When the state needed someone to help lead the annual Utah State Fair, the selection of Lorin Moench Jr. should have been a no-brainer. Who better to lead agriculture's big showcase?
Along with his 87-year-old father, Lorin Sr., he owns and operates a 45,000-acre ranch. Not only has Moench resisted the easy money from land developers so he could hang on to his family's Thousand Peaks Ranch, he has found creative ways to survive by melding seemingly disparate enterprises.
He runs both cattle and sheep on his ranch once thought to be the livestock equivalent of putting BYU and University of Utah fans
in the same room. He runs a working ranch, but he also uses his land for a recreation business fishing, hunting, backcountry skiing and as a backdrop for movies and TV shows.
"We do these other things so we can survive," he said. "Ranchers nowadays need to think outside of the box or the corral. There are other ways to generate income."
The Moench (Mawnch) family's ranch stretches from the Smith-Morehouse area of Utah north to Wyoming. Moench's grandfather started the ranch about 90 years ago, and then his father took over the operation. Now Moench Jr. serves as vice president of the ranch, which includes the lease of 700,000 acres in the west desert country for winter range. Together the Moenches manage 10,000 sheep and 1,000 cattle.
"We could sell the land, and retire happily ever after and never have a financial worry," said Moench "But we won't. We want to keep it this way."
How tough is this business? He requires 62 truck loads to move his livestock 250 miles to winter range. It used to cost $700 per load; now it's $1,200 per load. It was simpler but more time-consuming for his grandfather, who trailed the sheep 250 miles down Emigration Canyon and 2700 South to the desert.
"You have to have a passion for this to do it," said Moench.
Moench is among the last of a dying breed of private ranchers, most of whom have been bought out by corporations or squeezed out by market conditions. The country is filled with displaced ranchers and farmers who are forced to do other things to make a living. According to Moench, there were 2 million sheep in Utah a generation ago, and now there are 200,000.
"It's a tough business," he said. "This is another generation removed from ranching. They think food comes from Smith's or Albertsons. The only way to get into this business now is to inherit it through your family. Land is too expensive."
Moench believes the state fair is a vehicle to help younger generations reconnect with agriculture. In 2001, Moench was appointed by then-Gov. Mike Leavitt to serve on the Utah State Fair board of directors. A year later he was appointed chairman.
"That first year was tough; it was right after 9/11, and nobody wanted to come to the fair," said Moench. The fair has grown ever since from 277,162 patrons in 2003 to 314,565 last year, but Moench isn't satisfied.
"We're trying to make the fair friendly to the Wasatch Front," he says. "People on the east side don't like to go to the west side. They're scared. They think there are gangs. There are a lot of stereotypes. We try to let them know it's safe. We have private security, plus police and highway patrol."
The fair, which starts today and runs through Sept. 14, is largely known as a gathering place for farmers and ranchers to show and sell the best of their work, such as prize livestock and produce. But Moench makes a point of emphasizing that the fair is more than that.
"For me, it's people in the state showing the things they've created," he said. "Photography, painting, crafts, agriculture, entertainment, quilting, sewing the different aspects of Utah's culture. Most view the fair as something that country folks do. Yes, it is agriculture-oriented, but there's something for everyone. People are amazed by the quality of the work that goes into the crafts and arts."
Early Utahns shared his vision of the fair. In the first fair, held in 1856, Brigham Young entered celery and a prize horse. Perhaps not surprisingly, both entries won awards best celery and best stallion.
If nothing else, the fair is a reminder that agriculture and a way of living have not completely faded from our country, although some might not believe it. This was brought home to Moench one day several years ago when one of his children was asked by his teacher what his father did for a living. When he answered that he was a sheepherder, the teacher refused to believe him.
What: Utah State Fair
Where: Utah State Fairpark, 155 N. 1000 West
When: Today through Sept. 14, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
How much: $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and children 6-12, children under 5 free. Opening day admission $2, compliments of Thermwise
Today's events: Samantha Speredon, musical theater, 11 a.m.; Katie McMinn, pop/alternative music, noon;
Josh Eversten and Quickdraw, high octane country, 12:30 p.m.; Harold Newman, variety music, 1:30 p.m.; Short Bus, classic rock, 3 p.m.; Brushfire, bluegrass/Celtic folk, 4:30 p.m.; Rick Ryan, country and rock, 6 p.m.; Clint Lewis, variety music, 7:30 p.m.; Upsidedown, heartland music, 9 p.m.
E-mail: [email protected]