Cultivating a sustainable oasis amidst Utah’s urban sprawl.
“You won’t find pomelos or kumquats like this growing anywhere else. This greenhouse keeps them warm enough all winter,” says Chad Midgley, owner of Chad’s Produce. “Now, who wants a cutting of a tree to take home?”
The last farm tour of the season at Chad’s Produce stands in a greenhouse on an Ogden property, surrounded by dense citrus trees. According to Midgley, it’s the largest fruit-bearing citrus collection in Utah, soaking up the warmth of the sun on the property, wedged inside of a neighborhood between two houses and behind a new development.
While the urban sprawl pushes through open land and historic farms in Utah, there’s a parallel demand from residents for the availability of local, fresh food. Midgley, a fierce believer in the community-building power of agriculture, has been working to meet this demand, farming property in urban Utah for more than 11 years. What started as a small operation in Syracuse eventually ballooned out to five properties in Syracuse, Bountiful, Ogden and West Bountiful.
Midgley calls his farms permaculture food forests, using a type of growing technique that mimics the structure and function of a natural forest, layering plants together and harnessing the power of nature for nutrients. Designed to be sustainable and low-maintenance with the ecosystem and sustainability in mind, Midgley says he’s doing more than just producing food in these urban plots. He’s helping the land.
Touring Midgley’s farm is like entering a labyrinth — a corn maze with more plants than just corn. Using sustainable and organic farming practices means you won’t find neat and tidy rows of identical-looking plants. Here, different crops cohabitate together, providing shade, aerated soil, or pest control for the plants around them. Wood chips sit in mounds throughout, slowly turning into nutrient-rich compost that will feed the soil.
“This is what a healthy growing environment looks like,” Midgley said. “If you dig down, you’ll see worms eating the chips. We have a very good ecosystem here.”
For Midgley, the process of growing sustainable, healthy food is just the start. Equally important is his mission to share the food he grows — and the techniques he uses —with those who want to learn. Stroll down the Ogden Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, and Midgley’s cheerful voice is sure to greet you, beckoning you to try one of his heirloom peaches, greens, basement-grown strawberries, and more. This connection with consumers is what he says he values most about farmers markets, and is part of Midgley’s vision for a more local-centric food future.
“They come, they try the produce, and they want to learn more, and then we want them eventually to want to tour, then have a hand in farming as well,” Midgley said.
Each bite of Chad’s Produce is a result of generations of hard, careful work building a good ecosystem and soil to farm in. While standing on the Ogden property, Midgley remembers discovering that the farm he’d bought had been grown on and cared for from the time the early pioneers first arrived. With irrigation through the back, and healthy soil, he couldn’t have asked for a better place to start.
“I bought this, and I came to find out this whole area was a big orchard,” Midgley said.
Now, he feels a bit of sadness watching the area change. Just behind his orchard space in Ogden, a large apartment complex is going up, blocking the view of his farm from the road.
“You could see citrus trees in Ogden,” Midgley said. “The farm has a special spirit about it that you don’t get in all the dwellings that people are building.”
The sentiment Midgley has is shared throughout Northern Utah and the rest of the state. According to the Census of Agriculture, acreage farmed in Utah is shrinking or staying flat year after year. Still, in this permaculture forest, at least for now, even the sounds of the busy street nearby are muted and the bird songs amplified.
Chad’s Produce can be found at the Ogden Farmers Market on Saturdays from May 27 to September 9, and at other markets throughout Northern Utah during the season. He gives tours of his properties from February through May, or upon request.
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