OGDEN — When it comes to tourism in Weber County, options have generally been limited to skiing in the winter, navigating the trails in the summer or attending a downtown convention. But with farmland making up much of the county, there is an untapped resource to attract visitor dollars.
A new ordinance in the works would allow agritourism on Weber County farmland.
Visitors may be allowed to pick their own produce, learn how a dairy farm works or get behind the controls of heavy farm machinery.
Work on the ordinance started with a petition by Patricia Dickens, owner of the Kelley Creek Farm in Huntsville.
She and her husband, Brent, first came to the area from Northern California to ski. In 2003, they decided to buy an 80-acre farm in Ogden Valley.
At Kelley Creek Farms, the couple could grow alfalfa and grass hay, raise sheep and train their border collies to herd sheep.
But in 2009, Brent died of cancer, leaving Patricia alone with the farm.
“I need to continue farming,” Dickens said. “It’s my main form of income, and I needed to find a way to supplement that.”
Dickens figured she could take advantage of the beautiful scenery in the area and open up her farm for special events, such as weddings and reunions.
“I felt there had to be some way to enhance the beauty of the farm and open it to the public. It’s got a lot of history in the land, and we want to preserve it and enhance it as a historical land.”
She approached the county but was told she would have to obtain a special-use permit each time she held an event.
A change to the zoning ordinance would better suit her needs.
Built on work that Dickens began, Weber County Planner Scott Mendoza worked to find a way to allow Dickens and other landowners to supplement their income. His goal: create a new chapter in the zoning ordinance to govern agritourism.
“I began thinking, ‘What if?’ ” Mendoza said, “but what was more fitting was ‘imagine.’ ”
Mendoza worked with the Western Weber Township and Ogden Valley Township planning commissions to create the ordinance, which he presented during a public hearing last week at the county commission meeting.
“I think we have something cool in Weber County that fits in with what Weber County is,” said Commissioner Jan Zogmaister.
The ordinance would allow public access to farms, allowing them to stay open year-round, host farmers markets, you-pick operations, farm stays or bed-and-breakfasts.
“What’s nice about this, it’s all volunteer,” Mendoza said, “so those landowners that are so dedicated to their land can keep it and diversify the way they make a living off that property.”
While they can accept visitors, only 20 percent of the farm can be used for agritourism.
Mendoza said the county can preserve farmland, maintain food independence, limit urban sprawl and provide affordable educational opportunities, all through agritourism.
The idea is not a new one.
Dickens said farm stays are popular travel adventure options for many people all over the world.
“Agritourism is actually a worldwide phenomenon,” she said. “It is just finally finding its way to Weber County.”
Sara Toliver, president and CEO of the Ogden/Weber Convention & Visitors Bureau, said it is already big in Europe and is growing in popularity in places such as Oregon, where visitors can stay on agricultural land and learn the inner workings of a farm or a vineyard.
Some people want the opportunity to pick their own fresh produce and have it prepared that evening. Others want to enjoy the scenery.
“It can run a really wide range of possibilities,” Toliver said. “It really just depends on what the owner wants to do with it.”
On Tuesday, the commission directed Mendoza to address issues and answer questions regarding the ordinance.
Mendoza hopes to return to the commission in about two weeks with his findings.