About a mile east of Harper’s
Construction gravel pit in Parley’s
Canyon and in the shadow of Mount Aire
sits an entirely different canyon development.
Organic farmers have planted
vegetables and herbs on seven-eighths
of an acre, hung faded Buddhist prayer
flags, and raised a decorated maypole.
But, the farmers are not celebrating.
Located on private property with
landowner Ira Sachs´ support, Calcium
Springs Farm is an experiment in
While preparing for their first year this
spring, the farmers, about 10 veggiepaid
volunteers and a handful of leaders
mostly from Summit County, chose not
to level the land, till much of the soil,
or clear the natural vegetation, including
weeds. The farmers want to disturb
the land as little as possible as they
grow vegetables for 16 families, each
of whom paid hundreds of dollars for a
share of the harvests.
They expected to receive a warm
welcome by Salt Lake County Mayor
Peter Corroon, whose green policies
have become a county priority.
Enter Salt Lake County Planning
Services, which issued a stop-work
order in June for Calcium Springs
because the farm did not secure the
necessary permits for the temporary
structures that support the operation.
According to the order, the farm would
have to dismantle all buildings by Aug.
5—in the middle of the growing season.
Because the farm was in a canyon, the
zoning codes are especially restrictive—
and intentionally so, according to the
mayor’s spokesman, Jim Braden. Based
on massive public input, the codes were
written in 1989 with Save Our Canyons
leading the charge. Braden said even
virtuous users cannot disobey them.
Farm organizer Kurt von Puttkammer, a planner and architect, is upset, especially after farmers spent $6,000 of their own money and $9,000 from the crop-shareholder investments. He says the farm run by self-proclaimed “gypsy farmers” will disappear after one year.
“This is obviously not a county interested in sustainable living, community gardens or teaching people how to grow their own food,” he said.
The conflict centers on the county’s
use of discretion in enforcing the zoning
laws, as well as a philosophical
gardening question: What is a greenhouse,
The farmers built a “high tunnel” based on specifications published by Utah State University professors. Their tunnel—also known as a hoop house—is constructed primarily with PVC pipe that stretches biodegradable plastic over a 6-foot arch. It functions as a greenhouse by moderating temperatures, but there is no fan, no electricity, no heater nor air conditioner. The farmers only need to open the doors each morning, and close them each evening. The tunnel is held together with duct tape, propped up with a few 2-by-4s and has no foundation.
“We got [an additional] five to
six weeks on either side of the growing
season [by using the tunnel],” von
Puttkammer said. “In addition to that,
we planted the same crops inside as
outside. We’re getting 60 to 70 percent
higher yield and better quality inside
here. To lose this for no real reason is
very, very painful.”
But, to Salt Lake County Planning Division grading specialist Greg Baptist, the tunnel is undeniably a greenhouse, which he says is expressly forbidden in the zoning code for the canyon.
On August 7, two days after their
deadline, the farmers dismantled their
Von Puttkamer maintains he didn’t
expect this enforcement and the farm
is absolutely in compliance with zoning
requirements. He is angry that
the county ordered a dismantling of
the farm rather than allowing them to
exist while they seek the needed permits.
That’s also what Brent Bateman,
lead attorney for the state Office of the
Property Rights Ombudsman, told City
Weekly should have happened.
The county doesn’t see room for debate, however. “This is not a situation for discretion,” Braden said. “When it is written in simple language that greenhouses are not allowed, then they’re not allowed.”
But it may take more than “simple
language” to explain why the tunnel is
a greenhouse. One of the high-tunnel
designers said he isn’t aware of any government
regulations in the country that
deem the high tunnel a greenhouse.
“They have not been considered greenhouses because a greenhouse is a permanent structure and has electrical service, gas lines to it, etc. I have two guys who can take one down in about two-and-a-half hours and put it back up in three,” said USU associate professor Brent Black. The high tunnel “is considered a temporary farm structure.”
To be sure, on June 19, when Baptist
issued a stop-work order, Calcium
Springs had run afoul of more regulations
than just the one against greenhouses.
They had two RVs, a TuffShed,
a cooking tent, and a few other “structures”
for which they lacked permits.
The county also does not like their
road and says approximately the last 500
feet was cut illegally. The farmers are also
collecting spring water from 200 or 300
feet above the farm and using it to dripirrigate
their garden, which the county
worried could harm a wetland. The farmers
contend the spring water would have
seeped into their soil anyway.
Baptist said that in the process for
conditional-use permits, which the
farmers sought, applicants can file
“many appeals” of any denied permit.
“They could have come in and made
application to install the farm, rather
than installing the farm, then asking
for forgiveness,” he said.
Von Puttkammer said they can’t
afford the $5,000 price for a lawyer
to help with the “many appeals,” and
neither could any volunteer-supported,
tiny farm. Yet, pursuing the appeals
without a lawyer, he fears, is a doomed
prospect. As a result, the farmers are
seeking greener pastures in Summit
County, where they hope to face less
friction with regulators.
“Farming is hard enough,” Calcium
Springs farmer Karen Wilson said,
“without everyone against you.”