How to start homesteading in Utah
In the mid-1800s, migrating Mormons fleeing religious persecution were drawn to Utah: its sparsely populated lands, its mountains flowing with freshwater streams and, most of all, its potential to be their “Promised Land.” They planted potatoes and turnips, built a dam and ultimately settled the area known today as the Salt Lake Valley.
As the Mormons and other settlers soon realized, Utah is a mecca of natural diversity, with features ranging from arid deserts to lush forests. The idea of homesteading in Utah evokes an idyllic picture of the old-school pioneering spirit, with its natural splendor, cheap land and room for livestock to roam.
Not all farming and homesteading tasks are easy in Utah. Growing, for example, can be challenging due to soil and climate conditions. Depending on your interests, though, Utah might be a great fit for your farm or homestead. Here’s how to start homesteading in Utah.
Buying farmland in Utah
According to 2019 data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average cost of farm real estate in Utah was $2,420 per acre, compared to the national average of $3,160 that same year. The average cost per acre for cropland was $3,970 and $1,240 for pasture.
According to the USDA’s 2018 State Agriculture Overview, Utah has 10.7 million acres of farmland and 18,100 farms. The average farm size is 591 acres.
Working farms should register Utah’s OneStop Business Registration, you can register your new business with the Utah State Tax Commission, Utah Department of Commerce and Utah Department of Workforce Services. Many cities are partnered with the registration service to provide a city business license and will guide users to print documentation to help complete a separate city business license.
Growing crops in Utah
The USDA hardiness zones in Utah zones range from frosty 4a in the northernmost corners to a balmy 9a in the southwest, meaning minimum temperatures range from -30 to 20 Fahrenheit depending on location.
Utah’s Sunset climate zones, which are often considered more accurate in the Western United States because they consider factors like maximum temperature and elevation, include 1a, the coldest mountain and intermountain areas of the contiguous states; 2a, cold mountain and intermountain areas; 2b, warm summer intermountain climate; 3a, mild areas of mountain and intermountain climate; 3b, mildest areas of intermountain climate; and 10, high desert areas.
As importing produce has become more efficient, Utah increasingly relies on crops from outside the state. Utah currently only produces 3 percent of its fruit needs and 2 percent of its vegetable needs. Many of the best soils and climates for growing fruits and vegetables are located along the Wasatch Front, where urban growth has been encroaching on farmland. The acreage of fruit production was cut in half in Utah between 1987 and 2006, and the trend is continuing at a rate that will eliminate almost all of Utah’s orchards by 2050.
Another barrier to growing local fruits and vegetables is the inability to find the labor to work on farms and orchards. Many Utah farmers have also found that switching from growing fruits and vegetables to crops such as hay and alfalfa can reduce risks such as losing crops to freezing.
Hay, mostly used to feed livestock, is Utah’s largest crop. Wheat, barley, and corn are also important crops. Leading fruits are apples, cherries and peaches, along with apricots and pears. Leading vegetables are onions, potatoes and dry beans. Mushrooms and safflower are also grown in Utah.
Several varieties of the hardy vegetables that can be planted in the early spring in Utah include artichokes, asparagus, onions, rhubarb, broccoli, peas, spinach, cabbage, radishes and turnips. A couple of weeks later, beets, lettuce, potatoes, carrots, parsley, cauliflower, parsnips and chard will grow well. After the threat of freezing has passed, celery, cucumbers, squash, corn, snap beans, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon and eggplant will also grow in Utah.
Utah’s state soil is Mivida soil, a deep, well-drained soil located on structural benches on the Colorado Plateau. Mivida soil is moderately extensive in southeastern Utah and covers about 200,000 acres, and is commonly used for livestock grazing. A small portion of the Mivida soil is used for irrigated agriculture where alfalfa hay, wheat, barley and oats are grown, as well as for irrigated pasture.
Raising animals in Utah
Over three-quarters of Utah’s agricultural income is generated by livestock and livestock products. Beef cattle and milk lead the way, followed by hogs, chicken eggs, and sheep and lambs. Wool, honey, aquaculture and turkeys also contribute significantly to Utah’s livestock economy.
Utah is a class free state for brucellosis, tuberculosis, Salmonella pullorum and scabies, and Stage V pseudorabies, so all animals entering Utah must be accompanied by a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, except for animals consigned directly to an inspected slaughter establishment or approved auction market, which need only a Brand Inspection Certificate. A Brand Inspection Certificate is also required on all cattle and equine. Entry permits obtained prior to shipment are required on all cattle, swine, sheep, goats and poultry, unless consigned directly to an inspected slaughter establishment or approved auction market.
According to Utah Fence Law, each county is responsible for the disposition of any sheep, cattle, horses, mules, asses or swine found running at large within its borders.
The owner of any cattle, horse, ass, mule, sheep, goat or swine that trespasses upon the premises of another person is liable in a civil action to the owner or occupant for any damage inflicted by the trespass unless the premises are not enclosed by a lawful fence in a county or municipality that has adopted a fence ordinance.
A county representative may intervene to remove the animal and the county is entitled to fair compensation for costs incurred. If the animal is not claimed within 10 days after written notification is sent to its owner, a county representative may sell the animal to cover costs incurred.
Horses, rams, jacks and ridgelings are not permitted to run at large. However, the voters of any county or isolated part of a county may elect by a two-thirds majority to render this law ineffective in all or part of the county during part of the year.
Wanton destruction of livestock, if a person intentionally injures, physically alters, releases or causes the death of an animal, is a crime in Utah, punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the livestock.
All cattle that forage on open range must be branded with a Utah recorded brand, and owners should have the wallet-size brand card with them at all times. Branding of horses is recommended, but not required.
There are a number of livestock auctions that take place throughout the state of Utah, including the Basin Livestock Market every Friday in Ballard, the Cedar Livestock Market in Cedar City every Thursday, the Producer Livestock Marketing Association in Salina, every Tuesday and the R Livestock Connection Auction in Monroe every Wednesday.
Selling food in Utah
There are 50 farmers’ markets listed on the Utah Farmers Market Directory website.
Unprocessed whole fruits and vegetables, in-shell nuts and other whole agricultural products can be sold at a farmers market in Utah without the vendor obtaining a registration permit from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF). The vendor must be the original grower. If the vendor is selling unprocessed whole fruits and vegetables purchased from another farmer or distributor, then a permit is required.
Fruits and vegetables should be stored and displayed so they are protected from contamination. Store them off of the ground and protected from rain or other contaminants.
An inspected and approved facility must be used to process fruits and vegetables. Examples of processing include: cutting, slicing, spinning leafy greens, slicing tomatoes, canning and salsa production.
Vendors may be able to provide customers a sample of their products if approved by the local health department. If the local health department does not offer a sampling permit or guidance, then the following guidelines must be followed: small items, such as cherries or strawberries, should be washed before being given as samples; larger items, like peaches or apples, must also be washed and then cut; if cutting off-site, it should be done at an approved and inspected location; if cutting is done on-site, the vendor must have hand washing facilities, gloves and a facility to wash, rinse and sanitize the utensils and cutting board; the sampling should use toothpicks or individual cups to dispense the food; and the public should never reach into a bulk container to get a sample.
Sprouted seeds and wild-harvested mushrooms are not allowed for sale at a farmers market without prior approval from UDAF.
According to Utah Cottage Food Law, prior to producing a food, the operator of a cottage food production operation must provide written confirmation from a UDAF-approved food laboratory or process authority that the food is not potentially hazardous in addition to receiving approval from the UDAF to produce the food. When food includes fruits or vegetables grown by the operator of a cottage food production operation, the operator must have a current private pesticide applicator certification issued by the department.
Each cottage food operator should hold a valid food handler’s permit; use finished and cleanable surfaces; maintain acceptable sanitary standards and practices; provide separate storage from domestic storage, including refrigeration; provide for annual water testing if not connected to a public water system; and keep a sample of each food for 14 days.
A cottage food production operation is prohibited from conducting domestic activities in the kitchen when producing food; allowing pets in the kitchen; allowing free-roaming pets in the residence; washing out or cleaning pet cages, pans and similar items in the kitchen; and allowing entry of non-employees into the kitchen while producing food.
A cottage food producer must be prepared by following the recipe used to prepare the food when it was submitted for the approval testing. When a process authority has recommended or stipulated production processes or criteria for a food, these must be followed when the food is produced. The recipe and process authority recommendations and stipulations shall be available in the facility for review by the department.
The registration UDAF registration should be displayed at the cottage food production operation, and a copy of the registration shall be displayed at farmers markets, roadside stands and other places at which the operator sells food from a fixed structure.
Local health departments do not have jurisdiction to regulate the production of food at a cottage food production operation as long as the products are not offered to the public for consumption on the premises but does have jurisdiction to investigate a cottage food production operation in any investigation into the cause of a food-borne illness outbreak. A food service establishment may not use a product produced in a cottage food operation as an ingredient in any food that is prepared by the food establishment for public for consumption.
A food label for a home-produced food should include (in a font at least 1/16 inch in height): the common name of the product; the net quantity statement; the words “Home Produced” in bold and conspicuous 12-point type on the principal display panel; an ingredient statement (unless it is a single ingredient product); the name, street address, city, state, zip code, and telephone number of the cottage food production operation; and a nutrition statement.
The requirements for food products sold from bulk, self-serve containers differ only slightly from those for packaged foods. The product name; name and address of the cottage food production operation; the price per unit (per pound or per each); nutrition facts; and ingredient list in descending order of predominance must be on all dispensing units. Ingredients must be printed in letters measuring at least 1/8″ in height.
Vendors may sell eggs at an outdoor or farmers market and are exempt from registration and prior approval from UDAF, provided the vendor owns the chickens from which the eggs are produced. A vendor may not resell another farmer’s eggs.
The UDAF requires that eggs look clean; egg cartons should have the name and address of the producer; egg cartons must have safe handling instructions and “Keep Refrigerated” on the label; and eggs must be maintained at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below while at the market. The reuse of egg cartons is prohibited in Utah.
Utah organizations for new farmers
- Utah Farm Bureau Federation (especially Young Farmers and Ranchers)
- Utah County Agriculture Toolbox
- Utah Farmers Union
- CSA Utah
- Utah State University Extension
How difficult is it to start homesteading in Utah?
Growing can be challenging in Utah, but the state boasts cheap, plentiful land and a robust market for livestock that could be suitable for first-time homesteaders looking to focus on these aspects of the homesteading experience.