Local Government Support Bolsters Urban Farming Movement in Salt Lake County, UT
November 2, 2016 | Trish Popovitch
The story in Salt Lake County, Utah is pretty typical of a post 2008 American community. Vacant lots, underutilized land and an ever-growing local populace who would rather have locally grown produce than chemically-saturated, origin-iffy imports. The difference in Salt Lake County, however, is that rather than a nonprofit or private company, the government is facilitating the local food and urban farming movement.
“The urban farming program is the brainchild of Councilman Jim Bradley,” says Supreet Gill, Program Manager for Salt Lake County Urban Farming. “He initially became interested in the program after reading an article by Michael Pollan on [the] benefits of eating healthy food. Since that time, the urban farming program staff has created and managed various projects aimed at promoting cultivation and consumption of local, fresh and healthy food.”
Salt Lake County Urban Farming is a mediator, a go between if you will, that facilitates the relationship between the producer and the consumer with nothing to gain monetarily (budgets are beyond tight). The urban farming endeavor is fueled by a strong desire to make Salt Lake County self-sufficient, sustainable, healthier, and a better place to live. They accomplish this feat by fostering partnerships and reaching out to the community, proving time and time again that building a sustainable economic framework really isn’t rocket science.
Preserving existing agricultural resources is a key priority for Salt Lake County Urban Farming. The County has three large parcels of land. Rather than let them sit idle, the county leases the parcels to three established local farms: Bell Organic, Urban Farm and Feed and Petersen Family Farms. The three family run farms lease a total of just over 14 acres from the County and produce a variety of heirloom vegetables and fruits, which they sell through CSAs, farm stands, and at local farmers’ markets.
Three smaller County-owned parcels of land are leased to The Green Urban Lunch Box (GULB). GULB is a nonprofit working to increase food education to underserved populations in Salt Lake County. It leases a total of 2.42 acres from the County.
“Working with Salt Lake County has allowed GULB access to a valuable piece of land right in the heart of Salt Lake County,” says Gill. “This land allows them to grow food for low income families, experiment with new urban agricultural practices and have a convenient location for our Small Farms Initiative. This program focuses on growing food in small urban spaces, enabling new farmers to move on from the training program and begin their own urban farms.”
New Roots, a project of the International Rescue Committee, leases three acres from the County to support their mission of incubating small farms as growers try to find their feet in a new country.
Along with facilitating leases, Salt Lake County Urban Farming has partnered with Wasatch Community Gardens to manage the County’s Parks for Produce program. The program allows the public to create community gardens in public parks with county assistance in the way of water lines, fiscal sponsorship, management structure, and member administration. Community Gardens are abundant in Salt Lake County with 32 listed on the Wasatch Community Garden page.
In addition to supporting local farmers’ markets and a Farm to School program, the Salt Lake County Urban Farming folks also offer a Farmlink program for would be growers. With a property tax reduction incentive for private owners, municipalities and the County, landowners can lease their land of between 2-4.99 acres to farmers for commercial agricultural use.
“The Farmlink program is slow moving,” says Gill. “Land is in high demand in Utah and finding viable pieces of farmable land is a complex process that will take some time.”
2015/2016 is the first year of the Farmlink program and Gill hopes its momentum will increase.
As winter approaches the scenic foothills of Utah, Gill and her team turn their focus to catching up on the paperwork left idle in the languid summer stretch of farmers’ markets and garden shares, but hope soon to have a fuller more active plate during the snowy season too.
“Lots of farmers use low tunnels and greenhouses but winters are challenging for local food production,” says Gill. “Farmers are beginning to develop an interest in alternative means of production in the winter but there are no big facilities or projects as yet.”
In the future, Gill hopes to spread education on the many benefits of hydroponics and aquaponics to the local populace to increase opportunities for year round local food production.