by Louise R. SHAW
FARMINGTON—It’s a sunny, spring day and Alan Bangerter and his son, Chuck, are planting three acres of sweet corn in a field they lease off 650 West in Farmington.
Like all farmers, the Bangerters need to keep an eye on the weather, getting the crop in before the rains that are expected the next day.
But this year, the Bangerters have more than just weather to deal with as they farm in Davis County. They must also deal with the government.
Land that has been farmed by his family for generations has been slowly gobbled up as the region becomes more urban. In 2001, 30 acres were purchased through eminent domain for the Legacy Parkway and trail. Eight acres are being taken in the same way for the proposed West Davis Corridor, and another 10 are being considered for playing fields to mitigate the loss of park land being taken elsewhere for the corridor.
Alan Bangerter’s great-grandfather first started farming in the area in the 1890s. The land now in dispute in Farmington was purchased in 1902.
Three of his six children are interested in carrying on the legacy of farming in the area, but without enough land, there wouldn’t be enough business to support those families and their children, he said.
Chuck Bangerter is one of those sons and on a recent Wednesday, worked alongside his father planting corn.
“It wasn’t my original career plan,” he said of farming. He went to school and earned a degree in psychology, “but when the opportunity presented itself, I took it,” he said. “It’s what we’ve done our entire lives.”
“I like reaping what I sow,” said Chuck Bangerter. “I like being rewarded for your hard work. I like working outside and having the freedom of being your own boss. It’s a lot of work – a lot of physical, hard work – but I enjoy it and it’s nice to know that the harder you work the more success you have.”
The farm is more than a family operation, according to both father and son.
Local employees are hired every growing season, including 100 teenagers for whom the work may provide their first experience with a job and a paycheck. The payroll for the farm is $400,000 a year, “a boost to the local economy,” said Alan Bangerter.
Produce from the Bangerter acreages supplies local businesses from grocery stores to restaurants and is sold at farmers’ markets in Salt Lake and Bountiful and at a roadside stand in Bountiful. During the height of the season, two semi-truck loads of produce are taken to warehouses each day. Last year, 45,000 pounds of secondary surplus went to the Food Bank.
“There is a big push for fresh, local produce,” said Chuck Bangerter, even more than organic produce. A national trend has developed where communities are being built around working farms rather than golf courses, he said, a trend called “Agrihoods.”
“Our local production of high quality vegetables means that the cost, pollution and inconvenience of importing the equivalent amount of those vegetables from outside the state is avoided,” wrote Alan Bangerter in a letter to Farmington officials. “Each foot of farm land lost will be gone forever as crop-producing acreage. The preservation of the remaining areas of farm land in Davis County is vital.”
The Bangerters have hired attorneys, they started an online petition, and they are meeting with city councils and county commissioners to protect the remaining land they want to continue farming.
They hope to have their land in Farmington, Bountiful and unincorporated Davis County designated as Agricultural Protection Areas which, under Utah statute, would protect them for 20 years. That designation, however, cannot protect them from a federally funded project such as the West Davis Corridor, since federal law pre-empts state protection.
They will meet with Farmington Planning Commission about the designation on Thursday, April 19 and before the Farmington City Council on May 1.
They are hoping to get support for the application from Bountiful City Council and the Davis County Commission as well and early indications are that they will get it.
Earlier this month, the Davis County Agriculture Advisory Board voted unanimously to recommend approval of the application in all three entities.
Dave Anderson, city planner for Farmington, said the decision on approving the APA in Farmington is up to the planning commission and city council.
“As a city we can see pros and cons to having a park there and we can really see good advantages to having agriculture there too,” said Anderson. “The city council members are the ones who will make the ultimate decision.”
That is only one of the hurdles the Bangerters must overcome. They must also convince UDOT to look elsewhere for park land to replace the land lost to the corridor.
Neighbors have been supportive of keeping the land in agriculture.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised and grateful,” said Chuck Bangerter of the support from the community.
More than 7,200 people signed a petition as of April 11 in support of their efforts to preserve the farmland, according to his father.
The neighborhood, once a quiet rural area, now has an elementary school to the west, Station Park to the north, Legacy Highway to the east and a new high school to the south just months away from opening.
The Bangerters want to keep farming land that is within a 10-mile radius, said Alan Bangerter, and thus avoid additional costs of transporting equipment and personnel. The land they now farm has taken years of care “for us to get really good crops out of it,” he said.
Then he climbed back on the precision planter and drove back and forth across the land just off 650 West, planting corn seeds six inches apart in rows 39 inches wide.
Tomorrow there would be rain.