Utah Co. Man Battles Development, Coronavirus To Keep Family Farm Alive

Jul 19, 2020, 10:35 PM | Updated: 11:20 pm

LELAND, Utah — If you’ve never heard of Leland, you’re not alone. In order to learn about it, you’d have to talk with someone like Rex Larsen who’s lived there his entire life, and spends his days fighting to keep a little piece of Leland above water.

“It was named after Leland Stanford, the guy that founded Stanford University,” Larsen said. “They had a meeting one day, and everybody gave their input on what they should name the community. One of the guys there had been to California for an education seminar.”

That man had met Stanford, and when the community put it to a vote, “Leland” won out.

If you look on a map, the marker for Leland is located near the one for Spanish Fork, and it’s practically on top of I-15.

In many ways, Leland is an island — an enclave of agriculture, fighting to keep farming.

“I was born in the Hughes Memorial Hospital in Spanish Fork, which no longer exists,” Larsen said. “I’m the fifth generation that’s farmed here. I’ve lived here for 67 years, I guess.”

Larsen said he hasn’t really known any other way of life. For him, the only constant is change — the hiss of traffic on I-15 often sounds like waves crashing on his beach, threatening to erode his 300 acres.

“I kind of grew up with them building it,” he said, as traffic whizzed just beyond the soil he calls home. “They’d run 24/7. We’d go ride our bikes over there and watch them dig the dirt.”

With each passing year, the tide’s grown closer.

“That was a mink ranch,” Larsen said, gesturing to some buildings across the road. “They’ve since sold out.”

Around here, the crops with the biggest yields seem to be the signs. One reads “Available” in big block letters. Another says “For Sale, 26.95 Acres.”

“A lot of neighbors that are, you know, ready to retire or have quit farming, rent it out, and so they’re just looking at a way to take care of their family,” he said.

Larsen isn’t one of those. He built a sea wall and thus far, he’s kept the crest at bay.

“About the only ground that hasn’t got a sign on it is ours,” he said. “This is the only freeway exit from Nephi to Brigham City that hasn’t got something commercial on it.”

Weekly visits from developers aren’t uncommon.

“They see it ‘not producing,’ in their words,” Larsen said. “And you get a lot of pressure from people that move in that don’t understand what we do and why we do it. If we’re out baling hay at night and it’s next to a house and there’s dust and there’s lights and there’s noise, and we have to bale at night to get dew on the hay so it’ll hold together and be a quality feed. But they don’t understand that: ‘Why’s that guy out there all night?'”

An exit from I-15 sits right next to Rex Larsen's family farm. Rex Larsen gestures towards the area where he puts farm animals for his corn maze and pumpkin patch attraction. Larsen is shown on his farm in an old family photo. Larsen continues to a keep a number of animals on his property. Many neighboring properties currently have signs on them, put up by developers. Larsen drives his tractor on his 300 acres, preparing for the fall season.

The days — and nights — grow long, and the work is more taxing with every season, especially when Larsen’s trying to do it all alone.

So he faced a decision: either let someone put a gas station or a McDonald’s on his family’s land, or find another way to survive.

Larsen asked his family to come up with a solution, and his daughter was all on board.

“Every time I’d come back up to visit family, the houses started getting closer and closer,” said Kara Lewis, Larsen’s daughter. “My hope was that we could preserve just a little bit of our heritage here, and kind of be able to welcome our neighbors.”

“Any idea was on the table, and corn maze and pumpkin patch was kind of what rose to the top,” Larsen said.

For the past two years, Larsen’s farm has transformed into “Glen Ray’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch,” named after his father. The hope isn’t just that it would bring in some money, but be an educational tool for those Larsen believes have lost sight of the role farmers play.

“We can teach people that agriculture’s important,” he said. “They need to understand where their food comes from.”

But the waves of the future continue to crash. Though their idea has been a success, the coronavirus has created a challenge.

“Got tens of thousands of dollars invested, and we don’t know if we’ll recoup that or not,” Larsen said. “If a second wave were to come through or whatever, then what do we do?”

But his instincts are what has kept his farm alive, and he’s not about to stop listening.

“We’re taking a leap of faith now, with the idea that hopefully people can come see us in October,” Larsen said.

Whether it’s the waves of development or a brand new virus, Larsen won’t stop looking towards his own future — and he’s willing to bet the farm on it.

“That’s kind of what we do,” he said. “It’s a gamble, and we’re used to taking a gamble.”
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Utah Co. Man Battles Development, Coronavirus To Keep Family Farm Alive