Two years after North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor’s death in Afghanistan, donors resurrect his mini-farm

Battered by the “weeds of life,” his widow and children are happy see his dreams again take root.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jennie Taylor checks out the peach trees that were planted by Brent Taylor before he was deployed to Afghanistan. Pleasant Grove-based Stratton and Bratt are redesigning and restoring the small farm owned by the Taylor family, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020.

If stress, suffering and grief grew like noxious weeds, Jennie Taylor said her unkempt little farm in North Ogden could be a picture of 2020.

That overgrown lot has also reminded her daily that her husband, former North Ogden Mayor Brent Russell Taylor, is gone, killed in 2018 while on Army National Guard duty in Afghanistan.

Those 5-foot weeds showed somehow that she and her seven children, ages 3 to 15, were unable to keep up, too overwhelmed since his death to nurture one of Taylor’s dreams — that the small farm might teach the value of quiet hard work with an eye on posterity.

Now it has become emblematic of the coronavirus pandemic, too.

“I thought my life turned upside down in 2018, when my husband was killed and now the entire world is upside down,” she said this week. “It’s been so eye-opening. But weeds are what life is full of sometimes, right? You try so hard to plant and cultivate, and then you turn around and some kind of pest has taken over.”

Thursday began a transformation as donors, led by one of the region’s largest landscaping firms, Stratton & Brätt Landscapes, launched a three-day overhaul of the farm to bring it back to working life and make it easier to maintain.

The “major’s mini-farm,” as the family calls it, was his love. However his day had gone at City Hall, Brent Taylor liked to come home and dive into farm work with his kids, his widow said. She calls the place a metaphor for the family’s life without him.

(Courtesy of Utah National Guard via AP) This undated photo provided by the Utah National Guard shows Maj. Brent Taylor of the Utah National Guard. Taylor, former mayor of North Ogden, died in Afghanistan in 2018.

‘What Daddy wanted’

Jennie Taylor had set 2020 for catching up, with hopes of clearing away that thicket of pain and even drawing a real harvest from the soil her husband cherished. Then, the pandemic seemed to all but wilt those plans.

When she reached out to friends and neighbors on social media in July, an executive with Stratton & Brätt and others offered to help. Taylor said she was confused at first when the Pleasant Grove-based firm’s landscaping experts showed up at her door with a sketchbook instead of gardening tools and garbage bags.

As it became clear the company planned to restore and improve the farm at no charge, Taylor’s oldest daughter — not a huge fan of chores — asked, “Mom, what have you done?”

“I just said, ‘You know what, honey? This is what Daddy wanted for Christmas. This is what he’s getting, is a mini-farm makeover.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jennie Taylor checks out the peach trees that were planted by Brent Taylor before he was deployed to Afghanistan. Pleasant Grove-based Stratton and Bratt are redesigning and restoring the small farm owned by the Taylor family, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020.

Along with yanking weeds, hauling in fresh topsoil and installing a new irrigation system, crews are putting in 14 grow boxes, compost bins and a chicken coop. They will lay out a cornfield, pumpkin patch and vegetable garden. Fruit trees that Brent planted before his deployment will be moved to better ground. There will be a play area for the kids.

“We are just so, so grateful,” Jennie told the company’s CEO, Zack Stratton, on Thursday.

Now in its 44th year of operation, the family-owned landscape architecture firm has shaped iconic open spaces in Utah and abroad, including the grounds of the Latter-day Saint Conference Center and Hale Centre Theatre, Red Butte Garden and the Quad at Salt Lake Community College, along with numerous golf courses, public parks and residential projects.

The plot behind the Taylor house might seem small by comparison, but it loomed large for Stratton & Brätt and its partners, its CEO said.

Stratton said he grew up on a northeast Orem farm, worked by his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. “We come from agricultural roots,” he said. So along with giving back for his own blessings, Stratton said he relished the idea of letting the Taylors have “the opportunity to learn some of those same lessons.”

Mountainland Supply Co., Wasatch Evergreens, Tri City Nursery South and other companies are also joining in the three-day restoration effort, which Stratton said was also meant as an enduring tribute to Brent Taylor and his service.

“We wanted this to be something special,” he said.

Planting seeds

Dubbed “an enthusiastic evangelist for democracy,” Brent Taylor served as North Ogden’s mayor from January 2013 until November 2018, when he was shot and killed by an Afghan commando under his training. He was 39. Investigators later found the attack had been planned weeks in advance.

(Courtesy of the North Ogden Discussion Facebook page) North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor posted this photo in June 2018. Taylor, a major in the Utah National Guard, died in an insider attack in Afghanistan in November 2018.

His widow has since created the Major Brent Taylor Leadership Legacy Foundation, devoted to service projects that carry on her husband’s legacy. She hopes the farm will become part of that, illustrating his “willingness and ability to lead by serving, by working.”

“He was always planting seeds, with residents, with council members, with the different department heads,” Jennie said. “He cultivated relationships. He knew what he was doing in 2010 would have ramifications into the 2050s, when our kids will be having kids.

“And that’s exactly what a garden is,” she said. “You take a pile of dirt, and with the right ingredients, the right dedication, the right work, you turn it into something that can nourish and be beautiful.”