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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
LDS Church farmer Dave Baldauf taught his wife, Amy, to drive a tractor on their first date.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — If ever the Lord had reason for making folks so different, Dave Baldauf might be it.

Living among polished professionals and their modern gadgets, Baldauf prefers to work in the dirt.

The thought of soil forces many to yawn, others to grimace. But when the 43-year-old farmer looks out over acres of the stuff, it makes him squint a bit. Not out of displeasure — rather, his eyes narrow as he's calculating his next move — or fighting the sun's glare. It's one or the other, all day long.

While those scorching rays have left his face red and weathered, Baldauf appears built for the toughest of farm duties. He's tall, as thick as a sequoia and as gritty as the no-nonsense cowboys hailed in old-time Marty Robbins ballads.

Baldauf is one of two full-time farmers who raise wheat, corn and alfalfa on the western shore of Utah Lake at Saratoga Crops, part of the welfare arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"It's a vital aspect for the church," he said, pausing while standing in an alfalfa field to shift his weight to one side and tuck his thumbs in his Wranglers. "We're providing for those in need. That's really what this is all about."

But he didn't pause for long, not even for a scheduled interview. The abnormality of anything idling — be it bodies or engines — during his workday makes him anxious. In one hour, he had driven three different machines and worked in two fields.

"He's always thinking of how to work more efficiently," said Amy Baldauf, his bride of three weeks. "He believes in this place. And if there's work to be done, he's doing it."

When work wasn't complete one evening eight months ago, the couple — who had met at a church activity — spent their first date in a John Deere tractor cab.

"That's when I knew it," she said. "This is the guy. With other guys, it's just dinner and movie."

Since that night, Amy Baldauf's been no stranger to an upside-down, five-gallon bucket. She pulls one up and sits next to her husband quite often while he's out wrangling the duty of any given moment, which when the Deseret News arrived was a rogue rake wheel.

While his scarred hands battled the wheel's mechanical bowels back into place, a fresh wound appeared and bled. He wiped — and worked on.

Dave Baldauf and his manager are charged with cultivating nearly 3,000 acres for the LDS Church. The corn and the hay help feed 5,000 cows at Westlake Farm, the church's dairy farm a few miles beyond Utah Lake's southern shores in Elberta.

Meanwhile, Saratoga Crops' wheat is sent directly to the Bishops' Storehouse. The wheat, along with the truckloads of dairy products Westlake Farm produces each day, are among the myriad commodities distributed by the LDS Church as part of its worldwide welfare program. Commodities are given to families in need, without charge.

"It's not a flashy job," Amy Baldauf said about Dave's responsibility. "But he takes it serious."

It appears the self-described "country boy" has been preparing all his life for his humble but noble calling in the dirt.

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As soon as he was old enough to hoe a row on his family's farm in New York, he was experimenting in Mother Nature's dirty laboratory. And when it came time for college, instead of escaping the demanding farm life of his childhood with a possible white-collar professional career, he instead set his sights on it. He attended Utah State University agriculture courses, then left for Russia, where he taught others modern tricks to the ancient trade.

Every season he has weathered, every field he has watered and every plow he has mended for 14 years has been part of Dave Baldauf's modest but fundamental personal quest to keep the base of the food chain fueled so the poor may eat.

"We feed the cows so they can feed the needy," he said.

E-mail: jhancock@desnews.com