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Urban sprawl among top threats to Utah farms

Urban sprawl among top threats to Utah farms

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue | Posted - Sep. 18, 2011 at 4:30 p.m.

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SYRACUSE — The rows upon rows of corn, pumpkins growing orange in the patches and expansive barns speak of a farming tradition that has survived and even flourished for well past five decades.

It speaks of getting down in the dirt, making a living the hard way, but a way that is rewarded through bountiful harvests and a feel-good tired at the end of the day.

You can tell that Black Island Farms on the western fringes of Davis County is more than just Charlie Black's baby — it's his legacy.

Under storm-threatening skies with a warm wind kicking up in the west, Black proudly showed off his heritage on Friday to a crowd of strangers, loading them up onto wagons for a tour of his farm.

Agricultural commissioners, directors and other representatives from 46 states have been in Utah this week for a national agricultural conference addressing a variety of issues facing ranchers and farmers in modern America — key among them agricultural sustainability.

Black can tell you all about the struggle to keep his enterprise sustained, especially in light of a plan by state transportation officials to etch a path through his farmland for the new West Davis corridor.

He told the group that despite laws on the books in Utah designed to protect agriculture from such things as nuisance lawsuits or condemnation actions by government entities, the laws fail to protect him against the planned highway.

"UDOT, if they want to, they can come through and put it in," Black said.

Utah's commissioner of agriculture, Leonard Blackham, echoed the sentiment that state public policy leaders need to do more to protect farmland.

There's a very minimum program here for agricultural conservation. The priority is low and protection severely inadequate. In doing that, it means the last crop on a piece of farm land will be a home.

–- Leonard Blackham, Utah's commissioner of agriculture

"Farming is on the bottom of the priority list. ... The state is good at addressing the need, but that is all they do. There needs to be action," he said.

The Black Island Farms has looked to sustain itself over the years through its embrace of "agri- entertainment," acting on that as a portion of its business through an ordinance passed by Davis County commissioners.

The agri-entertainment approach allows the farm to run a 28-acre corn maze — the largest in the state — that has grown from 5,000 customers a year to more than 46,000 people who delight in getting lost, if even momentarily.

"It's helped us a ton," said Dorathy Law, event manager and daughter of Charlie Black. "It allows us to diversify."

The farm's harvest festival also includes specially- grown "field trip" pumpkins just the right size for smaller school children who tour the farm.

"They're solid, too. You can whack 'em and they still last through Halloween," Black told the crowd, smiling. "This is farm entertainment, farm education and farm fun out here."

Next week, the farm will host another field trip to teach kids about the value of working the land and how to protect it.

Black and Blackham are both hopeful the lessons learned will somehow filter to the top to leaders in the position to make decisions.

"There's a very minimum program here for agricultural conservation," Blackham said. "The priority is low and protection severely inadequate. In doing that, it means the last crop on a piece of farm land will be a home."


Amy Joi O'Donoghue


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