I read about Sandhill Farms in the June edition of Utah Stories. As I was reading, I realized that Sandhill Farms is right here in the Ogden Valley. A quick Google search of the address and I learned that Sandhill is within minutes of our home in Eden – and I had never even heard of it.
That seems to be the case with small farms such as this one, right in your own backyard and you don’t even know. I wanted to change that so I reached out to “Farmer Pete” via email and asked to come by for a visit.
Little did I know that a visit to the farm would turn into hard labor. Okay, okay picking beets isn’t really hard labor but it is more than I bargained for, especially given that Utah Stories pitched Sandhill as a garlic farm. And it was more than I bargained for in the best possible way – I had a blast!
As I drove down the street to the farm I kept thinking I was in the wrong place – far too residential looking to be the right place. But soon enough I saw it, unassuming and quaint.
Walking down towards the barn I met Marsha, Pete’s mother who is one of those people that shows you their soul with just a smile. I knew I’d like her the minute she said hello to me. Anne of Green Gables would call her a kindred spirit. As I said hello to Pete, I was quickly reminded just how much work needed to get done: “let’s talk while we work” he said and off we went.
In the two short hours I spent at the farm I learned how to pick beets, clean garlic, and trim onions. I also got to help put together the CSA packages for the first pick-up of the season.
We did indeed talk while we worked and I learned a great deal about Pete, the farm, and garlic.
Sandhill Farms is a “mountain garlic farm” located right in the Ogden Valley, along Pineview Reservoir. They use only organic farming methods including crop rotation, composting, animal manure and green manure (green manure is a cover crop which is grown specifically to return nutrients to the soil. It is grown for a brief time, then ploughed into the soil to provide rich nutrients as it breaks down).
The name Sandhill comes from the cranes that frequent the valley. In fact, I’ve seen these cranes all summer long and they look very similar to blue heron and I’ve wondered and wondered what they were called. Now I know; Sandhill Cranes.
At Sandhill Farms, they grow more than 30 different varieties of garlic which I found to be especially intriguing as I had previously, and rather ignorantly, assumed garlic was just garlic. As I was there, I helped to clean some of their Yugoslavian (Yugo) Red and their Sandhill Red which is really just a mistake from last year when two Italian red varieties got mixed together – ta-da! – Sandhill Red. Did you know that to grow garlic you simply plant one of the cloves? So when the bulbs of the two different reds were accidently mixed during harvest and then the cloves were planted, they didn’t actually create a new variety, they simply got more than one variety of garlic growing all in one area.
On their website they also have listings for Music, Siberian, Rosewood, Mango Sunrise, Chesnok Red, Inchelium Red, Fish Lake, Armenian and Metechi varieties which are considered gourmet varieties because of their varying levels of intensity and the flavors they showcase when cooked.
Although the farm really doesn’t seem all that large, more like an oversized backyard garden, Sandhill produces enough food crops to run their very own CSA program, supply local markets and several Salt Lake and Ogden based restaurants. Beyond garlic, they grow onions, beets, herbs, lettuce, lavender, and I’m sure a ton of other things that we didn’t have time to touch on.
Shown above is the CSA pick-up table I helped set up (I picked the beets!) – there are also onions, fresh basil, lettuce, beets, and of course garlic.
Farmer Pete attended UC Santa Cruz and is now an agro ecologist. His thesis work was the basis of this farm. His parents had the land and the space in Utah to test and evaluate the theories he had learned and developed in Santa Barbara.
Eight years later, that thesis project is now Pete’s fulltime career and there are over 30 varieties of garlic grown here. The farm is supported by the farm-family including huge efforts by Pete’s sister Elle, mother Marsha, Father Roody and Pete’s wife, Kati. Volunteer farm help is deeply appreciated and a crucial component of the farms success.
How They Do It
When I asked Pete how he picks the varieties to plant he tells me that he always plants a few varieties that were successful the year before, he plants a few from friends that have travelled and brought him back a clove or two to try (such as one variety that is from a friend’s trip to British Columbia), others he says he picks “if they have a cool name in the seed books.” I love this response. Love that his friends are thinking to buy him garlic when they are out travelling the world, love that a rose by any other name really wouldn’t be as sweet.
I’ve already mentioned that they use sustainable and organic farming methods. Here you can see some of the “green manure” crop which will soon give it’s life over to the soil it grows from.
It’s all fine and dandy that Pete and his family have this lovely farm, that they are growing organic crops, that they are successful in their own right. There are little farms like this popping up here and there and not a whole lot of notice is given to them. What’s the big deal you ask? Well, for one, this is farming done right. These are crops that I helped pick less than an hour before the consumer came to pick them up – fresher than any grocery store purchase you will ever make. Beyond that, there are no pesticides, no hybrid vegetables that have been tainted by the hand of science to be bigger, heartier, more brightly colored. In short, this is real food.
And further? Pete and his wife are working with Eco Cuba Exchange to help further this practice of “urban agriculture.” Small-scale farms right in the heart of the city – think roof top gardens, pea patches, backyard vegetable plots. I encourage you to read more about that program on their website. You can read a bit about Pete’s involvement with the group in a blog post from last year on the Garlic Report.
The farm itself is located in Eden, UT but you can find their produce available at Valley Market in Eden, Liberty Heights Fresh in Salt Lake and on the menu at Pago and Roosters in Ogden. You can order garlic variety packs from Sandhill Farms by visiting their website. And if you are interested in their CSA program, you can find more information by visiting Slow Food Utah.
I had such a great time at Sandhill and I am so very grateful to Pete and his mother, Marsha for their incredibly gracious welcome. I can’t wait to go back!