Allen Bennett is a farmer. His father was a farmer. His grandfather was a farmer. His great-grandfather was a farmer. Bennetts have been farming the same land in West Point since 1896, when the settlement was called Muskrat Springs.
After attending college for a year to study agriculture as a business, Allen Bennett left to work with his father.
"I was the only son. I could see I needed to stay to help him on the farm," he said. "That was clear back when I was just 21, so it's been my life ever since."
Now he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Once you get that in your blood, it's hard to get it out," said Bennett, 60. "There's a great joy in being able to watch a seed be planted, to watch it sprout, grow and then be harvested. ... There's great satisfaction in that."
Bennett doesn't farm for fun, though -- he depends on farming to make a living. He works 100 acres on the old homestead, and more land leased from locals who don't farm anymore, growing potatoes, tomatoes, wheat, alfalfa, shell corn and onions.
"My primary crop is onions," Bennett said. "That's my moneymaker."
Some people call the farming lifestyle just another way of gambling.
"You never know whether you're going to get this in, or get a good crop on it. It's something you take a chance on," said LeRoy Draper, a 90-year-old who rents a home on Bennett's farm and began working part-time for Bennett in 1988, after retiring from the job of managing a welfare farm for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Bennett doesn't think of himself as a gambler, but as an optimist.
"You'll find most farmers are optimists, or they wouldn't be farmers," he said.
But he readily admits there are risks and challenges.
"We have no control over the weather, yet everything we do is so based around Mother Nature," he said. "And we have no control, virtually, over the prices of commodities."
Farmers can't hold most crops to force a better price.
"It just doesn't work that way," he said. "When an onion's ready to be eaten, or a potato or sweet corn, or something of that nature, it's only got a certain shelf life."
But even with the challenges, Bennett loves farming.
"It's a good life. Nobody's forcing me to be there. I could have quit many years ago, if I'd wanted," he said. "Obviously, I must enjoy it."
If farming is a gamble, some folks might label Bennett a high roller.
"It takes a whole lot more capital to run than it did 15 to 20 years ago. I run 350 acres and it costs me, to operate for a year, probably about $250,000," Bennett said. "That's not tractors and trucks and all the equipment -- that's just upfront, for water, fertilizer, fuel, labor, seeds."
Quality onion seed costs $250 per pound. This year, Bennett's order cost $28,000.
About five years ago, he was paying $34 for a share of water; now it's $260 for a share.
"It's to the point now where water costs us more per acre than it does for the rental of the land," Bennett said. "That's the most expensive part of the whole process."
A big tractor costs between $200,000 and $350,000, and Bennett says if his combine dies, he'll have to think about which is more affordable -- buying a new one or retiring.
Not American Gothic
"She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" was the ringtone on Bennett's phone for a while, but that doesn't mean he fits any of the stereotypes.
The CD player in his tractor rarely plays country music -- it's usually '80s rock, heavy on the band Foreigner.
"Every time anybody thinks about a farmer, they think it's some guy in bib overalls, standing with a pitchfork and an old pioneer hat on," Bennett said.
It's an image that especially bothers his wife, Denise. "She says it frustrates her to death that they always portray a farmer to look like he's an old redneck."
And professional farming requires ongoing education.
"You've got to have a little bit of a mechanic's ability, you've got to know about biology, and you've got to know about different chemicals," he said.
Who's the boss?
A lot of people tell Bennett he's lucky to be a farmer, and he agrees. But the job's not what they think.
"People think, boy, you can just come and go when you want -- if you want to pack up and go fishing or pack up and go four-wheeling or something, you can because you're your own boss," Bennett said.
"But I'm really not quite my boss. I mean, I have my onions that tell me what I need to do, and my corn, and my alfalfa, so I have to respect that and be here for them, and do the things that need to be done when they need to be done."
It's a lot of work.
"As a kid, there were a lot of times I didn't see my dad for days at a time because he'd be out working," said Bennett's son Brett, 29. "By the time he got home, we were in bed, and by the time I got up to go to school, he was already gone."
Allen Bennett says it's a common misconception that once you get the seed in the ground, your worries are over.
"I don't sleep any better at all until about the first of December. ... You worry about it germinating, you worry about the hail, you worry about the frost, you worry about the wind, you worry about the rain -- if there's too much or not enough. It goes on and on," he said.
"Onions put more gray hairs on my head than my five kids."
The Bennett family would like to continue its farming tradition.
"Unfortunately, in our area here, there's probably not a future, long-term, for farmers," Bennett said, and his son agrees.
"If I could support my family farming, and just quit my job, I'd do it in a heartbeat," Brett said. "It's definitely what I want to do."
Instead, he's working another job and going to college to learn to teach Spanish and history -- which will allow him to work on the farm in summer. He doesn't believe the farm can support two families, and it's difficult to find enough farm land locally to make it possible.
"We're kind of getting bumped out," he said. "With all of the houses being built, we're losing ground all the time."
With those houses come roads. Early in the year, Allen Bennett was told new routes proposed for the West Davis corridor cut through land he farms; one plan would cross the fields his family has worked for more than a century.
"The last meeting I went to, they moved it back to the original path," he said, which takes it off his home ground. Planners could change their minds again, he said, and a second route is still on the table. "That goes through some good farm ground."
He's hoping for the best, because once farmland is gone, he says, you can't get it back.
"There's a unique micro-climate in Davis and Weber counties, because of the Great Salt Lake, and the ability to produce vegetables, especially, is much greater than in most other areas of the state," said Leonard Blackham, commissioner of agriculture and food for the State of Utah.
But the amount of that land available for agriculture is shrinking.
"We've seen the result of the last 30 years, and the next time we have a growth spurt, most of it will be gone if something isn't put in place to protect that land," Blackham said.
A baseline land-use study, published in 2008 by the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, Envision Utah and the Utah Quality Growth Commission, showed 38.4 square miles of agricultural land in Davis County in 2005, and 77.8 square miles in Weber County. By 2030, Davis is projected to be down to 12 square miles, and Weber to 46.
In spite of the challenges, Bennett and his son say they'll keep farming as long as they can.
"I really enjoy doing it. If I could, I'd do it full-time," Brett Bennett said.
Allen Bennett says farming has allowed him to support his family and live a comfortable life.
"There's no more satisfaction to me than to be able to see a beautiful, bounteous crop growing in the late season, almost ready to harvest," he said.
And each crop has a special appeal for Bennett, from the sweet smell of newly cut alfalfa to the aroma of onions in the field.
"That is a smell that, unless you've experienced it, it's hard to explain, but I've had people say, 'We drive by and it almost smells like there's a big pot of stew brewing somewhere in the valley,' " he said.