If you’ve ever sipped morning coffee while checking your garden for overnight growth, or sunk your teeth into a tomato still warm from the sun, you know that growing your own food can be a powerful antidote to the ills of modern life. That isn’t always easy in Park City’s alpine environs, but don’t worry. You don’t have to go it alone. This summer two new community gardens are taking root in the Snyderville Basin, each with the intent of sharing tips, tricks, and a love for all things green.
Bill White Farms
Dressed in a blue-and-white plaid shirt, worn jeans, and boots, Bill White looks more like a rancher than Park City’s most successful restaurateur. His eyes light up when he talks about his “labor of love”: a two-acre parcel of land along Highway 224 in the heart of Snyderville Basin. Ever since he bought the property and started pushing dirt around there several years ago, the town has buzzed with rumor and conjecture about what’s going on at Bill White Farms. “We receive more calls with questions about the farm than all of our restaurants combined,” says Bill White Enterprises operations director Mary Potts.
But there’s no real mystery to it. White is restoring the historic Hixton farmhouse (circa 1938) to its former glory and transforming the site into a community education center focused on sustainable agriculture, all so he might give back to a community he’s grown to adore. “I love what Park City has to offer. I like the involvement of the people in the community,” he says. “They’re not just sitting back and letting urban sprawl happen.”
The Hixton farm was one of several working ranches occupying Snyderville Basin before it was developed into the residential area it is today. All the land was eventually sold off in pieces, save for a small plot that was zoned for a single-family residence. “I thought it was a huge, neglected portion of our community,” White says, adding that he tried to buy the land four times before finally succeeding. What he eventually got in the deal includes a small shed that once housed laboring cows, a garage, and the farmhouse. White is restoring the latter himself with wood salvaged from what once were Park Avenue brothels run by Mother Urban, Park City’s most notorious madam.
Bill White Farms’ public operations slowly began to take shape last summer. White and his staff hosted a few farm-to-table affairs in the cozy, 24-seat reception hall (previously the garage), charity dinners supporting such causes as the Ted Ligety foundation and the National Ability Center. In addition, three passive greenhouses were added, along with hives for 100,000 honeybees, 65 apple trees, and 150 hens. Still, the farm doesn’t exist to serve White’s restaurants. It’s the other way around—the kitchens supply mountains of organic waste that fuel the farm’s compost heap. In addition, White and his team will begin work this summer transforming recycled shipping containers into aquaculture habitats for fish and native frog species even as they launch a farm stand to sell eggs and other produce. And by June, White will make good on his farm’s mission to host school groups and teach kids how to grow healthy food without the use of pesticides.
“Ultimately, we would like to see the farm become an integral part of both Park City and Summit County,” he explained in a letter to county officials. “It would provide a place where children and adults alike could come and learn ways to become more connected to their food and the environment and deepen their connection to the Earth.”
Altruistic intentions aside, it’s no wonder Bill White Farms has been a hot topic of speculation in town. While Bill White Enterprises, his restaurant empire, has pumped out eight highly successful dining concepts in the past two decades, White himself has kept an almost Wizard of Oz–like low profile. In reality, he’s just a regular guy from Northern Michigan who fell in love with food, learned how to cook, and then laid down roots in Park City, where his inner entrepreneur emerged. “I can’t really blame [people]. I don’t do interviews. I don’t talk to people that much,” he admits, standing on a hard-packed dirt path as the sounds of clucking chickens, bleating goats, and wind chimes blend into the distant hum of traffic. “We’re trying to make this piece of the entry corridor something for the community,” he says. “I want to do the right thing whether I’m recognized for it or not.” --RH
Summit Community Gardens
If the debut this summer of Summit Community Gardens feels a bit like déjà vu, well, that’s because it is. The gardens, located on land along Highway 224 where Miss Billie’s Preschool used to stand, originally opened in June 2011. But with volunteer-only oversight and no fencing—which allowed multiple critters to help themselves to the produce grown there—it wasn’t long before the project was on life support. “When I got involved a few years ago, the garden was at the point that it either needed to fade away or be taken to the next level,” says Ken Kullack, Summit Community Gardens executive director. The SCG board, headed by Copper Moose Farms manager Daisy Fair, chose the latter option and hired Kullack to execute their vision for a place to gather, learn, and grow.
“The past two years have been all about getting ready,” Kullack says. The first step was remediating the previous garden site to bring it back to its original, natural condition. The garden was then moved off the highway, bringing it closer to Matt Knoop Memorial Park to take advantage of existing infrastructure. Next, Kullack and garden manager Lynsey Gammon implemented board member Ariel Vernell’s unique circular garden design. And with lots of help from Snyderville Basin Recreation District ground staff, Kullack and Gammon installed a drip irrigation system, prepared the soil, started a compost pile, planted a variety of pollinator plants, and oversaw installation of all-important deer- and moose-proof fencing. Along the way, Kullack secured 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for the gardens as well. “Not an easy process but one we felt needed to happen to help the gardens succeed over the long term,” Kullack says.
So, with the groundwork laid (pun intended), this summer’s reopening of Summit Community Gardens is indeed a grand event. And the reasons to visit, even if you didn’t secure a piece of earth there (most of the 50-plus plots were reserved as of press time), are many. Local bee expert and SCG board member Doug Fryer maintains two hives within the garden to pollinate crops and to use as beekeeping teaching tools. The four beds in the center of the gardens’ distinctive wheel design serve as crop-rotation and succession-planting demonstration gardens. A kids’ garden occupies another section, complete with easy-to-reach raised beds. Low-water-use prairie pasture grass grows in another plot, creating an ideal venue for hosting events like live music or yoga classes. Cutting flowers, fruits, and hops occupy yet another section. Signage is placed within each bed, denoting specific plants and explaining gardening terms and techniques. “Everything we did here we did ourselves and by hand,” Kullack says. “There’s nothing fancy or high tech. Mustard greens and broccoli rabe are about the most exotic crops we grow. We want to show people that everything we do here can be easily done in the home garden.”
And while SCG’s central mission will always be teaching people how to grow food, Kullack also hopes that the gardens will create a sense of community that only digging in the dirt can provide. “As a seasonal worker, I feel a bit removed from the community, and thought renting a plot would be a good way to meet people who live here year-round,” says Tyler Barton, a lift operator and soon-to-be mountain patroller. Kelly Burdiss, who moved here from Atlanta last July, echoes Barton’s sentiments. “We’ve moved around a lot, and I’ve always depended on my kids’ school as a place to meet people,” she says. “Now, I’ve got two in college and one who’s heading there this fall and way past the play-date stage. I rented a plot to learn more about gardening in this climate, but mainly as a way to meet people with similar interests.”
Deer Valley Resort now rents about a dozen plots for its employees to use free of charge. “Being involved with the gardens is really about Deer Valley answering our employees’ wants and needs,” says Jodie Rogers, the resort’s director of food and beverage and a Summit Community Gardens board member. “I’m so excited about this garden that I’m going to skip planting one at home and, with my husband and kids, do all of our gardening there instead,” Rogers says.
And coming soon are a gazebo at the garden entrance, as well as picnic tables around its perimeter, additions Kullack hopes will invite people—even those with no interest in growing their own food—to consider Summit Community Gardens as a unique place and way to tap into life in Park City. “We want people to think of the garden as another recreational and social amenity,” Kullack says, “but one you don’t need a mountain bike or set of golf clubs to participate in.” --MF