"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.