Many have heard of Jennie Taylor, and her late husband, Major Brent Taylor, who tragically was killed while serving in the Army National Guard and as Mayor of North Ogden. Jennie is a leader in our community and has been a speaker at many civic, military, and other events throughout our state, inspiring us to become our best selves. As a mother of seven children, Jennie often looks to her childhood and the power of family meals as invaluable. She took some time to visit with us about her family, the role that food played, and why it’s important for society.
Where were you born? I was born in Salt Lake City in 1979, and my parents lived in West Valley, until the first grade. My father struggled with mental health, and also with employment. My mother went to work for Union Pacific Railroad, and we later moved to Omaha, Nebraska with her job in the late 1980s. Lived there for three years, and moved back to Utah, in North Ogden after that.
I served in Santiago North mission in Chile for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which included serving on Easter Island. While studying at Brigham Young University, I student taught at Spanish Fork Junior High, and then was later hired on a Spanish Fork High School, teaching history, government, and psychology.
Tell me about your family. Do you have siblings? Where do you fit in the birth order, and what was childhood like?
I grew up with two older brothers and a younger sister. We kind of grew up like two separate families. My Dad died in 1990, and I was about 10. It was quite a traumatic experience, and kind of caused my brothers to go a different path than my sister and me.
It was food that was the one thing that would bring us together. There were very different interests and life choices between my brothers and my sister and me. But when I was in college, my mom would gather us together every Monday night at a restaurant. Without those Monday night dinners, I would not have known my brothers because I didn’t intersect life with them much. Food brought us together.
We continued this for many years, even being newly married. Even now, my mom will gather everyone together every other Sunday night for a family dinner. Now as a larger family, we continue to have different lifestyles and life choices, but we still get together for those Sunday dinners. It kind of feels like Thanksgiving Dinner twice a month.
Did you grow up on a farm or have a family garden? We didn’t really have a garden. My mom was a single working mother, and there wasn’t much money or time to go around. We kind of grew up on Hamburger Helper and TV dinners, because it was cheap and easy. My husband’s (Brent) family always had a garden, with beautiful flowers and vegetables.
You’ve said your husband wanted to have a hobby farm, can you tell us more about that? My husband didn’t realize that he loved growing food until we had our first couple of kids. He had deployed twice to Iraq in 2007 & 2008, and when he came home, we bought a tiny house on less than a fifth of an acre, and that’s when he started gardening. He planted roses, tomatoes, raspberry bushes, and then a couple of fruit trees and it started taking over our teeny yard. That’s what led to us buying what Brent called our “mini-farm”. Brent wanted more land, but he had been elected Mayor of North Ogden, and so we needed to stay within the city limits. There just weren’t many large parcels of land available. But then we stumbled upon this property, which was 1.5 acres inside of a ¼ acre lot neighborhood. He never called himself a gardener, but a farmer.
We planted hundreds of tomato plants, corn, 92 chickens (that’s the number that was allowed in the city!), rabbits, and 41 fruit trees. He really got started in it when he got elected to office. It was his way of relaxing and unwinding. Some people might come home and turn on ESPN, but Brent would come home, change his clothes, and get out in the garden.
The late Major Brent Taylor (right) and his children on their "mini farm" in North Ogden
Did you have favorite things to do as a child? Or things that weren't your favorite? I really liked school, but I was not coordinated enough to do sports. I liked to sing and do school plays.
What type of student were you while growing up? I was kind of a nerd, being a straight-A student growing up. In college, I took a lot of harder classes.
Please describe some of the things you’re working on with the Major Brent Taylor Foundation? We work to remember [Brent] carry on some of the things that were important to him. One of the big things was service in the community and education. We put a lot of our efforts into scholarships, as well as leadership training. We try to encourage people to find what their place is in their community or our country and inspire them to be better. Brent wanted to have an impact in his community, and so we’re trying to inspire others in that way. We’ve offered scholarships at BYU, the University of Utah, and Weber State University. We are also looking to give scholarships to those who are involved in city government or city employment to receive training in city management, as well as to refugee populations.
I imagine you’ve traveled to many other cities during military service, or for school or other matters, are there things you liked to eat that reminded you of home? One of the biggest things we missed abroad was American milk. He missed nice cold milk in the fridge. Just a basic thing – American milk. One of the things he would often write home about was food.
Do you have a favorite food?
I love bread, cinnamon rolls, and soft pretzels. For me, whether when it was when I was living abroad while serving a mission on Easter Island and Chile, was peanut butter or American cereal, which always tasted like home. But one of the things I loved in Chile and while living in Europe was the bread. I love carbs. So, their artisan bread was great.
While home, after having babies, my mom would always make comfort foods – like chicken noodle soup, homemade mac & cheese, chicken with broccoli. It just tastes like home. When traveling abroad, the food is never quite the same as home. So, tasting something familiar often makes you think of home. I love chicken and rice meals. I also love a really good salad, with all kinds of add-ins inside.
Is there a restaurant in Utah you like to go to?
I love Maddox Steakhouse in Perry, for their chef salad and rolls. I also love Bella’s Mexican restaurant in Farr West, and Brent and I liked to go to Boccia’s Italian restaurant in Ogden, which however is now closed. We would also go to a restaurant called Magleby’s Fresh, and we would get a bunch of napkins and plan out our future.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? And why?
We were pretty simple eaters and would often use a coupon for a burger and fries. But oddly enough, when Brent was overseas with the military, he would often sit down and eat with the Afghans and the Iraqis – especially during his last deployment with Afghan leadership – and he would send home these pictures of these giant colorful dishes with rice and lamb. I would laugh and tell him I was so impressed. He knew how important it was for their culture, to eat and respect what they offered him, but he wouldn’t eat like that when he was home.
Have you visited a farm/ranch or farmers market in Utah before?
We would sometimes go to farmers markets, or down to the [Rowley’s] Red Barn in Santaquin. Once we were gardening, we didn’t go too much to markets anymore because we grew it. Getting the food fresh is the best.
Do you like to cook? If yes, what is your go-to meal/dish/recipe? Lots of dishes with rice as a base, then chicken and lots of toppings. And again, I love carbs! I like to make rolls and cinnamon rolls. I’m not a gourmet cook at all, but I do appreciate good food.
If you don’t want to cook anything fancy or elaborate, what is the basic comfort food you like to eat (no shame!)? I love a good bowl of Apple Jack’s cereal.
Why do you think eating meals as a family can be a strengthening/uniting thing for a family?
I think it’s an incredibly strengthening thing. I think it’s easy to see how families can weaken when family meals don’t happen. In life, things can be going a million miles an hour, and when you can take a few minutes and be in the same space. Whether the food is a home-grown meal or a pizza, you’re spending time together. Things have seemed to spiral out of control in 2021, and we’re setting down together less often. But we’re trying to sit down together as a family – even if it’s with a freezer meal.
Growing up, that’s really what shaped my family. It was those Sunday night dinners with family. We might argue over politics or vaccines or whatever it is, but at the end of the day, we spent time together. When I lived in Belgium, I loved that when the family gathered to eat at the end of the night, it would be around 8 p.m., but they would spend the rest of the night together. It wasn’t just hurry, eat and race to the next thing. They valued what they were doing. They might argue politics or philosophy or religion, or superficial things, but it’s the time spent together that is invaluable.