Young's Farm Closes

Dewey-Humboldt – There's not much time to talk turkey the week before Thanksgiving.

FOURNIER: How you doin'?

Buzz Fournier, otherwise known as Farmer Buzz, is busy handing out birds to eager customers. And the line is getting longer. Usually Buzz, a neighbor who's become part of the Young's Farm family, is taking people for wagon rides around the farm and teaching them about where their food comes from. But today he wears a turkey hat.

FOURNIER: Our role today is Mr. Turkey instead of Farmer Buzz to be the character to try to relax people on a very tense day

Things are a little extra emotional as people let go of this Thanksgiving tradition. Jackie Dennis waits in line for her turkey. She's on the verge of tears.

DENNIS: Oh I hate it. I really do. We've come up here for years and years to buy our turkeys so I'm gonna miss it.

Larry Feltman, who lives nearby, says he'll miss the farm too.

FELTMAN: It's sad. I mean it's been a mainstay and a lot of people have enjoyed it over the years. It's progress though. There's always developers and builders wanting to build something.

Elmer Young began farming this plot of land in Yavapai County in 1946. His son and grandchildren worked the farm.

But in 1999 the state set up an incentive program to convert farmland in the area to developed land. The state argues a residential subdivision uses water more efficiently than a farm.

The family tried to buy the development rights and put a conservation easement on the property to preserve it as a farm forever. And they were able to secure a hefty USDA grant that would cover half the amount they needed. But coming up with the other half wasn't so easy.

Aaron Young is Elmer Young's grandson. He's the only one left on the farm. The rest of the family has moved to Oregon to start a cattle operation.

Young says many Arizonans love the farm but it wasn't enough.

YOUNG: I feel like it has impacted the community. It has impacted the state largely. However, I don't think it was enough to bring together everyone to preserve it. It's kind of an odd feeling to know the federal government is willing to grant you money to preserve yourself but the state passes. And that's disconcerting to me and a very loud, clear statement you need to think about moving on.

In the meantime the newly incorporated town of Dewey-Humboldt has been arguing over how to develop the property.

The town council rejected the developer's initial proposal because it called for a high density housing project - 500 homes and commercial buildings on a little more than 300 acres. Former Mayor Tom Hintze resigned over the decision.

HINTZE: I've got to look at what's best for this town. And if they could've ended up with a sewer system, a water system, a park where kids could have little league games, people could buy their groceries here, go banking here I thought it was a real good trade off.

Hintze says a small group called Citizens for a Rural Community influenced the council's decision. Garry Rogers is chairman of the group. Their mission is to keep Dewey-Humboldt a low-density rural enclave something he says the majority of the community supports. He says looking at projections for 2040

ROGERS: Phoenix and Prescott will unite and we hope to be another Paradise Valley in the midst of all that, where we have an exclusive neighborhood rather than an inclusive neighborhood.

Hintze calls Rogers' group selfish.

HINTZE: It seems to me they we're listening to a minority group of wealthier retired people and not thinking about all the people of the town I was tired of fightin em.

Monogram Companies, the Scottsdale developer that bought Young's Farm, is preparing another plan for how to develop the land. Roger Swenson is Dewey-Humboldt's town manager.

SWENSON: I've heard that we're going to have a strip city from Phoenix all the way to Prescott with Anthem and everything in place. I think Dewey-Humboldt it's a safe bet will maintain its rural flavor. How this community then defines Young's Farm and what it does develop into it is open for question will it be the new definition of what the town is? Probably not.

For another month, Young's Farm is still full of turkeys, not homes. Aaron Young shows me the last of the turkeys.

SFX: Gobbling turkeys.

Their snowy white feathers cover the ground. Young says these turkeys don't know it yet but they'll be sold mostly for Christmas dinner. They still have a few pounds to put on.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Dewey-Humboldt.

Fade out turkey SFX.