Wharton: Draper IFA store retains some of its rural roots
Draper • Farmers who once tilled hundreds of acres of land and raised thousands of chickens in the southeastern corner of Salt Lake County have found the real-estate values skyrocketing in recent years. Thus the once-rural nature of Draper has been replaced by suburban homes, strip malls and box stores.
In addition to a few surviving farms, one constant remains.
That would be the historic Intermountain Farmers Association feed mill and store at 1071 E. 12400 South.
This landmark still serves as a place where numerous types of animal feed are bagged and in some cases produced.
IFA traces its roots back to 1923 when it was organized as a farmer's cooperative called the Utah Poultry Producers Association. It changed its name to IFA in 1961 and is now a multimillion-dollar business in feed and retail stores, fertilizer plants, feed mills and agronomy centers with outlets throughout the Western United States.
Draper retail store manager Jeff Meek said that as Salt Lake County and Draper have changed, so has the emphasis of what the small outlet stuffed with an eclectic assortment of products sells.
"The biggest part of our business is gardening, lawn care, pesticides and herbicides, the kind of stuff we sell to homeowners," he said.
But that doesn't mean that a horse owner can't purchase feed here. The store still sells about 3,000 live chicks a year, and it offers backyard beehive supplies, dozens of varieties of local seeds, outdoor cooking equipment, Dutch oven supplies, pellet guns and targets, horse tack and feed and farm clothing.
This is a place where a gardener can purchase ladybug or praying mantis eggs and gnomes. The staff can answer questions such as "Where can I buy a heater for a rabbit?" [The answer from employee Vicky Spainhour is "You don't. That's why they have fur"] or "What do we do with the ducks after we buy them?"
You can purchase a pink cowboy hat, a rocking chair made from logs, wildlife art, rubber boots, a gun that fires elastic bands or worm food here. The place even provides elephant food to Hogle Zoo.
Jim Brown, manager of the feed department for 36 years and a good source of history for the plant, part of which burned in a 1967 fire, took me on a tour of the feed and bagging area.
He showed me a now mostly empty room where historically eggs were candled to see whether they were fertile. The building is held up with massive wooden support beams and crossed wooden tresses from a different era. World War II cartoons clipped from ancient issues of The Salt Lake Tribune still hang on some of the beams.
Brown pulled out some steaming hot poultry feed that was in the final stages of production. Nearby, Bryson Lance filled 50-pound bags with the same feed.
"It was built to be a poultry mill," Brown explained. "It was built for egg feed-producing cooperatives. Farmers got together and built it so they could get feed cheaper. We do feed for five or six species back there, but there are two or three hundred different kinds of feeds."
Brown uses some of the products to feed his wife's zebra, 30 or 40 chickens, peafowl, a house pig, dogs, fish and parrots that live on his Draper farm a few blocks from the plant.
One thing IFA is known for is service. A friend, for example, told me a story that a small colt who had lost its mother refused to eat. He went into IFA in Draper for advice, and the woman who helped him suggested milk pellets. The little horse quickly started eating those.
"IFA does a lot of training," Meek said. "We try to set ourselves apart with good customer service."
I walked out of the store with two yard flower decorations, a couple of cow bones for my dog, a dog chew toy and Amish dilly beans and hot sweet pepper preserves. I also left with a new appreciation for a growing company that started in Utah and is thriving because of a willingness to adapt to the needs of its customers.