Looking for fresh fruit? It might hit you in the face in this SLC neighborhood while you walk your dog.

A longstanding nonprofit wants to improve its connection to the west side — and get more fresh food into the bellies of kids.

Tucked between warehouses, a junkyard and an auto glass shop, beds of grains and rows of soil sit, awaiting active hands and curious minds.

Soon, this plot at 742 W. 1300 South in Glendale will be a working, living, breathing urban farm producing fresh food for low-income families across the Salt Lake Valley and west-siders just strolling by, said James Loomis, the director of agricultural operations for Wasatch Community Gardens, the longstanding nonprofit that will run the farm.

“We’ll have fruit trees and grapes and all kinds of things that people can grab as a little snack as they’re walking their dog, as well as introduce people and remind them that food is there,” Loomis said. “It’s easy to grow, it’s easy to harvest. That’s our whole mission at Wasatch Community Gardens, is to help people grow and eat healthy, local, organic food. What better way to do that than practically have it hit them in the face when they’re out walking their dog.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) James Loomis at Wasatch Community Gardens' new urban farm on the west side of Salt Lake City, Tuesday, June 25, 2024.

The lot is just now beginning to see life as Loomis transplants the nonprofit’s downtown Green Phoenix farm to this spot. The new site incorporates the former Cannon Greens Community Garden and additional land. Wasatch Community Gardens announced last month it would manage the plot after it also acquired another farm space a mile farther west, on Utah Street.

Growing west

The two new plots are both in a food desert on the west side of Salt Lake City, where many low-income households have little access to nutritious food.

Focusing on the west side is no mistake. Wasatch Community Gardens wants to make sure residents there can get to its sites and programming.

“We’ll have more of a west-side presence,” said Katie Dwyer, the nonprofit’s marketing and communications director, “and be able to more directly provide services to folks in this neighborhood without them having to trudge over to the east side.”

The Green Phoenix Farm at 622 W. 100 South opened in 2016, but moving was always in the cards because Salt Lake City’s Redevelopment Agency owns the land.

Dwyer added that as urban parcels have become more expensive, it can be hard for new farmers — whether they’re a part of a larger organization or not — to buy plots for planting. Mobile farms like Green Phoenix can show other farmers how to be nimble.

The city also owns the new site, but the nonprofit has secured a lease for up to 25 years for the space. Wasatch Community Gardens used to operate a garden on one part of the tract, but it was shut down in 2019 after oil contamination was found.

Where does the food go?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wasatch Community Gardens is opening a new urban farm on the west side of Salt Lake City, Tuesday, June 25, 2024.

Now, it’s been cleaned and Loomis is slowly moving soil and other farm essentials, like tarps and cardboard, to the site. He, with the help of a rotating cast of volunteers, is also preparing a portion of the land for later planting.

At the back of the lot, much of the space is covered by black plastic tarps as the team aims to kill off existing, unwanted plant life. Three neat rows of soil sit nearby, and a column of garden boxes contain a research project into different kinds of grains that could be farmed with greener techniques.

The rest of the lot remains largely vacant as Loomis waits for city permitting to run its course. As soon as the permits are finalized, the nonprofit will start moving its heavier components to the new site. The plan for the farm calls for two greenhouses, small multiuse buildings fashioned from shipping containers, off-grid solar panels and an outdoor classroom. Loomis expects the farm to be up and running six weeks after he gets the nod from the city.

As for the farm’s output, some of it will be available to the public to simply pick for themselves for free at the site. However, the nonprofit aims to donate the bulk of the produce to low-income children in the valley. Right now, food from the Green Phoenix farm goes to the Midvale shelter for homeless families and to permanent supportive housing developments like Palmer Court in the Ballpark neighborhood.

“We’re really trying to target families and children,” Loomis said. “Childhood nutrition has such an impact on how you perform as an adult. Let’s level that playing field for kids who might not have access [to healthy food].”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wasatch Community Gardens is opening a new urban farm on the west side of Salt Lake City, Tuesday, June 25, 2024.

Some of the food will also go to members of the Green Team, the nonprofit’s job-training program for women experiencing homelessness. Program participants will manage and learn at the farm. The fall and spring cohorts of about five women will grow produce and the seedlings for Wasatch Community Gardens’ spring plant sale.

The nonprofit also recently acquired a two-acre parcel nearby, across the street from the Surplus Canal and near a handful of other urban farms. That land, which is already a working farm, will eventually become the Glendale Farm Hub and host the Green Team program.

Wasatch Community Gardens owns the site, giving it a permanent foothold on the west side and responsibility for an oasis in the heart of a food desert.