One year after the 1,050-acre conservation easement was finalized, this agricultural land continues to produce a connection to its community.
Tucked away in the scenic Ogden Valley, rows of pumpkins dot the 30 acres of Saint Stephen’s Field, named by the Trappist monks who farmed the land for more than 75 years. It’s a history now preserved across 1,050 acres thanks to an $8.8 million conservation easement secured through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
“It is a true honor to have been a part of protecting this agricultural land,” shared Emily Fife, NRCS State Conservationist for Utah, “Together, we are protecting open space and land that provides agricultural production, historic preservation, and wildlife habitat.”
The Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity was founded in 1947 by 32 monks, with many having served in World War II. The monastery produced food for its farmers, ranchers, and beekeepers, and sold products and produce in the Abbey’s bookshop. Fresh baked bread, jams, and most famously their creamed honey became a regular draw for visitors. The decision to close the Abbey came in 2017, with the elderly monks unable to continue its operation.
The Huntsville Monastery easement was completed in 2022 through the efforts of landowners Bill White and Wynstonn Wangsgard, the Summit Land Conservancy, Ogden Valley Land Trust, NRCS, and area donors.
“So many people have memories of visiting the monastery over the years, and we hear over and over again how grateful they are that this place is preserved forever," said Cheryl Fox, chief executive officer for the Summit Land Conservancy.
A promise made to the surviving monks to continue the land’s agricultural tradition led Bill White to hire McFarland Family Farms to take over managing the more than 700 acres of farmable land. With their own agricultural roots dating back 150 years along the banks of the Weber River, it was clear the Utah family understood the meaning of tradition.
Kenny and Jamila McFarland initially met with Bill White as consultants to help him explore what the future of the land could be. Conversations started with the types of crops to plant, the possibility of a pumpkin patch, and eventually evolved into a request by White for them to take on the entire operation.
With the responsibility of their own 400-acre farm in West Weber, it wasn’t an easy decision. “I would say we weren’t able to come to a decision until we met Bill on the farm,” Jamila said, “there’s just a special spirit about this place.”
The family started slow, adding a “U-Pick” pumpkin patch with 36 different seeds from all over the world. Traditional orange varieties were surrounded by deep green and cream-colored pumpkins of various sizes. This year they added a small farmers market and invited local producers, makers and bakers to the farm building near the pumpkin patch. Each decision is done with the owner, the community, and the memory of the monks in mind. With the positive feedback they received, they plan to bring the farmers market back next year.
The wooded areas and waters from the south fork of the Ogden River along the property’s edge act as a valuable wildlife corridor. The mix of farm pastures and rangeland provide a thriving environment for elk, wild turkey, deer, owl, and hawk populations. Migratory avian species find refuge in its seasonal wetlands, and the farm acts as a potential habitat for two endangered species (the Canada lynx and yellow-billed cuckoo).
Less than a mile away from the pumpkin patch down a gated road lies a small empty field where the Abbey once stood. The original building had been a temporary structure, with plans to build a more permanent stone monastery never coming to fruition. Referred to as “The Heart of the Monastery,” the land is still considered sacred ground, with the cemetery where the monks were buried nearby. Many of the original outbuildings still stand, including a dairy barn and a wood-turning barn where the monks would make clocks to sell in their shop. Another outbuilding is in the process of being reconstructed after the roof fell in this past winter.
“Honestly, us being up here is not really necessary for our business,” Kenny said, “but we just feel drawn to it. It feels right when I’m here.” It’s a feeling they hear repeated in the stories people share from their time with the monks. “They just felt like they were better people when they left,” he said.
The couple continues to discuss what the future could hold for the property with White, and how they can help preserve both the land and the spirit of what the monks brought to the people they met.