Calcium Springs Farm: A Shangri La in Parley’s Canyon
July 17, 2009
Kurt von Puttkammer calls himself a "recovering" architect.
He was a busy builder until the recession. Now he’s starting a new career promoting a different approach to land use. On a plot in Parley’s Canyon belonging to Ira Sachs that von Puttkammer had originally dreamed of developing he now runs Calcium Springs Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture project producing organic food for shareholders.
It’s a labor of love. He doesn’t make any profit from it excluding all the fresh herbs and vegetables he can eat.
You’d never know it was there. On the north-side of Exit 132 in the canyon is a dirt road with a gate near a large water spigot from which Sachs used to sell artesian-spring water. Follow the dirt road up the hill awhile, and out of sight from the freeway are about 19 acres of fairly flat land at the bottom of what is too small to call a canyon, but too big to call a gully.
Once development was ruled out by Salt Lake County, von Puttkammer asked Sachs if he could start a farm.
"Ira was very gracious," he said.
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The acreage is located where water used to run down the mountainside 500 years ago, he said, and created a miniature alluvial plain. Utah State University soil analysts said it was near perfect for agriculture.
With the help of some friends, von Puttkammer and his partner in the endeavor, Karen Wilson, cleared one acre of brush and weeds, built a USU-designed greenhouse with plastic piping and tarps and planted seeds.
To hear him describe it, you’d think it was Shangri-La. The odd elevation keeps the plot at an ideal temperature preventing the frosts that shorten northern-Utah’s growing season. The water is just as good as the bottled-stuff people pay premium prices for. It’s surrounded by forest on three sides and the open canyon to the south provides a view of red rocks at the top of the opposite ridge.
"It’s either worthless or priceless depending on how you look at it," he said.
von Puttkammer and Wilson have worked hard promoting Calcium Springs Farm as something priceless. They enlisted about 12 people to invest $500 each in the endeavor. In return, these "shareholders" are able to pick up a bag of produce each week at the Park Silly Sunday Market. The produce has been so popular they’re raising the price of shares to $750 next season.
The goal of Calcium Springs Farm is to experiment with the limits of agriculture in the Wasatch Mountains. With the greenhouse, and by choosing the right plants, von Puttkammer thinks he can grow 10-and-a-half months a year if not year-round.
Even though he’s no stranger to gardening, Wilson is the green thumb of the operation. Together the two dream up what they want to grow. von Puttkammer then installs the needed infrastructure, and Wilson does the planting.
"After visiting Peru last summer and seeing the terraced gardening, I knew we could do it," she said. "It’s amazing how much food you can get from such a tiny space."
Jesse Swing loves helping out on the farm. Volunteers like Swing get to eat some of the vegetables and improve their organic-farming skills. He said he likes the goal of the farm.
"It’s living the good life. It’s living a truly sustainable lifestyle," he said. "We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk."
von Puttkammer said community is also an important part of the plan. selling the produce to shareholders, he gets to have an intimate relationship with his consumers and hears their feedback. That’s more gratifying than selling to strangers at a farmers’ market, he said.
The cooperation needed to run the farm provides many opportunities for fun, Wilson said. Getting the farm started and greenhouse built in February was a lot of work, but they had a good time doing it. In the future, they plan to hold regular potluck gatherings for people to see their work and support the effort.
Some of the volunteers only help out on Saturdays. Others, like himself and Wilson, dedicate a portion of their week to working the earth. One way of looking at it is as a hobby to keep himself busy during the recession. But he prefers to call it training for his next career: designing agricultural spaces that get maximum yield from minimum space.
von Puttkammer said he’d feel comfortable tilling up to 12 of the 19 acres in future years. He’s not sure the land can comfortably support the number of volunteers that amount of growing would require, so he plans to expand a little at a time, being conscious of how it’s affecting the space. He said they’re careful to only disturb as much of the land as necessary to keep their plants healthy.
Will shareholders get $750 worth of food next year from the farm? von Puttkammer said they might, depending on yield, but if someone is only in it for the food, this isn’t for them. Calcium Springs Farm is an experiment in agriculture and membership is for people who want to feel really good about where their superior produce comes from, he said.
For more information, call Kurt von Puttkammer at 801-509-2829 for visit