Before November 2018, Anne Dunaway was working 60-hour weeks at a Salt Lake nonprofit — and that’s not counting the sometimes 3-hour roundtrip commute from South Ogden to Salt Lake. As a result, she wasn’t seeing her two kids as much as she wanted to.
“I just really felt like ‘they need me, and this isn’t working to be gone all the time,’” Dunaway said. She was a single mom and had her kids full time.
“I just really wanted to be a pivotal part of their life,” she continued. “Also, it wasn’t great for my performance at work.”
Come November, she had reached a point when she decided that she needed to leave her job before finding a new position, for the sake of her family.
“I had to,” she said. “Somebody had to raise these kids.”
Dunaway quit her job and started looking for positions in the Ogden area that fit her background. After a couple months spent looking for a new position, she wasn’t finding anything in the area that was the right fit and provided adequate compensation.
“I had a hard reality check come February where I was like ... ‘I think I have to do something else,’” Dunaway said. “So that’s when I started talking about ‘what can I do? What am I good at? What do I have the support of my family in? ... I’ve always wanted to be a business owner anyway — maybe now’s the time.’”
As she contemplated her strengths, values and background, she began to seriously consider starting an urban farm and selling produce.
Dunaway grew up in agriculture. Her family had a farm out in West Point when the area was just farm land. While the farm was focused on livestock and producing hay, the family also had a garden.
She and her sister each had their own section of the garden. Dunaway’s specialty was growing herbs.
In addition to having this background, Dunaway has had strong feelings about reforming commercial agriculture for a long time. She says commercial approaches deplete soil and other resources and contribute to excessive emissions. She wants to find a different way forward.
Dunaway’s sister is now a botany teacher at a high school in Idaho, and she said she’d help Dunaway throughout the process of starting a business.
Dunaway also talked to her boyfriend — they started dating a few months before she took the leap of quitting her job — and he gave her his support.
“I couldn’t be doing this without just his day to day encouragement,” she said.
With the support of her loved ones behind her, she got started.
Now, the garage of her South Ogden townhome is empty of cars and full of plants — from tomatoes, to basil to microgreens.
The garage keeps her plants — all organic and free from pesticides — protected from bugs.
Besides buying some high-quality growing lights, Dunaway has built the equipment herself using “upcycled” materials. Her goal is to make healthy food through processes that are also friendly to the environment.
She builds her aeroponic units out of used plastic barrels she gets from the Pepsi plant in North Ogden. Because they’re from a beverage company, they’re made out of food safe material.
Dunaway cuts holes out of side of the barrels big enough for each plant — she currently has some tomato vines, basil and romaine growing out of them — and runs tubing that has holes in it through the center of the barrel. As the solution of water and plant nutrients runs through the tubing, it mists the roots of the plants.
“I can grow 127 plants in a 4 foot by 4 foot space once all these (barrels) are all mature and up and running,” Dunaway said, referring to four barrels, stacked into two towers.
Dunaway’s business is called Urban Prairie Agriculture, and she sold her produce for the first time at today’s Ogden Farmer’s Market, the opening day of the season.
In addition to selling produce, she sells a window sill herb garden, wheatgrass, flowers she grows at a greenhouse in Honeyville, and “gardens in a bag” — upcycled burlap sacks filled with organic soil with plants growing out of the top.
Each bag has a different combination of plants — and the “garden” is ready to just throw out on a porch or lawn. All it requires is regular watering.
Her kids also run a discovery corner at her booth at the farmer’s market, where they teach other kids about plants.
She says the new business has allowed her the flexibility to be with them.
While Dunaway’s current focus is growing her small business, in the long-term she wants to be involved in community education — and perhaps even fill some of Ogden’s empty buildings with plants, helping to feed the community.
“I want everyone to do this. Why shouldn’t we be growing our own food? ... I’m in a 1640 square-foot house, and I’m doing it,” she said. “We can take our lives into our own hands.”