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O-town Food Trust: a gritty mountain rail town reimagines itself as Utah’s Food-First City

Ogden transforms a historic and long-abandoned college campus into the state’s first comprehensive Food Trust.

Photo of Melissa Jensen
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Giv Group

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Leon Araujo – Local Business Owner, Coffee Links Steve Ballard – Local Restauranteur, Thai Curry Kitchen & The Sonora Grill Jennifer Bodine – Weber State University, Sustainability Manager Kim Bowsher – Ogden Downtown Alliance, Executive Director Angela Choberka – Intermountain Healthcare, Community Partnership Specialist, Ogden City Council Myrna Fernandez – Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Tyson Lloyd – Farmer, Better Food Farm Melissa Jensen – Giv Communities Chris Parker – Giv Communities

Website of Legally Registered Entity

givgroup.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Salt Lake City

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Ogden City, Utah

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

You’ll still hear locals say, “all roads lead to Ogden” when talking about their city.  The century-old phrase harkens back to a time when the country moved and transacted along rail lines, a unique number of which happened to meet in a proud and eclectic mountain town at the base of the Wasatch Mountains.  For decades, Ogden thrived as a center for commerce and community in the West.  The creation of the interstate highway system would change all that, but you can still feel the town’s soul in its grand old buildings, its urban form, and, most of all, in the character of its residents. 

Giv was born and raised in Ogden. It spent its first years of existence building affordable housing, community centers, and restoring use to historic buildings within a quarter mile of the Old Weber Campus.  Our larger team combines people who’ve called Ogden home for generations as well as first-generation immigrants and entrepreneurs that have come to stay.  Each participant lives and owns within a mile of this effort and will intimately be affected by its success.  We chose this place because it’s home.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Ogden’s historic function as a rail system “crossroads of the west”, has long defined its scrappy, eclectic population. Anything or anyone might come off that train, and historic Ogden businesses learned quickly to oblige the transient nature of their clientele. Locals tell tales of Al Capone famously shortening his visit while stating that the brothels, saloons, and opium dens along Ogden’s “2-bit street” were simply too rough for him.

Legend aside, Ogden is a vibrant and deeply entrepreneurial town that used its cultural, racial, and religious diversity to full advantage. This spirit formed national banks, regional conglomerates, and even the famed Browning rifle company. That vibrancy would continue until the middle of last century when the interstate freeway system began to erode the importance of old rail towns. By the turn of the 21st century, Ogden became the most economically distressed city in Utah. Boards replaced windows on a once vibrant main street. Families and businesses fled the urban core, and with them went the amenities. The distress was still deep in 2012 when you could regularly buy a home in the central city for less than $75K.

Today, Ogden is a dynamic blend of the past, present, and future. The city’s core is rapidly gentrifying as outdoor enthusiasts and corporations have taken note of a beautiful urban valley at the foot of world-class skiing, biking, climbing and water sports. A walk through town would paint this snapshot:

  • Ogden: 87,325, Weber County: 256,359
  • Density: 3,113.72/sq mi
  • Elevation: 4,300 – 5,000 ft
  • Climate: humid subtropical climate (Cfa) or humid continental climate (Dfa)
  • A diverse population, 23.64% Latino
  • 30,154 households with three or more people per household
  • Median household income of $43,361, 20.1% poverty rate
  • About 20% college educated, while many more pursue the trades, agriculture, or other working-class livelihoods

Despite its moderate size, the town is lacking anything beyond cut-rate grocery stores full of sodium and high fat packaged meats, high fructose minimal fiber grains, and ready-to-eat meals with minimal mineral and vitamin servings. A large portion of the city is listed as a registered food desert and substantially more of it only being proximate to specialty or convenience-scale grocers. This has contributed to the city’s core having high rates of obesity and low rates of fruit and vegetable consumption.  Lower-income residents in this city are living 10-years less than more affluent counter parts, in part, because of diet.

Ogden is a strikingly scenic town with a truly unique blend of urban structure, mountain access, and resilient, accepting, and diverse people. Its food systems should reflect how special Ogden and its people truly are.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

87325

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment: Utah is the second most arid state in the union. Weber County is resultantly dependent on snowmelt for its irrigation, managed through state water rights. The Wasatch Range traps local pollution in toxic inversions, creating some of the worst air quality in the country. 2050: Climate models suggest increased drought AND precipitation. In a warming world, this will come as rain instead of snow, undermining the once predictable spring thaws that generate much of Weber’s ability to grow food. Forest fire frequency and intensity will increase, threatening property, water, air quality, and ecosystem stability.  

Diets: County-wide, 30 percent of people are classified as obese and 34 percent are more than one mile from fresh food. 12 percent are considered food insecure. Consequently, Ogden ranks as a ‘very high’ health disparities city. 2050: Promises to be full of door-delivered, personalized meal systems…if you have enough money. If not, there is a strong likelihood that access to the nutrient dense food will reduce as the Amazonification of the food industry closes brick and mortar retailers and small producers as has happened in other industries.   

Economics & Technology: The relationship between farms and consumers is non-existent in Ogden outside of the farmers’ market microclimate. There are limited mechanisms to bring local food production to the local food economy. There are 16,000 farms in Utah which annually export 441 million dollars’ worth of product to Canada and Mexico. At least 38 percent of farmers rely on additional professions to make ends meet. Technology advances are sweeping agriculture widening the digital divide. Automation is enriching the owners and shareholders while eliminating working-class jobs. 2050: An acceleration of agricultural monopolies using technologies to control markets and consolidate wealth. Greater subsidies will go to single crop farming, managed mostly by AI, in places that cannot beat climate change.

Culture: Ogden is the most economically equitable city in the nation. The city’s rapid gentrification, however, threatens to change its egalitarian culture.  New amenities largely exclude culturally relevant foods and experiences. 2050: Attempts to solve nutritional disparities look to technology and efficiency gains to combat the problem. This focuses on the single issue of cost and nutrient density while ignoring the importance of local food economies, heritages, and regenerative farming. Reducing the connective power of food and its ability to bridge gaps across the class and culture.

Policy: Subsidies prioritize monocropping and petrochemical inputs. This incentive system rewards commodification, consolidation, and factory farming while degrading ecosystems, undermining health and economic resiliency. 2050: As water sources grow scarcer, and Weber’s quickly growing population further degrades its airshed, the viability of, and land available to, locally-grown food may reduce substantially.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Environment: By combining onsite crop production, cooking and processing facilities, and several varieties of consumption onto one carbon-neutral site, the Food Trust reduces the transportation, packaging, and energy footprint of its food.  The site’s high-walkability score, EV charging infrastructure, and innovative heat and water recapture systems help ensure as minimal a carbon impact as possible. Here it won’t be uncommon to harvest, prepare, and serve a salad in less than an hour with no transportation, packaging, or fossil fuel use.  And it could do so in a January blizzard with a fraction of the water.

Diets: The Food Trust’s entire goal is to make nutrient rich food accessible to all. It will have nutritionists and chefs onsite creating meals and products for every type of consumer, and the site’s unique economic model will be able to subsidize those meals for any income.  Farmers will be able to more economically process their crops and will have feedback and access to end-user demand.  This helps provide a steady supply of the freshest food available at a bifurcated price point that keeps farmers viable and is still affordable. 

Economics: The Food Trust redirects the economic power of a city’s urban real estate towards feeding its people.  Giv’s donation of the old Weber Campus and its ongoing commitment to developing revenue-producing structures to a permanent Food Trust uniquely removes the gap between high quality food and Ogdenites.  Its one-stop-shop for the growth, production, and consumption of food allows any resident to enter into almost any food-related business without the economic and cultural barriers that exist today.  The Trust looks to simplify the area’s food ecosystem from seed to store and helps producers plan profitably, processors package at the peak of freshness, chefs highlight new foods, and consumers to eat fresh, affordable food.

Culture: The community-based team that is inherent in this project have set the foundation for input and ownership in the outcome and usability of the Trust.  By democratizing the ability to start and grow a food business in Ogden, we hope to see a wider and more equitable participation in the businesses that emerge from it.

Technology: Technology is a democratizing force at the Ogden Food Trust. Opensource is the overarching philosophy of the trust. Tactically, data and information are used to make better decisions, reduce waste, and increase resiliency throughout the food system. In contrast to a vertically integrated corporation, the trust looks to reduce consumer costs and stabilize producer and processor revenues while maintaining diverse inputs.

Policy: The Ogden Food Trust circumvents the supply-side national subsidy paradigm in a replicable way. It provides a private funding mechanism that applies subsidy directly to healthy meals at the level of consumption.  It invites other cities to consider ensuring access to quality food as one of the central tenants of their charter.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

In 2050 Ogden will be a Food First city marked by its universal access to local, nutrient dense, and affordable food. This regionally significant hub reinvents how local systems interact via its expansive cooperative culture and technological framework. A city that started with the creation of a Food Trust. Committed to the production and perpetual access to food. 3 foundational values that guide this city.

  • Quality. This means that the food produced is grown and cared for with a nutrient rich end product in mind. Food is sourced locally, seasonally, and from trusted sources. The Ogden Food Trust funds and optimizes fresh, and shifts the traditional middle-man’s revenue share to local farmers, producers, and consumers.
  • Culturally inclusive. Food has a unique ability to connect across culture and class. It’s often the first thing we visit when in a new place and the last thing we remember. But the widening capital gap between cultures and people threatens to homogenize this powerful connector. By removing financial barriers to creating and consuming great food, the Food Trust ensures that the diverse and delicious food can grow in step.
  • Accessible. Ogden is economically diverse and we plan to keep it that way. The Food Trust is committed to providing subsidy to the end user so that all Ogdenites can eat the highest quality food our region can produce. Strategic and growing non-food profit centers within the Trust subsidize the food system while also providing foot traffic. More importantly, Ogdenites access and interact with the food system at every stage, in perpetuity. 


Ogden is a place where consumer and farmer are no longer separated. Where food jobs are not just about serving or picking food, but creating businesses and sharing histories. A system where jobs cross into soil and technology fields at the same time. Food becomes the resource for health but also the economy. Ogden is a place where people can make a living from, and live on, truly great meals.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

If a group was willing to donate buildings and acres of land, how could it be designed to change a community’s relationship with food? Could you use the presence, and profits, of non-food land uses tenants to stabilize and subsidize a food ecosystem? Could it provide community assets that fundamentally changed how the community ate? Could it provide, consumers, employees, and entrepreneurs equal access every stage of food production, seed to sale? Could it help a changing city celebrate culture and difference rather than fear it?  

These were the foundational questions that spurred the idea of an Ogden Food Trust.

Ogden’s Community Rooted Food Revival 

Over the last few years through a wide variety of stakeholder input, this team has put together a bold vision to not only respond to its greatest food challenges, but to change the system that has created those limits in the first place. This dream requires the best of Ogdenites: the grit, commitment, and love of community. As such, our team includes people who are from Ogden. Local restaurant owners and residents, as well as large stakeholders such as Weber State University, Intermountain Healthcare, and Ogden City and Council. This provides an intersection of diverse backgrounds and influences that can help shift food systems to better work for everyone.

In our Ogden, everyone has the opportunity to know where their food comes from. Understanding the role of farmers, brokers, and grocers in making food accessible. Beyond understanding, Ogdenites have access to the system itself, with start-up space for producers, processors, and restaurateurs, growers, and retailers. The Trust is a community-based tool that thrives on the input, ownership, and needs of the community. The conversation has shifted from one that feels reactionary to one that is deliberate and generational. There are few things more foundational to the health and well-being of a community than how it eats.

The Food Trust 

The Food Trust is a separate nonprofit entity, established first by Giv’s own land and building donations, and furthered by the contribution of surrounding parcels as it grows. The trust is a single-purpose, mission driven entity that is permanently committed to food and uses its ownership of the land and assets to the end. It is guided by 3 values:

1.  to continually seek and nurture the creation of the highest quality food within Ogden. Making ‘from scratch’ cooking the new normal.

2. to promote an ecosystem that supports the local production of crops and products.

3.  to make the highest quality food accessible to everyone.

To live our values, we have to start with the largest barriers to Ogdenites eating and connecting over great food: cost and convenience. A key component of the Trust is the creation of culturally relevant ready to cook and eat foods. The Food Trust will reimagine the fast-fresh and ready-to-cook models such as Blue Apron into transportation and package-light variants that are affordable for everyone.  These products are produced and sold onsite with the Food Trust making up the difference between what it takes to produce top quality, from scratch food and the price at which it becomes affordable enough for all Ogdenites to enjoy it.

More tangibly, the Ogden Food Trust is a public asset. People are what make public assets tick. People will grow, transport, process, prepare and serve food. People will also manage, utilize, educate, and communicate behind the scenes. Finally, people will consume, share, and connect with the products that so many people before them helped to bring to market.

All of these interactions create a wealth of data. Trends can help farmers plan crops better. Surveys can bring new, or heritage, products to market. Processors and restaurants can adapt to seasonal winners or losers. Consumers glean the benefits. Beyond the spreadsheets, the people of Ogden have access to their own vertically integrated food system. Entrepreneurs can enter the value chain more readily. Workers can move up the value chain, making the most of automation and technology. Most importantly, the value created by the Ogden Food Trust is a public good that flows directly back into the community.

The Systems Approach

The Food Trust will be a regionally significant and opensource food ecosystem. Centering it on a large block provides enough space for vertical systems integration and cooperative partnerships. It’s designed to link the environment, diet, economy, culture, technology, and policy in organic and replicable ways:

  • It naturally reduces the distance food travels by combining where food gets grown and produced with where it is bought and consumed.
  • It’s piloting of several indoor growing techniques broadens Ogden’s growing season and gives regular visual connection to consumers of where their food comes from.
  • In addition to lower monthly food bills, the Ogden Food Trust democratizes the broader supply chain, increasing efficiencies and passing these savings back to producers and consumers.
  • In turn, this strengthens Ogden’s culture, along with its foodshed. Ogden can produce, sell, and celebrate their dishes. Ogdenites have ownership in their foodshed, a significant shift from the commodified standard American diet.
  • We imagine a world in which technology can anticipate demand, improving seasonal planning, and the capacity to react to bumper crops. Utilizing technology and having the system micro-localized will also create a talent pipeline for job creation and training. Governance is also a technology, an operating system for space, networks, checks, and balances that ensure the Food Trust is representative, equitable, and remains a public asset.
  • Policy reflects these outcomes. An efficient local food system doesn’t depend on commodity or petrochemical subsidies long transportation chains, or heavy packaging loads. Instead of optimizing for large national producers, the Food Trust connects growers, processors, and consumers to an actual economy. Strategic profit centers fund public assets and supplement foot traffic. Locally, policymakers have new tools in addressing environment, diet, economy, culture, and technology.


Creating the Trust is key but inside the hub is where the magic of nourishing and igniting the community comes together. This is the epicenter of environmental activism and entrepreneurship. Here is the outlet of everything food, including: a packaging center, storage, production facility, public commissary, grade food hall, incubator program and local grocery store. In this space, we mobilize the community to compost, restaurants to buy local, food brokers to curate seed supply, and consumers to eat the best food in the country. This is not a series of closed warehouses that end in a grocery aisle but a visible and alive representation of sustainable growth, harvest, and consumption. Here you get a salad that was picked that day, with a sandwich of local meats and cheeses, or a curry from this fall’s farmers markets. All available at an income guided price. That has become normal for Ogden.

The Challenges

The Ogden Food Trust is ambitious, and there is no shortage of challenges. We are confident in both our people and our place. We are a group of developers, health and food experts, business owners, and city stakeholders. We think about the community holistically. Once built, The Food Trust is designed to be self-sustaining independently of its food operations.  By 2050 there will be enough money invested to demonstrate how a one-time subsidy into the end-user can shift an entire market demand from an import-dependent to locally driven food economy.  However, like most grant seekers, we are here for financial and conceptual support. Giv is willing to donate millions to the effort, but this gift will be insufficient for the scale of vision.  The interconnected nature project also makes phasing its development less than ideal. As such, we anticipate launching a capital campaign in 2020 to return this beautiful and historic campus back to public use.  Any economic support would be deeply appreciated, but the endorsement of a group as respected as the Rockefeller Foundation could have truly outsized impacts on this dream.

Transforming the Future of Food

Food is the great connector of people and Ogden was built to connect. Its urban form was initially designed with massive city blocks that each had internal farms for the surrounding residents to use. The Food Trust looks to revive and combine these historic elements and help permanently establish an intentional and inclusive food community. We appreciate your consideration of our little city’s vision for 2050 and beyond.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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