming the land.

Gealon said the family had not yet discussed what to do with the next peach harvest, but they would entertain the idea of a contract with someone to harvest the trees and deal with the fruit.

“We’d love to find somebody if we could, but finding someone who wants to take care of all the trees and then harvest them would be difficult,” she said.

Having lived in the neighborhood since she was 3, Gealon remembers Ken Beebe having a train delivered to his backyard in 1984, and countless community members earning extra money — whether from lighting smudge pots or picking peaches and corn over the years.

Patty Vanikiotis, gathering her final stash of acorn squash from Beebe Farm, was sad to hear of its closing.

“We live a mile down the road. We moved here in 2009, and these kinds of places really gave the community that rural feel,” she said.

“We’d run down right before dinner. We would get the pot going on the stove and run down here and get some of their corn.”

Central Point resident Anita Brown, who turned 70 this week, reminisced about being taught by Ken Beebe how to pick peaches and help on the farm.

“Ken Beebe taught us all how to pick them without giving them a bruise. He checked every single peach, and you couldn’t have a single bruise or you didn’t get paid,” Brown said.

“I graduated Crater in ’64, and this was how we got all our school clothes. You started when you were 10 or 12 years old. I was so tall, I could reach up into the trees, so I started a little sooner.”

She added, “I had five brothers, and we all made our money picking the peaches. Nobody wants to farm anymore, but that was all there was when we were kids. We were all poor, and our parents were farmers and there were no rich farmers. Our parents farmed the land, because it was what they did.”

And so it went for the Beebe, Picollo and Jacuinde families.

Avoiding attention, Saul Jacuinde toiled in a nearby field on an old tractor for a while, and for one more afternoon Gealon filled boxes with apples and reminisced with community members.

With herself and her siblings having “day jobs,” Gealon said the farm was never really about making money after the passing of Ken Beebe, whose ashes were sprinkled under a favorite peach tree with his grandfather’s ashes.

Much like longtime customers, they just wanted it to be a part of the community for a little longer.

“I think Ken would be happy that it’s still here and still what it is. I don’t think he’d be happy to see Costco going in or for houses to eventually be built on the land,” Gealon said.

“We aren’t going anywhere, and we have no plans to sell. It is in the urban growth boundary, so eventually more houses will be built. We’ve kept it going as long as we have because we knew how important it was to the community and how much everyone loved it. And because we loved it, too.”

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Ann Gothard of Medford picks out some apples at Beebe Farms in Central Point Tuesday morning. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]
Beebe Farms orchard operations manager Saul Jacuinde uses his tractor to move equipment around the orchards Tuesday. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]