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Farming is a gamble, but this Utahn is all in. Here's how the Downtown Farmers Market is giving him a table to play

SALT LAKE CITY — Dale Batty, a managing partner at The Old Home Place in Vernal, is what you might picture a farmer to be: a dirty shirt that is evidence of a hard day of work, a wide-brimmed hat to block the rays of the sun as he works outside in the fields and a wise look that comes from decades of farming and knowledge of the farm’s product sold throughout the state and at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City.

“(Batty) is truly, authentically himself,” said Alison Einerson, director of the Downtown Farmers Market. “(Customers) want to talk to the people that grow their food, and they know he’s telling the truth. They know it’s going to be a good product and you can see it in his face. People just love that about him.”

Batty is one of more than 100 vendors at the Downtown Farmers Market at Pioneer Park, which is starting up again on Saturday, June 8, and offers a variety of local fruits, vegetables, eggs, flora, locally made sauces, spreads, baked goods and other foods.

“We’re about connecting the rural growers and the urban growers to a dedicated audience of people who value food,” Einerson said of the market’s pupose.

She has worked at the market, a program of the Downtown Alliance and Urban Food Connections of Utah, for almost seven years, with four of those years spent managing the market and helping ensure that food producers and farmers like Batty are successful and profitable.

A chicken sits atop the hat of Dale Batty, managing partner at The Old Home Place in Vernal.
A chicken sits atop the hat of Dale Batty, managing partner at The Old Home Place in Vernal.
Jamie Hall, The Old Home Place

An ‘authentic’ farmer

The Batty farm began shortly after World War II when Batty’s grandfather bought about 100 acres in Vernal, where Batty grew up. At the age of 5 he drove the tractor through an open gate while his dad made sure no animals escaped. By age 10 he was brushing meadows to break up the winter manure. He also fell asleep and drove into a fence around age 11, but he kept working alongside his family and before he was a teen, Batty helped with milking and herding cattle, watering animals and running through the fields, chasing his grandpa’s sheep. In their high school years, Batty and his brother, Gale, did a majority of the calving and lambing on the farm.

Now, at age 65 he has quit running after sheep and has four border collies that help herd. He calls them the cheapest help he has on the family farm of almost 100 acres that includes 50 head of cows and calves, 25 llamas, 15 pigs, 30 head of sheep, 30 turkeys and about 700 laying chickens. Batty said that is about as high of numbers as they will ever have.

Although 100 acres may seem large to some, it is all a matter of perspective. To Batty — a third-generation farmer — that land may not seem big for a farm. But to outsiders, it is huge.

Einerson said that it is really difficult to break into a hundred-plus-acre legacy farm. A lot of young people now acquire land through the county’s urban farming programs, or work on their own properties.

As farming becomes more urban, the Batty family has also reached beyond the remote, northeastern city in Utah.

In addition to the normal family duties of moving shelters, putting up fences, fixing pipelines and moving herds to new grass, it also consists of sales.

Batty is quick to point out that most farmers don’t make good salespeople. Most farmers, he said, just want someone to come to them to buy product. But Batty is unique. He’s got an entrepreneurial spirit, an appetite for knowledge and is the “initiator of change” on the farm, according to The Old Home Place website. In addition to selling from the Vernal farm, Batty recently signed up with Onchenda Open Global Food Cooperative to sell his product online. Batty’s sister, nephew and son also sell eggs from their homes around Salt Lake. They also have an email list of about 1,200 people, and sell The Old Home Place brand at stores in Park City and Cedar City.

An old building on the land of The Old Home Farm in Vernal.
An old building on the land of The Old Home Farm in Vernal.
Jamie Hall, The Old Home Place

Even with their many outlets, some years are profitable and some years are not.

“My wife says that Utah doesn’t let you gamble, but they encourage farming,” said Batty. “If you can’t stand loss, you can’t really be a farmer.”

The Batty family knows firsthand the hardships that come from working the earth then having a storm destroy the crops. They have seen life and death on the farm.

“We see life as it is,” Batty said. “But we also see stuff nobody else gets to see: The new calf born and mama licking it and butting it to get up … the grass (as it) turns green.”

Farming is in Batty’s blood. It is all he has ever wanted to do. He drove a school bus through the years to sustain his income and also allow him the summer and middle of the day to farm. Both Batty and his wife Linda enjoy sharing the knowledge of farming.

“I’m totally convinced that the food we’re putting out is morally, ethically and physically better for people,” Batty said. “It's more nutritious. It’s better for the animals.

“I just wish people would educate themselves about their food.”

The importance of educated customers

It’s the people who research their food, those who are concerned about their food and the customers who are willing to pay for quality food who Batty calls his customers. It is the customers at the farmers market and fruit stands who are needed to sustain the local farming economy.

“A lot of it's going to depend on customers,” Batty said. “The people that care and want to know who their farmer is. They're gonna make farming like I want to do it, and I'm trying to do it, possible.”

A pig grazes on the farm at The Old Home Place in Vernal.
A pig grazes on the farm at The Old Home Place in Vernal.
Jamie Hall, The Old Home Place

Batty sells beef, lamb, pork, turkey, llama, chicken and eggs at the Downtown Farmers Market. And although there is no certified organic USDA label on the product, Batty said they are “beyond organic."

Einerson said all the meat vendors at the market follow a natural and organic standard. The cost to obtain that status and that USDA label is expensive and complicated, she said, and additionally, the opportunity for buyers to talk with vendors who raise the food is invaluable.

“I think that is the far more important conversation to have than just buy something because it’s got that USDA stamp on it,” Einerson said.

Batty is open to those conversations. One of the main questions he receives is if the animals are grass fed and finished, which his beef, pork, lamb and llama are. The pigs, chickens and turkeys are also raised in the open fields in addition to being fed on soy that is expeller pressed, certified non-GMO (genetically modified organism).

The second-most-asked question is about the llama meat.

Although the food is a staple in some South American countries, Batty said 95 percent of Utahns don’t know llama as food. When asked, Batty tells customers if they like the taste of deer or elk, then they’ll like the lean llama meat. Batty is the only vendor at the Downtown Farmers Market to sell the meat. He was also the first to sell poultry, according to Einerson.

Other unique items at the market include a new curry vendor, homemade hot dogs, Swahili cuisine, keto baked goods, fermented ketchup and mustard, bakery items and kombucha tea.

Einerson said the Saturday Downtown Farmers Market is at capacity. But there are plans to make more space and also make dreams come true.

“Our next plans for expansion are to do a public market which is a year-round, open every day, shoppable market with vendors,” Einerson said, adding that the project has been in the works for many years.

She appreciates the dedication of the farmers, like Batty, and food producers who bring their product to people who want it.

As for Batty, that is part of his life mission. He often paraphrases his mentor, noted farmer and author Joel Salatin, to explain his own belief in the importance of farmers.

“What makes a farm?” Batty said. “You can say any number of things but it isn't what is raised or produced. There are all kinds of farms raising thousands of different things. No one, two or one hundred things raised or produced make it a farm. What makes a farm is a farmer. And a good farmer leaves the land better than he found it and gives the world food and clothing.”

If you go …

What: Downtown Farmers Market

Where: Pioneer Park, 350 S. 300 West

When: Saturdays, June 8-Oct. 19, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.


Note: Bring your own bags, bring a water bottle, cash accepted, ATMs available, some vendors have card readers