By: Andy Pierucci
On May 10th, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant brought the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads together in Promontory, Utah. The Transcontinental Railroad was the culmination of decades of American ingenuity and grit. For many observers, the railroad was the embodiment of the American dream.
A quarter century before the golden spike was driven in the ground, Ralph Waldo Emerson envisioned what the railroad might mean for American life. He described railroads as “a magician’s rod, in its power to evoke the sleeping energies of land and water.”
With the strike of President Grant’s hammer, quiet little farm towns throughout Utah were instantly connected to global markets. The truth of Emerson’s words are evidenced by the monumental changes Utah’s agriculture and food industry experienced.
With the newly completed railroad, it became profitable to move factories nearer raw materials and stimulated food manufacturing activity throughout the state. Where once Utah’s farmers and ranchers sold their goods locally, they now could access a variety of markets and receive higher prices for their products.
The railroad took products grown and manufactured in Utah to consumers across the country and around the world. Utah wheat was shipped either as grain or as flour to California and the southern states. Sugar beets were shipped to processing facilities throughout the state on rail lines built exclusively for that purpose. The finished sugar was then shipped to the Midwest and Pacific Northwest on railcars.
Utah’s dairymen saw immense profits as they sold condensed milk and other dairy products to consumers in railroad towns throughout the U.S. beef, pork, and lamb raised and processed in Utah could now be found on dinner tables across the country.
Most of Utah’s vegetables and some of its fruits were grown to support the state's burgeoning canning industry, centered mostly in Weber, Davis, and other counties along the Wasatch Front.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Utah’s agriculture and food industry has been living the American dream for the last 150 years in large part due to the monumental changes brought about by The Transcontinental Railroad.
This article was originally written for and ran in the May 2019 issue of Western Wasatch Magazine.
On the west side of Spanish Fork City, in an area originally settled as the town of Leland, sits the Larsen Farm, which is celebrating its 150 year Anniversary this year.
Lars and Johanne Larsen immigrated to Utah from Denmark in 1869. They settled in Spanish Fork and began farming west of town in Leland.
“Lar Larsen originally grew wheat and raised sheep. Over the years our family has also raised beef cattle and grown alfalfa, corn, barley, oats, wheat, lima beans, peas and sugar beets,” said Kara Lewis, who is the sixth generation to work the farm. “Currently my father, Rex Larsen, the 5th generation of our family to farm in Leland, grows certified seed barley, certified weed-free alfalfa, and corn for grain and continues to raise beef cattle.”
Like many farms, most of the alfalfa the family grows feeds their own animals. Additionally, the barley is sold to a seed company and the most of the corn is sold as a commodity. When Lewis and her family moved back to Utah and the farm a couple of years ago she could see that the family’s business wouldn’t sustain the farm into the future.
“It is a difficult time to be a farmer right now as prices of crops and livestock are depressed while expenses continue to rise. I could see that the thought of having to sell the family farm to development was causing a considerable amount of stress to my father,” she said.
That’s when the idea of Glen Ray’s Corn Maze was born. Last year they dedicated about 20 acres of the farm’s more than 300 acres to a corn maze and pumpkin patch, which is named after Lewis’ grandfather, Glen Ray Larsen. The venture was very successful and offered an additional stream of revenue in the fall.
To help market the new venture Lewis joined the Utah’s own program, which lead to her being invited recently to compete in the business pitch grant competition at the 4th Annual Women’s Entrepreneurial Conference (WEC) Held April 17, 2019 in Holladay, Utah. Lewis won first place.
“Winning a $5,000 WEC grant will help our family business expand into more seasons and allow us to continue to share more than one hundred years of farming with families in the community for generations to come,” said Lewis. “Helping to preserve agriculture in our area has become a passion of mine and this grant will allow us to create an outdoor interactive classroom that families and school groups can visit to learn about agriculture and where their food comes.”
Lewis said she believes that farmers have to tell their story as part of their business plan.
“This will allow us to not only share our family's story with other families, but also educate and help people gain a greater respect and appreciation to the farmers and ranchers who put food on their table every day.”
Learn more about the family farm and business at https://glenrayscornmaze.com/about/
Spring is here and many of us are stating to think about our yards and gardens. If you can’t wait to start planting your vegetable garden, here are some guidelines about when to plant certain crops.
Generally, when it comes to their sensitivity to cold temperatures, vegetables fit into one of four groups: very cold hardy, semi-hardy, semi-tender and very tender.
Very hardy = Tolerate temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit
Semi-hardy = 28-32 degrees
Semi-tender = Temperatures down to 32 or just above
Very tender = Don’t even show them a picture of freezing temperatures.
Since most of Utah will still see many more nights with overnight temperatures in the 20s, today’s post will focus on the very hardy and semi-hardy crops for your vegetable garden. A later spring post will focus on the tender plants.
Very cold hardy veggies and herbs:
Garlic: The green stems of garlic are among the first things to emerge in late winter or early spring, as you can see in the photo to the left. Heavy spring snow and very cold temperatures do not impact the bulbs underground. The cold only slows growth above ground. The bad news about garlic? In order to have nice large bulbs later this summer you should have planted last fall.
Arugula: This peppery green has a fun name to say and it is super cold hardy. A member of the mustard family, arugula will over winter in some places, but it certainly can be planted in spring as soon as the ground is workable. Like most cold hardy greens, arugula will bolt, or go to seed when it gets hot, but unlike many of the others, it will grow well in heat if planted later when it’s hot.
Beets: Like arugula, beets do well in cold or warm conditions. Staggered planting every couple of weeks throughout the growing season will ensure a consistent supply of these sweet treats. Bonus: young beet greens can be harvested when very young to be used in salad or when they are a little larger they are great cooked.
Peas: As soon as you can work the ground you can plant peas. One drawback to planting when the ground is too cold is the number of days until germination goes way up. If your soil temperature is below 40 degrees and you expect a lot of cold, wet weather it may take a few weeks for your peas to germinate. Pea seeds can rot in the ground, but that usually isn’t an issue here in the arid West.
Cabbage: Cabbage can withstand temperature down to 15-20 degrees. Plant when ready.
Carrots: Carrots are also great in cold temperatures, but they don’t germinate well in very cold soils. Many gardeners will plant in fall for a spring crop and cover the crops with row covers, straw or other mulch to overwinter the plants. For best results in spring, hold off planting until the soil warms to around 45-50. Even then it can take 2-3 weeks for carrots to germinate.
Cauliflower: Cauliflower can handle temperatures down to 10. Plant as soon as you can work the ground.
Collards: Collards are even more cold hardy than cauliflower and fairly heat tolerant. If you have never grown them they are pretty easy to grow and very prolific. Give this Southern treat a try.
Onions and green onions: Onions and green onions are another crop that can be planted in the fall and overwintered for an early spring harvest, or planted in spring as early as the ground can be worked. Green onions are a shorter duration crop. Consider stagger planting them well into late spring and start again in late summer for a fall crop.
Parsnips: These root vegetables are very cold hardy and they take a long time to grow. Get them in as soon as possible.
Radishes: Radishes are wonderful in spring salads and one of the shortest duration crops around, often 25-30 days. Plant early and often if you like these spicy orbs. If a traditional cherry belle type or red round radish is too hot for your tastes, try a variety like French Breakfast. They are cylinder shape, red and white in color and very mild.
Spinach: Plant as early as you can. Most spinach varieties do not do well in heat.
Swiss Chard: Swiss chard is another crop that likes cold and tolerates heat.
Kale: Kale does very well in temperatures down to about 20 degrees and, like Swiss chard and collards, will tolerate heat.
Semi-cold hardy crops (28-32 degrees):
Lettuce: Whether you prefer a spring mix type of baby loose leaf greens or head lettuces are more your speed, plant when temperatures in your area average 28 and above overnight.
Broccoli: Broccoli is good down to 28 but it is a gamble below that temperature. You may want to wait a while, but if you live in the lower elevation valleys where it tends to get fairly hot by mid-June, don’t wait too long to plant. Broccoli will bolt or get bitter tasting if it gets too hot for too long before harvest.
Celery: Celery only tolerates light frost. Wait a while to plant, but it is worth the wait. Utah has a great climate for these green stalks.
Rutabagas: This old time crop is making a comeback. Like many of the cold season crops, its taste actually improves when exposed to light frost, but it doesn’t abide heavy frosts.
Turnips: They could technically be in either the very cold hardy category or this one. The thing about turnips is they taste better when they finish maturing in warm weather, so think of them as semi-cold hardy and hold off just a while before planting.
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Commissioner LuAnn Adams and state entomologist Kris Watson dropped in on the third graders of Valley Academy Charter School in Hurricane last week to talk about ranching and insects.
Unexpectedly, however, Principal Tracy Stevens shared with the Commissioner and Watson some of the school’s newest attractions. Leading them out to the schoolyard, the guests saw children clamoring for a better view along the school’s back fence – and no, it wasn’t a new swing set or monkey bars that captured their interest.
This school is host to a unique agriculture curriculum – several farm animals are being raised in the back, including pigs, horses, donkeys, a calf, and even some chicks that are preparing to hatch. Along with the carefully-supervised daily access to the animals, kids are educated about their diet and care by animal program manager and maintenance supervisor, Leon Gubler.
“I have received nothing but 100 percent support from the kids and parents here,” said Gubler, who has been managing farm animals his entire life. “The sad reality is that in this day and age agriculture is so far removed from a large part of society that kids don’t always know where their food comes from.”
As if that wasn’t enough, the school also has its own experimental garden with ambitious plans to expand into a community garden and pumpkin patch. Hands-on classes are taught by Stephanie Lindhardt, a parent to children at the school and a certified permaculture designer.
Permaculture design, as she explains, is the creation of a holistic ecosystem that intermingles native trees, perennials, and annuals to create a more efficient and productive garden. Here, children can choose from all kinds of work assignments to keep the garden running such as digging, planting, thinning, weeding, composting, and much more.
“I want the kids to develop a new relationship with food – how it’s grown and what they can do with it,” said Lindhardt, who on rainy or cold days will take the class indoors to learn other things such as canning, butter blending, and veggie scrap sprouting.
Principal Stevens is rightly proud of the school’s agriculture double-win, teaching children valuable lessons through a self-sustaining program. Vegetables from the garden, for example, will be used for a small salad bar on the school’s lunch menu and to help area low-income families. Discarded lunchroom food is used to feed the pigs.
“It’s so heart-warming to see these kids exposed to simple yet powerful messages about agriculture,” said Commissioner Adams. “There’s no better way to learn about animals and vegetables than to have a hand in their growth.”
For her part, Commissioner Adams shared with the class her own experiences as a real-life rancher. She talked about where food comes from and all the wonderful food that can be made from farms and ranches.
Watson then took his turn, discussing the difference between good bugs and bad bugs. He showed them several cases of specimens and challenged them to identify one of the more damaging invasive species, Japanese beetle.
“I thought it was a lot of fun. I was amazed at how many questions these kids had and how smart they were,” said Watson.
The visit was one of several the Commissioner has committed to doing periodically in an effort to help educate Utah school children about agriculture – ranching, farming, insects, soil, and more.
Nutritionist Page Westover and her entrepreneurial husband, Brian, wanted several things as parents to their four children: self-sufficiency, a slower lifestyle and to preserve the remaining three acres of Pleasant Grove farm her grandfather Boyd “Snuck” Fugal had worked his entire life.
Since Snuck’s passing most of it had been sold off and is now housing, but to Page, the last of it represented a history she didn’t want to let go.
Another farm would be great but it wasn’t big enough for that anymore… or was it?
In 2015 she and Brian made a bold move. With the last of the family’s land, they re-opened it to farming. But this time, Snuck Farm as it is now called, did things a little different than her grandfather, embracing the fascinating and emerging world of hydroponics farming.
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in water. Held together by a simple foam base, the plants are grown side-by-side in long PVC rain-gutter-like systems fed by a steady trickle of water that gets recycled.
This may sound space age, but it’s actually been around for a century. The commercial element, however, is still fairly new and growing quickly. Within the last 20-30 years, many commercial hydroponic farms have been popping up. Along with saving space and efficient use of water resources, the Snuck hydroponic greenhouse is producing fresh produce year-round.
Page loves the challenge and has learned a lot, she says, about their budding trial-and-error farming operation.
“This past year has been the first year where the farm has broken even,” she says proudly. And she should be proud, the family and their dozen or so employees are feeding thousands of Utahn’s fresh, locally-grown produce when the temperatures outside are below freezing.
Along with individual weekly CSA-like subscriptions, Snuck’s has secured contracts with restaurants and corporate cafeterias cropping up from the nearby Silicon Slopes offices. Prior to the efforts of the Westovers, much of that food had to be shipped in from out of state and even out of the country.
But wait, there’s more. The family also sells fresh eggs from their 100 chickens, flowers aplenty, partners with Abigail’s Oven for bread, milk, honey, and yogurt, and is building a fresh produce stand that will open this summer.
Education is also important to the Westovers so they built a 30-seat classroom where they organize workshops on beekeeping, raising chickens, flower arranging, and nutrition and food preparation. The emphasis is on sustainable community-based food production and industrious ideas about life and food.
“Our mission is to produce the freshest, highest quality food in the local marketplace. That’s really what Snuck Farms is all about,” Page said.