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Sixth-generation Utah farmer defends his land as plans for new highway come to light

'We never thought we'd have to protect our ground,' Farmington man says

FARMINGTON — It's not the first time Alan Bangerter has had farmland taken from him, but it might be the last if city officials get their way.

"We can't lose a third of our vegetable growing production and stay in business," the sixth-generation farmer told the Deseret News. He said the farm currently sustains at least four Bangerter families, including his own and those of three of his sons.

"How would I tell two of my sons 'we don't have enough room for you in the business?'" Bangerter said, adding that it isn't something he could or would ever do.

The city is eyeing about 22 acres of his land just west of I-15 and adjacent to the new Farmington Recreation Center.

"Ideally, in a perfect world, we'd love to have the land next to a park that we're already building," said Keith Johnson, assistant city manager in Farmington. "That would be a perfect situation."

Chas. W. Bangerter Inc. farmland is pictured in in Farmington on Friday, April 6, 2018.
Chas. W. Bangerter Inc. farmland is pictured in in Farmington on Friday, April 6, 2018.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The newly approved West Davis Corridor — slated to cut through west Farmington when construction begins in 2020 — wipes out about 8 acres of city soccer fields that the Utah Department of Transportation is required by federal law to replace. After presenting options to the city, officials prefer the Bangerters' property, at 650 West and 500 South, because of its convenient location and added benefit of expanding an existing park.

Bangerter has already agreed to let UDOT take 8 acres of his land for the city, but he's worried about the 22.37 acres that will remain of his "rich and fertile" parcel in Farmington.

"It's not just a little operation," he said. "We produce as much per acre as any vegetable farm in the state, except those covered with greenhouse."

At its peak, the Chas. W. Bangerter Inc. farm produces two semitrailer loads of fresh produce a day, which are delivered to any one of 14 local warehouses, markets and restaurants throughout the growing season. The season runs from mid-May to late October, depending on the weather.

They donate 45,000 pounds of surplus and/or seconds to the local food banks, and the farm hires about 130 local teens and adults to work the land during its growing season, putting $400,000 in annual wages back into the economy.

"You can put a soccer field on any type of ground. Vegetables is a whole different thing," Bangerter said, adding that it has taken the better part of a decade to achieve the production levels they have. "The first four five years didn't produce good crops … it takes years of cultivation. We've leveled the ground, installed an irrigation system and the ground there is nearly weed-free, which takes time."

Alan Bangerter walks on the edge of one of his family's fields in Farmington on Friday, April 6, 2018. Bangerter is fighting the city to keep his land, and he says if the city takes the rest, he'll be hard-pressed to continue his operation, which has been
Alan Bangerter walks on the edge of one of his family's fields in Farmington on Friday, April 6, 2018. Bangerter is fighting the city to keep his land, and he says if the city takes the rest, he'll be hard-pressed to continue his operation, which has been in the family for four generations.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The farmland in Farmington was procured by Bangerter after UDOT took a different 30 acres from him to build the Legacy Highway. It was the only piece of land big enough and in good enough shape that he could make work.

"We've turned it into an excellent field for vegetables," Bangerter said, adding that the land is not replaceable at this point, as it isn't feasible or efficient to transport his farm equipment and employees farther than the 10 miles he already does, between his Bountiful, Centerville and Farmington farms.

And the city has asked to purchase that same land before, so he knows it's something officials have been eyeing for some time.

UDOT, along with the Federal Highway Administration, has selected a nearly 20-mile route beginning at Glovers Lane, which will connect the existing Legacy Highway to cities across western Davis and Weber counties. It will cost $725 million and convert 871 acres of land to roadway, according to the project's final environmental impact study.

"It's been a seven- to eight-year process, in which we considered 51 different alternatives," said UDOT spokesman John Gleason. "We worked to minimize the impacts on homeowners and landowners, but any time you're dealing with acquiring property, it's an issue that we want to work closely with folks to make it as fair as possible."

He said they "go out of our way to select the least impactful ways" to implement any project.

"We try to avoid affecting people, their homes and their livelihood, as much as we possibly can," Gleason said. "It's not always avoidable, unfortunately."

The West Davis Corridor project will impact more than 100 acres of farmland, and upward of 600 acres of irrigated and non-irrigated cropland in the region, including 3 acres in Agricultural Protection Areas, the report shows.

It will also displace at least 25 homes and five businesses in its path. Those numbers could change, however, as the highway design process continues through the next two years.

Johnson said Farmington isn't thrilled about having yet another highway coming through the city, where residents already have direct access to I-15, U.S. 89 and Legacy, "but we have no choice."

"You hate to have another road, another highway to divide up your city," he said, adding that officials pushed to have the project start further north, but were not successful.

Nothing is final concerning the Bangerter farm, Johnson said, but he did agree, "there's not a lot of land left in Farmington."

Thousands of residents throughout Davis County have signed various petitions in support of the Bangerter farm in Farmington. One of them was started by Bangerter's attorney and has close to 5,000 signees.

The 67-year-old farmer is hoping Bountiful, Centerville and Farmington city councils will designate the various parcels of land he owns in each city as Agricultural Protection Areas, shielding them from further encroachment by state and local entities.

"We never thought we'd have to protect our ground, that they'd be coming after us for it," he said.

Gleason said the highway is inevitable as the population in Utah is expected to double in the next 30 years, with Davis County following suit. The new road will increase regional mobility, connecting cities with another viable north-south thoroughfare.

"It's important to plan ahead for that growth," Gleason said. "We need to be making smart decisions that will help us all out in the future."

The West Davis Corridor project drew a lot of criticism from residents and city officials in every city it impacts, as many hoped to maintain the safety and property values they currently have but feared a highway wouldn't do that. UDOT reworked its plans several times, performing different environmental impact studies throughout the eight years it has been working on this.

But, like Gleason said, sometimes the burden to landowners is unavoidable.

"We can scarcely afford to lose more land, especially in light of the time, effort, money and sweat we have invested in making the small acreage we have productive," Bangerter wrote in his application to the Farmington, sent in January.

Responding to criticism that the agricultural designation will only generate more value for his land, Bangerter said he's not interested in selling and never has been. He said his family will continue to farm the land for generations to come.

"I can't replace what we have," he said. "I feel quite a responsibility to see that my kids and grandkids are supported and keep going."

Bangerter said his great-grandfather came to Utah from Switzerland and originally bought the family farm in 1902. It's been "basically the same family farming it," he said, for 116 years.

"I can see it going another 116 years, but we have to keep the ground," Bangerter said. "They're putting homes everywhere. The farmers selling are those who no one wants to follow in their footsteps and they get pressure from developers. I get calls every day. We're not selling. We're buying. But there's nothing available."

The Bangerters have already put radishes and peas in the ground in Bountiful and are expecting their first harvest of the year in about a month. Bangerter and his sons work a hundred or more hours a week to ensure the farm's success — helping to hand-harvest dozens of varieties of vegetables and even working alongside the teenagers they hire "to keep them doing things the right way and to teach them to work hard," he said. "We never run out of work to do."

"It's not the easiest lifestyle, but there are some enjoyments and some days you have to look for them," Bangerter said. "We just want to keep farming. We shouldn't have to worry about not having any ground to plant crops on."