Wharton: Saving a family farm in Draper

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Draper • Back when farms were common in the Salt Lake Valley, little produce stands such as the Jenson Family Farm sold vegetables often picked that morning to lucky residents.

But the little wooden buildings filled with squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant are becoming more rare with each passing year as the farms that produce the fruits and vegetables get plowed under for subdivisions and strip malls.

Jodi Jenson, who for the past 30 years has worked the land her husband's father and grandfather have farmed since 1942, knows this better than anyone.

The family once farmed the ground east of State Street now occupied by the South Towne Mall, the Sandy City Hall and Target. When a subdivision went into the east of her farm located near the small stand at 11905 S. 700 West in Draper, the developer didn't think twice about filling in the irrigation ditches, forcing the Jensons to fight to keep their water.

Though the 100-acre farm was here long before the houses, nearby residents sometimes complain about farm smells or tractors running too early in the morning. Draper City ordinances prohibit the family from using hand-lettered signs bigger than two feet by two. I found the stand almost by accident two years ago while searching for Armenian cucumbers for a special pickle recipe my wife makes.

Jenson said Draper City is slowly trying to push her business out by making it difficult to get a permit to sell from the little stand, even though the adjacent farm was here long before the subdivisions and businesses.

Don't get the impression, though, that Jenson is an angry person. Far from it. A sign prominently posted on the wall of the vegetable stand sums up a happy person's philosophy.

"Laugh when you can, apologize when you should, and let go of what you can't change," it reads. "Kiss slowly, forgive quickly, play hard, take chances, give everything, and have no regrets. Life is too short but to be anything but happy."

As Jenson separates beets in the back of a small trailer, two women drive up to the small stand and begin asking questions about potatoes.

"Fresh potatoes," said one lady, trying to decide between red or white. "I've only had those once in my life."

Jenson tells her that one brand of potato was picked yesterday, the other that very morning.

The two women spend $3.

The farmer said many long-time customers stop to ask questions about what they are doing wrong at their home gardens or for advice on canning, information the farmer is more than happy to convey. Some buy bottled goods Jenson has canned and sells. Her favorite? Strawberry rhubarb jam.

But a small sign near a jar with a slit tells much about Jenson. When she, her husband, four children or six grandchildren are all out working the farm, customers can use the honor system to pay for what they buy, leaving the money in the jar on the counter.

"I think the honor system empowers people," she said.

Asked why she started the row crop farm about 30 years ago, Jenson also had an interesting answer.

"I wanted my children to grow up with good work ethics, an understanding of money and to learn how to deal with people," she said.

Perhaps, more than any other reason, that is why it is important to preserve the few farms such as the Jenson operation that are left along the Wasatch Front.

Of course, there are selfish reasons too. Who can resist biting into a cob of sweet corn picked fresh that day? Can salsa taste any better when fresh-picked tomatoes and peppers are the main ingredients? And is there anything better than home-canned jam spread across a fresh piece of bread?

Besides, Jenson grows my wife's favorite cucumbers and helps us maintain our own family tradition.


Twitter @tribtomwharton