Ask any old-time farmer in Ogden Valley how he decided what crop to grow. Chances are he’s not going to say that the beauty of alfalfa captured him in a moment of deep spiritual recognition. But that’s how farmer Pete Rasmussen tuned in to the living organism Allium sativum, or garlic. “I had a connection to the plant from the first moment and something sparked inside me,” Pete recalls.
Pete’s poetic association with working the land was nurtured at UC-Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. He participated in the program’s apprenticeship and learned the hands-on aspects of practicing what the program defines as “ecological sustainability and social justice.” “The academic side got my mind thinking about food systems,” Pete says, “and I was fortunate to have the farm component to learn by doing.”
The biggest challenge for any young farmer is financial viability. Startup costs can be daunting for even a relatively small five-acre parcel. Pete was lucky that his parents, Marsha and Mark Rasmussen, had settled on a tract of rich, alluvial, Ogden Valley land that Mark calls “chocolate gold.”
This year marks Pete’s seventh growing season, and about a third of the three-acre Sandhill Farms is dedicated to 52 varieties of garlic. The other acreage is used to grow mixed vegetables and sunflowers. Soil is fed by Summit County alpaca manure and green manure, providing natural nitrogen into the soil. Pete, his parents, sister and two part-time employees control weeds by hoeing, and no chemicals are used on the land. Every year has seen a robust harvest.
The Rasmussens share their love of the land with their community. Marsha helped launch the Ogden Valley Farmers Market. The family has hosted Master Gardener workshops, provided community education, and put on “Garlactica,” a seasonal celebration of garlic harvesting and taste-testing. Pete also mingles with the valley’s old guard, conventional mono-crop farmers, swapping technique and tractor talk; a generational bridging that inspires mutual admiration.
Sandhill Farms participates in the community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Restaurant accounts include Pago in Salt Lake, and Roosters in Ogden. They also sell to Eden’s Valley Market as well as Whole Foods and Liberty Heights Fresh.
“I wholly appreciate people who will pay more for local, small-farm produce,” Pete graciously acknowledges, “and I am also interested in continuing to expand the scope of who has access to the food we’re growing.”
Pete said what is most meaningful to him in working the land is the “people side” of farming. “It drew me in from the beginning. The process of planting is fundamental to culture. At the core of what I love about farming is being able to share stories with people about connection to the land.”
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