Feeding families for five generations strong, the Petersen family Farm is not just a family business but rather a Utah tradition. Originated in Riverton, Utah shortly around the same time the light bulb was patented in the US, these farm doors were open for business.
And that same love for fresh produce and passion for laying down roots has remained intact to this day. We got to interview the farm director, Luke Petersen and got to know him a little better. See why we chose to spotlight the Petersen Farm and Luke as a community Mark Maker.
Tell us about the Farm?
We’ve been farming since 1871. My great-great-grandfather immigrated from Denmark to the south west Salt Lake valley what you see today as Riverton. Back then, where we live now, there was no farm land. There was no water or irrigation system. They settled down closer by the Jordan River and they worked on bringing water into the farming area so they could dig canals and more.
They really laid the foundation for all of this. The copper mine opened and a lot of the farmers and families sold products to the mine. My grandparents developed the area from east to west and when my grandfather was a young man, he purchased the land that we now farm on and called it—The Flats.
Any visitor we get, I tell them what the farm really means to our family. We call it the Petersen Family Farm for good reason and that’s because farming is part of our family and by that I don’t mean it’s a family business. I mean the farm is like a member of our family. For us it really feels like that. Like all families do, we make a lot of sacrifices for things that are alive. And the farm is very much a living thing that goes from generation to generation. Our soil is a very long living plant and we do what we do to take care of it.
What do you hope to instill in your community?
Our mission is to cultivate the farmer in all of us and harvest the simple beauty of life. My wife and I spent a lot of time and money getting our educations, we both have Masters degrees but we fell in love with this farm life. I’ve always felt like I had something more to do. I always loved farming but to me it was a lot deeper that just growing food so I always wanted to find a way to be a part of it. I always felt like it was something I wanted to do.
What’s something you try and help the community take with them after a farm visit?
When we moved to England for my MBA they had a lot of these little farm markets, places where people could come and interact with the farm first-hand and be a part of it. I remember thinking, “Man that’s such, a great thing.” When we came back, I just started our version of that.
For us it is a tough business to be in, it’s very volatile and there’s lots of risk involved. Things go wrong. There isn’t a lot of money in it and it’s a lot of work. Just like being a parent! Just like trying to raise any other living thing! They require a lot more that what it/they gives back in the short term. There is an investment there, and so as we think over and over why the hell are we doing it? What’s the point? The land we are on is worth a lot of money and could be sold for much more that what we could grow on it. But as we went through all that we had to dig deeper to our why, and why we were even doing this.
It just came back to this thought that farms are more than food and I believe that agriculture is a primal human need and it fills a lot of needs. It fills a lot of hungers besides just physical hunger. I tell people, I am a business man that works in a system that was not designed by a man. I think that is really uncommon now-a-days. Most systems are all corporations, not that corporations are bad, but it’s all man made stuff. But what I do every day, I work with something that was built, by a gardener that had a plan for us and there is a lot that we can understand by being a part of it. That’s what we want, we believe that that’s in all of us to create life and sustain it. That’s what we’re here for. When you’re close to that in agriculture, there is no way to be closer to that purpose than in agriculture. So we want people to be able to experience that. We want to sell food and we want to grow food but it’s not about the food it’s about this opportunity to be close to the simple beauty of life and to learn from it. There is just so much to connect and discover!
The other three words we use a lot are: connect, discover, and grow. We feel like that happens just naturally in agriculture.
What are some upcoming projects you’re excited about?
As we have grown and tried figure out our place we’ve tried to get heavier on the production side and to grow our business. We have been successful that way, we are pretty good farmers. We are really careful and have put out some really nice products. Moving forward, what we really see for the business, and in this new mission statement that we have created in the last year, is really just to find opportunities to cultivate the farmer in all of us and to help us get closer to the simplicity and beauty of life. What we are trying to do is find opportunities to connect people with agriculture as a product- not food as the product but agriculture as the product.
A big project I am working on is our simple share. Have you ever heard of CSA? Our Simple share is kind of like CSA. Its a month to month subscription but our idea brings food and experiences with agriculture together. Sadly, I feel like agriculture has gotten into a dying position. We see it as something we have to pity. Use this analogy of grandma in a rest home. Everybody loves grandma and they know they should go see her and support her but the truth is grandma doesn’t want to be there and you don’t want to have to go there and even though you love her you take care of her. Sometimes we get in our head that that we have to be a part of it (agriculture) because it needs us.
But the truth of it is that we need agriculture. We started this Simple Share because it’s not just about the food, we’re trying to design opportunities for people to really be a part of the farm and to discover for themselves things that we could never produce for them. What we ultimately want to do is design opportunities for people to be close to agriculture. So the simple share is kind of like our way of doing that.
What’s the future of farming look like?
What I really want to do is create opportunities for people to live close to agriculture. To live on a farm without having to own one.
There are a lot of people who are kind of experimenting with the idea of farm based development, like a golf course but focused on farming. I just believe that agriculture can be a supplement product in and of itself to enhance and give a deeper experience for a lot of other commercial activity. Whether its housing or rest home even, or drug recovery or emotional healing opportunities. I think that agriculture really has the power to solve a lot of problems other than just physical hunger. That’s where I see us going is developing the experience inside of agriculture. Not tourism not Agritainment (agriculture + entertainment) not corn mazes or stuff like that. Those are great because they are entertainment but you go and you have fun but then you leave and there’s nothing left. We want to create opportunities for people to have a deep connection with agriculture, it used to be a fact of life, but it’s not any more. People are hungry for it, for a change.
What do you consider success?
There’s a line from a show called Interstellar and it goes, “We’re just here to be memories for our kids, once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future.”
I truly believe that. All we exist for, our job, is to be a memory for our children. And I’ve thought a lot about that over the years and it’s just unreal how true that is. I’d like to leave a physical treasure and also memories with my children that will help them to be successful in life and to me that’s just not my children, it’s my community. Kinda like a plant. You know, I’m a farmer and I like to plant seeds. And I’d like to be the kind of guy that didn’t just plant once and harvest for himself but who always had sown enough seed that the future would be better because of it. Things can be planted now and harvested later not only are we growing our own food, but also kind of growing our own replacements that can take care of the food and we know and we can take care of the earth and ourselves. To me that’s what success would be defined as. If I could plant a future of memories and a leave a legacy for my children and my community—that’s what I would like to do.
If you’d like to find out more information on the Petersen Farm visit their homepage. In addition to their fresh produce and booming passion for farming, they offer a variety of calendar events, Farm School, and a year round open Farm Market. Don’t forget to stay connected with them on FaceBook and Instagram. All photos courtesy of Petersen Family Farm.
We’re always on the lookout for community leaders who impact their surroundings and leave their mark. Got a neighbor/professional in mind? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.