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Three in four Utahns now consider a healthy local agriculture industry vital to the state, according to new data aimed at drawing citizens into a massive experiment in regional planning.

Those poll numbers, released Thursday, are up dramatically compared to before the Great Recession, when just over half of state residents surveyed said the food-producing sectors were critical to preserving Utah's way of life.

The economic downturn appears to have strengthened Utahns' concerns that their food be safe, nutritious and grown locally, according to Utah Commissioner of Agriculture LuAnn Adams.

"They like their food closer to home," said Adams, who took the state's top farm job earlier this year. "Utahns recognize the importance of ag in their lives and they're standing up and supporting it."

If those numbers on farming pique your interest, the planning group Envision Utah, which sponsored the survey, suggests you also play an online game. With Utah's population expected to more than double by 2050, the non-profit, non-partisan organization has launched a sophisticated Web-based game-turned-educational tool, dubbed Build Your 2050 Utah.

The game — online at envisionutah.org — lets players weigh in anonymously on 11 key land-use policy issues such as farming, air quality, water and transportation. With graphics reminiscent of the decades-old SimCity, the game then shows what a future Utah would look like, based on the players' policy vision.

"What does Utah want to be when it grows up?" asked Robert Grow, president and CEO of Envision Utah. "What might we really be like in 2050 if we do the right things or if we don't do the right things?"

Along the way, Build Your 2050 Utah also collects players' opinions, making it a defacto survey on a potentially historic scale. Planners hope to gather views from up to 50,000 individual players in Utah, then compile the data into a set of growth scenarios to guide policy choices as the state adds another 2.5 million residents.

Policy issues it models include water use, air quality, transportation, economic development, public lands, disaster preparedness, recreation, agriculture, energy, housing and education.

Ari Bruening, an attorney, planner and chief operating officer for Envision Utah, said the group will use player input to compile four growth scenarios, to be released in mid-April.

Software underlying the game was developed by Provo-based Verisage and it is hosted online by Qualtrics, also in Provo.

In conjunction with the game survey, Envision Utah also polled 1,000 Utah residents for their views on the same topics. Respondents to the late-summer poll also ranked various issues by their importance, including farming.

Survey results show water, education, air quality and health care ranked as top policy priorities. But respondents also said state leaders had not performed especially well on those issues, with air quality at the bottom.

"These are loud messages of what matters most," said Grow. "They're telling us we need to do better."

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