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A Way of Life By Angelique McNaughton

The Kamas Valley is roughly a 15-minute commute from the bustle of Park City, but the short drive highlights the dichotomy between eastern and western Summit County. As S.R. 248 winds past the Jordanelle Reservoir, apartment complexes and luxury communities transition into farmland and houses positioned further apart than they are in the city. Farms and ranches dot the countryside

Larger expanses of open space eventually give way to Kamas, the gateway to the Uinta Mountains, while the mom-and-pop shops that are often a staple of small towns line the Main Street drag. The Uinta Mountains serve as a backdrop to the rural community.

"It used to be that everyone who had any farm land at all had a little dairy farm. Now we’ve only got one dairy farm left in this valley. Everybody that has lived here is doing everything they can to keep it from becoming another Park City.” — John Blazzard, Kamas cattle farmer

While the Valley stands in stark contrast to Park City, the predominantly agricultural-based community is transforming. Everything from market forces to population growth and development are slowly making it harder to sustain a living the same way previous generations did.

John Blazzard, of Blazzard Farms and Blazzard Lumber in Kamas, considers himself one of the few who still make their living working the land full time.

Tanzi Propst | Park Record

His ranch is nestled a short distance from S.R. 248, down an unstriped road with a view that overlooks the entire valley.

On an overcast, chilly day in March, he pulls his pickup truck next to a large white barn. The Kamas native slowly emerges from the cab and trudges through the mud to unhook a large, green cattle gate.

Blazzard's demeanor has a weariness to it. He admits he doesn't get much sleep, especially during calving season. Even though he has two full-time seasonal workers who live on the 400-acre farm to help him take care of 110 cows, they still call him or his son-in-law, who now runs the farm for him, if there is a problem with one of his heifers. He owns another 240 cows that are currently out in the west desert past the Little Sahara Sand Dunes, but the animals are basically on their own until the fall.

John Blazzard owns 350 cows, 110 of which are in the Kamas Valley. (Tanzi Propst | Park Record)

"The work day doesn't end," he said. "It ends for a couple or three hours at night and then another couple hours throughout the day."

But, Blazzard doesn't complain. In fact, he considers himself fortunate to lead the life he does, where every day is different than the one before. He is able to work outside, without being confined to a 9-to-5 job.

"It's not just a 9-to5- job, it's a way of life," says Blazzard. "But, we are able to do things outside and we aren't confined. We spend a lot of time on the mountain and those are the things that make life worthwhile."

He feels like he is part of a network, something that extends beyond just him and his farm. It is not easily understood, he said, especially by his neighbors in the western part of the county. He is a member of a unique community that boasts a lifestyle that dates back several generations. But, he fears the lack of understanding and a changing society are threatening his way of life.

"That's the trouble and probably our biggest struggle. We just have a lot of people here now and a lot of people and cows don't mix," he said. "It used to be that everyone who had any farm land at all had a little dairy farm. Now we've only got one dairy farm left in this valley. Everybody that has lived here is doing everything they can to keep it from becoming another Park City."

"A lot has changed in the Valley"

Summit County's mountainous terrain covers nearly 1,900 square miles, with boundaries extending to the southwest corner of Wyoming and then westerly toward the summit of the Wasatch Mountain range.

It is home to two world-class ski resorts that cover thousands of acres of terrain, and outdoor recreational opportunities abound. But, it is not the slopes or mountain bike trails that attracted the early settlers to the area in the 1800s. For many immigrants, Echo Canyon was considered the gateway to the West and an important step toward western expansion. But, many others stayed in the territory and established the towns that make up the East Side.

“A lot of people moved in and they don’t understand what it is all about to have livestock and get around the livestock business. They don’t have a clue,” he said. “I think everyone should have a little bit of understanding of what it is. This is why we over here have some appreciation for it and respect it.” — Dave Cummings, sheep rancher

The early pioneers who settled the area often raised grain and cattle, with the cattle and dairy farmers also growing lettuce and peas to sell to the miners in Park City. Some of the area's largest agricultural operations were located in the county, including a Kamas Valley ranch founded in 1861 with a herd of more than 600 cattle, according to the Summit County Historical Society.

It's that heritage that farmers like Blazzard hope to maintain. His grandpa and great-grandpa ran a saw mill, and his dad was raised on a cattle ranch in Southern Utah.

Dave Cummings, like Blazzard and many other Kamas natives, can trace his family's roots in the Valley back to the late 1800s. His great-great grandfather, an immigrant from Denmark, operated a successful sheep outfit on the land encompassing an area below the Jordanelle Reservoir, straddling both sides of the reservoir.

Photo courtesy of Dave Cummings

Cummings grew up in Sandy, but spent most of his boyhood summers on the sheep ranch, operated by his grandfather, Don C. Berg. At the time of his youth, the area was largely undeveloped and reminiscent of pioneer Utah.

Cummings has witnessed significant changes in the Valley and how population growth and development have altered the rural atmosphere. He's watched the farms and ranches decrease in size and the open acreage give way to suburban development and apartment complexes.

In 2000, Summit County had a population of 29,750 residents. About 15 years later, that number grew approximately 29 percent to roughly 38,000 people and continues to climb, according to information from Summit County. The projected population is expected to reach 71,000 people in 2040.

Graphic by Patrick Schulz | Park Record

The evidence of change in Summit County is further supported by Utah's 2012 Census of Agriculture.

There were 629 farms operating on 414,928 acres in Summit County in 2007. While the number of people in the industry has remained constant, the amount of land they worked significantly decreased in just five years. By 2012, 618 farms operated on 270,061 acres, with a majority of the farms ranging in size from 10 to 49 acres. The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts the Census of Agriculture every five years. The 2017 census is currently underway.

Cummings recalled a moment as a boy with his grandfather when he predicted how the Valley would look long after he was gone.

Photos by Tanzi Propst | Park Record

"My grandfather was a wise man and he could see it years before any development happened on our properties," he said. "He told me, 'You'll see houses on all of this land one day.' I thought, 'No, grandpa that will never happen.' There was nothing in sight and I laughed. But, he was right. Since then, it has all changed. Now there is a golf course there now and we have to work around the houses."

Cummings described his grandpa as a visionary. He said he foresaw the future growth and found a way to make it work with the livestock business.

"I think we all just have to adjust," he said. "Not just those in the agriculture business, but everyone. This country was based on agriculture and that's how the Kamas Valley was built and everyone exists today because of it.

"I think there should be a lot of respect given for the agriculture part of our history," he quickly added. "Everyone needs to realize that because we still need it and you won't be able to do it without agriculture."

"It’s hard to understand the industry if you’ve never been in it"

An opinion residents on the eastern end of the county often share is that there is a "Park City influence" taking over and running the county-level government. Those in the agriculture industry have long viewed it as something detrimental to the rural lifestyle on the East Side.

The County Council is currently comprised of five Democrats, with only one councilor residing on the East Side. However, the professional background of Doug Clyde, who lives in Oakley, as a land consultant on some of the area's largest projects, including Empire Pass and an expansion of the Park City Mountain Resort base area, has led some to also question his ties to the rural lifestyle.

Graphic by Patrick Schulz | Park Record

Blazzard, a Kamas farmer, served nearly 20 years on the Eastern Summit County Planning Commission before stepping down in 2010. He shares the concern about a creeping Park City influence.

"We can't even elect a councilman who shares our ideals or job from this side of the county," he said. "I would like to see them say they should have a councilman from each side like they do with the school district. Then at least we would have a voice."

"That's the trouble and probably our biggest struggle. We just have a lot of people here now and a lot of people and cows don't mix." — John Blazzard

Blazzard said others encouraged him to run for one of the open seats on the County Council in this year's election, but he figured "I would never get elected now."

The East Side has a large Republican contingent, and most candidates running for political office have platforms with a similar message: maintain the rural atmosphere. Many feel the political divide between the eastern and western sides of the county further threatens the agricultural industry and will give way to oversaturated development.

"Some of the county has this idea in their head that if you get more development, then that will boom the economy," he said. "Now, the developers that are coming here don't have anything left to mess up in Park City so they are coming over here."

Many East Side residents, including Cummings, describe it as a clash of cultures. He referred to the frustration that drivers often feel when traveling on roads where sheep or cattle are hindering traffic. He added, "That's sad because that is why you are here."

"A lot of people moved in and they don't understand what it is all about to have livestock and get around the livestock business. They don't have a clue," he said. "I think everyone should have a little bit of understanding of what it is. This is why we over here have some appreciation for it and respect it. It's hard to understand the industry if you've never been in it."

“I think we all just have to adjust. Not just those in the agriculture business, but everyone," says Cummings. "This country was based on agriculture and that’s how the Kamas Valley was built and everyone exists today because of it.”

Cummings has a unique perspective, though, because he used to own a construction and excavation company, D.C. Transport and Excavating, Inc., before he took over his family's sheep operation. He said he sees both sides of it.

Cummings said he has nearly gotten physically ill while tearing up ranches for development. At the same time, he recognizes the force and momentum of growth, and that it can't be stopped. But, he'd like to see the county's elected officials prioritize and protect agriculture and the rural lifestyle as they aim to manage the growth.

"It's going to happen," he said of growth and development. "People have to learn how to adapt and make it work for everyone. We need to be able to establish barriers so there will always be agriculture and ranching because people need to eat. I think it is better we have planned growth in certain areas so we can protect the agriculture."

Elected officials in the county typically refute the claim that they are out of touch with their constituents on the East Side. County Council Chair Kim Carson said her grandparents were ranchers in Northern Colorado in the 1950s and her brother is currently an organic dairy farmer in Ohio. While not directly, Carson said, she has had exposure to the industry.

Carson said there is not a desire from any of the Council members to turn "anything into Park City." She added, "I think when they feel growth pressures they blame it on Park City and it's not coming from Park City."

Graphic by Patrick Schulz | Park Record

Carson pointed to overall population growth, in addition to the county's proximity to the Salt Lake Valley.

"We don't over develop. We just want to ensure it's done in a responsible manner," she said. "There are reasons behind why we are trying to do the planning that we are on the East Side, and it's not to try and tell someone what to do. It comes down to helping them preserve their way of life. We also want to create opportunities for those individual communities to help them figure out what they want to be."

The changes that are being proposed to the East Side Development Code have been particularly controversial since they were first introduced nearly five years ago and could be considered a further indication of the disconnect between the county and East Side residents. Officials have said they are trying to create more development opportunities and flexibility for property owners through the proposed amendments.

John Blazzard, a cattle rancher in the Kamas Valley, says he can spend all night out with his cows during calving season or trying to bring them in during a storm. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)

Landowners, however, contend the Council's proposal to adjust the zoning districts would take away from what their ancestors worked hard to achieve, particularly the ability to build houses for their children and grandchildren on their property. They feel it could also encourage further growth that may diminish the rural atmosphere.

"We don't want to push something on them, but we want to give them the ability to create a community," Carson said. "It's kind of a fine line between trying to give them rules and support, but some feel like something is being thrust on them."

Carson emphasized her recognition of the importance of agriculture in the area's heritage and culture. She said it needs to be revered, but as part of a governmental agency, she has to walk a fine line between providing tools for preservation and not issuing mandates.

“Maybe we are a little self-diluted. But, we are providing the food and fiber for not only our na-tion, but for many nations. There is a real sense of pride and real sense of accomplishments.” — Spencer Gibbons, manager of the Utah Farm Bureau's northern region

"You don't want to put things in the code that could make density so high they will all just sell the ranch to realize those profits," she said. "They do have a huge investment, and in a lot of cases that is their retirement. But, you can't fault those that do want to develop all of their property."

Carson admitted the problems could come from a lack of understanding from residents on both sides of the county.

"It's almost them not understanding us," she said. "I think sometimes that's just an excuse if they are not getting something they want whether it's in planning or whatever else. We try to do as much as we can to support and protect their ranching."

There are also those on the East Side of the county who appreciate some of the amenities offered in and around Park City, and believe the eastern and western ends of the county co-exist.

Graphic by Patrick Schulz | Park Record

Joe D. Williams, a mink rancher in Peoa, has a somewhat nuanced view of what his neighbors to the west bring to the table. Williams is a second-generation mink rancher and has never lived more than 60 miles away from his childhood home.

"It's a different lifestyle than in Park City, but I've appreciated the conveniences that Park City has brought to our community," he said. "When I was a kid we had to drive to Salt Lake to go to a decent-sized grocery or clothing store. It has been nice to see. However, when you start to see more homes coming over the hill you know there are going to be more changes in store."

An evolving market continues to shift

It's not just growth and development that have impacted the agriculture industry, making it harder to sustain a living as a full-time rancher or farmer. Market forces, changes in the way people think about food, and labor and land costs have also had an effect on the number of operating ranches and farms — trends affecting farmers and ranchers in Summit County as well as the rest of the state.

In general, agriculture production has shifted to larger farming operations over the last three decades, even as the number of small farms grows, according to a report from the United States Department of Agriculture. By 2015, 51 percent of U.S. farm production came from farms with at least $1 million in sales, compared to 31 percent in 1991, the report states.

Agriculture remains an important economic engine for Utah, with the industry accounting for $17.5 billion in economic output, according to Envision Utah, an organization that aims to improve long-term growth planning. The industry generates approximately 78,000 jobs and $2.7 billion in income.

"The work day doesn't end," says Blazzard. "It ends for a couple or three hours at night and then another couple hours throughout the day."

While the industry has fluctuated, the number of agriculture workers over the last 40 years has stayed relatively even in Summit County. In 1976, there were 527 people working in the agriculture industry and 340 proprietors or non-corporate partners, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Those numbers grew to 648 people working in the industry and 559 proprietors in 2016.

Jeff Young, president of the Summit County Farm Bureau, said Summit County has three types of farms and ranches: operations farmers inherited from their parents or grandparents that contribute to their primary source of income; others where farming is not the owners' main source of income, but it keeps the family tied to the land; and larger-scale operations.

"Things have changed quite a lot in our culture and society that has affected the operation of family farms," Young said. "The interesting thing is the number of farms has decreased, but the number of cows is the same."

Spencer Gibbons, manager of the Utah Farm Bureau's northern region, which includes Summit County, said there were "literally hundreds of family dairies" when he was growing up in the Cache Valley. Today, he said there are fewer than 50, mirroring what has happened in Summit County.

Tanzi Propst | Park Record

Gibbons blamed a majority of the transition on market forces. About 30 percent of the dairy that is produced in the United States is exported, he said, adding that trade wars and negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement can be "pretty murderous on agricultural markets."

"It's so different and we have become a global economy whether we like it or not," Gibbons said. "We are kind of seeing a shift and people are becoming more aware of how they think they want their food produced. Those are the biggest changes for us whether it is a cattle, sheep, dairy or produce farm. The reality of trying to survive is real."

Gibbons acknowledged a shift in consumer preference to locally produced products, which lessens the threat of market forces, has been beneficial. He said farmers and ranchers have to look for opportunities to market their products differently to keep up.

"My grandfather was a wise man and he could see it years before any development happened on our properties," says Cummings. "He told me, 'You'll see houses on all of this land one day.' I thought, 'No, grandpa that will never happen.' There was nothing in sight and I laughed. But, he was right. Since then, it has all changed. Now there is a golf course there now and we have to work around the houses."

"If you want to be successful you can produce more and capture economy of scale or you can market differently and try and capture a niche around you," he said. "We are in this global market, and if you feel like you can make it, then that's great. Continue to do what you are doing. But, as margins narrow, you have to figure out what you have to do to create enough margin that there is incentive to continue."

Utah's dairy industry, in particular, is shifting, Gibbons said, including Summit County's. The current market in 2018 may be financially devastating to many dairy farmers, he said. There is only one dairy farm left in the Kamas Valley and numbers are thinning statewide.

"Those 50 dairy farms in Cache Valley, quite frankly, I would expect one-third to go out of business," he said. "The lifetime and work and equity they've built, it's not worth it to lose everything to milk cows by attrition. We are losing these guys, but the (size of the) dairies overall are just growing."

According to a 2014 values poll Envision Utah conducted, Utahns still view the industry as important to the state's future. However, the same study showed that Utahns expressed greater concern for housing and cost of living and taxes than agriculture.

"But, it's entirely different to say it with your checkbook," Gibbons said. "We are trained to have relatively inexpensive food, and we would much rather have that second or third car or second home in Park City. But, these same people will not pay $4 for a gallon of milk."

Some of those same external forces, such as the shifting market and land costs, caused Williams, a mink rancher in Peoa, to get out of the dairy business back in the early 2000s. He said his family was leasing property to raise cows, but it became too expensive to continue.

"I would say one of the biggest challenges is just being able to afford to stay in the business," he said.

I think there should be a lot of respect given for the agriculture part of our history," says Cummings. "Everyone needs to realize that because we still need it and you won't be able to do it without agriculture."

About 10 years ago during the recession, Williams said, the mink business was prospering. But, he said he anticipated the oversaturation of the business when more people started to enter it.

"Now, the mink business is really bad and I would suspect there will be fewer mink ranches at the end of the year," he said. "One of three in Peoa has gone out this year. I don't know how much longer I'll be in the business. But, everyone has their problems so I'm not really complaining."

"We stick with it because we love it"

While it's becoming harder to work in agriculture full time, those who stick it out cite their love of the lifestyle and what it represents as the main reasons for enduring the volatility of it.

Cummings, the Kamas sheep rancher, was fortunate enough to be able to repurchase his family's sheep operation about 10 years ago after it was sold in 1979. When the sheep were being transferred to the new owner at the time of the sale, Cummings told the man he would really like an opportunity to reclaim the operation someday. He received a call 30 years later and called it a "no brainer" decision.

Cummings entered the business full time to fulfill a dream he had since he was a young boy working on the ranch. He wanted to "run sheep like both sides of my family did."

Today, he is faced with different challenges than what he remembers his grandfather encountering, including issues with rapid growth and development, as well as permitting and grazing on Bureau of Land Management ground. But, he also has "modern conveniences" that his elders didn't even dream of.

Dave Cummings talks about his experience of buying his family's business back. (Kira Hoffelmeyer | Park Record)

"We are more spoiled now-a-days," he said. "If you need water for the sheep in the winter, you truck it in. My grandpa didn't have those luxuries. When they would go to the desert in the fall, they would trail the sheep up Provo Canyon and it would take six weeks. Today, we load them in our own semis and we are there in four hours. Those guys knew how to work and they made it work."

Cummings runs a range operation with two summer herds and two winter herds, producing two annual paychecks: one from the wool and another from the sale of lambs. The money makes his living viable, but the passion goes much deeper than that for him.

"We can't even elect a councilman who shares our ideals or job from this side of country," says Blazzard. "I would like to see them say they should have a councilman from each side like they do with the school district. Then at least we would have a voice."

"I enjoy this. It is something that I just have a love for," he said. "It's a lot of hard work, but it's rewarding. I get to spend time with family and my kids have been able to work with me. It gives them great work ethic. I just love what I do."

Gibbons, a multi-generational farmer in Cache Valley, is a partner in his family's dairy farm, working hard to uphold the legacy of "those men who gave their blood and sweat to create a business for us."

"There is that legacy. It is also a way of life," he said. "It is a culture. Maybe we are a little self-deluded. But, we are providing the food and fiber for not only our nation, but for many nations. There is a real sense of pride and real sense of accomplishment and I feel like it is an institution of freedom because it allows everyone else to do what they want and we are providing for all of them. That's why we do it."

Growing up, Gibbons said he and his siblings weren't allowed to open presents on Christmas Day until the cows were milked and calves were cared for. He said baseball games, and, even church, started later in the day, with everything revolving around farming and ranching.

Like Gibbons, Blazzard, of Blazzard Farms in Kamas, said it's a lifestyle. Sometimes he is out all night long bailing hay or helping a cow with a calf and trying to get them out of a storm. But, he wouldn't have it any other way. It's in his blood, he said.

"Farmers put in a lot of hours, and I'm sure if they figured out what they are making an hour, it would depress them," he said. "But, we are able to do things outside and we aren't confined. We spend a lot of time on the mountain and those are the things that make life worthwhile."

Story by Angelique McNaughton, photos by Tanzi Propst, graphics by Patrick Schulz, video and story design by Kira Hoffelmeyer.

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