Kitchen tables from coast to coast will be fuller this Thanksgiving and every day thanks to an abundance of food provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The church has increased its efforts to provide food for those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters.
“We’ve been incredibly blessed this year with our harvest,” said Matthew Cox, manager of agricultural production and storage for the church’s Welfare and Self-Reliance Services Department.
In 2020, deliveries have been shipped to local food banks in Oregon and California following recent wildfires and to areas such as New York that were hit hard by the pandemic.
“We’re seeing a lot of distribution in the Western U.S. and Canada. We’re also doing a lot in the Eastern Seaboard states where the demand was just so high, and they got hit so hard with COVID-19,” said Rick Long, welfare manager for the North America Northeast Area.
“The Lord blessed us this year with bounteous crops, and as a result, we’re able to distribute these products where they’re most needed,” Long said.
In addition, production on the farms has been ramped up and the surplus food has been given to those in need.
“We’ve seen an increase of what we’re trying to accomplish on the farms,” said Cox. “We had plans of what we were going to do, and when the pandemic arrived we had to adjust all of our assignments … both to cover the additional storehouse needs, but also in our efforts to do what we can to help others outside of the church.”
Where there is not a bishops’ storehouse, Long said local bishops are authorized to use fast offering funds at grocery stores to purchase goods and services for those who need assistance.
Harvesting the crops
The church has canneries in Utah and Idaho to process fruit and vegetables grown on church-owned farms. Crops include green beans, sweet corn, peaches, pears and apples. In southeastern Idaho, church farmers grow wheat, sugar beets and potatoes. Grapes are dried to make raisins in California. Peanuts are made into peanut butter at a church-owned cannery in Houston, Texas.
“Our corn harvest is having some great yields,” said Cox during the harvest in mid-August. The crop was processed at the Murray Cannery, which will be consolidated with the cannery in Harrisville at the beginning of the year.
John K. Green has managed the church’s crops in Layton, Syracuse and West Point, Utah, for the past 40 years.
“This is the only farm that the welfare system has that grows the corn and the beans, so sometimes the weight of that’s on us to produce a crop,” said Green, who has two other managers and other staff on his team.
“We’re just out doing what a regular farm does, nothing special. But my office is a pickup because we are always chasing from field to field,” he said.
“This year we had a bean crop that the yield was so tremendous. I grew up raising beans … and there’s no explanation for the reason these beans yielded so much,” Green reported.
Long said the green beans that were canned in July are already being shipped across the country.
“We grow wheat, potatoes, alfalfa and canola,” Nielson said. “A lot of the wheat makes it into the bishops’ storehouses and to the Deseret Mill. … The canola is simply a rotation crop, as well as the alfalfa that gets sold to local growers.”
Nielson said the church grew potatoes on about 300 acres of land in Idaho Falls this year.
Church workers and service missionaries harvested the hard red spring wheat crop on about 2,500 acres at the end of August with state-of-the-art combines and other equipment.
“This is just a good average year,” said Nielson. “We’re really happy with the yield that we’ve got coming off the field, and we’re happy with the quality of the wheat that’s coming off. It has been a good year.
“Because we’re under irrigation, I think we just grow a really good quality wheat,” he said.
Once harvested, the wheat is stored in silos in Idaho until it is shipped to the Deseret Mill and Pasta Plant in Kaysville, north of Salt Lake City. Some of the wheat is ground into flour to make bread.
Volunteers showed up at the church’s peach orchard in Pleasant View in northern Utah in late August to harvest the peaches.
“This is a pretty good harvest. It’s not our best harvest by any measure. But, you know, we’re just grateful that we have a harvest,” said Bruce Liston, who has managed the church’s peach orchard for the past 14 years.
Liston explained that many of the peach crops in the nearby communities of Brigham City, Perry and Willard were frozen this year.
“I hope to get around 500,000 pounds (of peaches) this year. Some years we get up to 800,000-plus pounds,” said Liston. “We cannot produce enough for the canneries this year. We wish we could, but it’s just going to take everything we’ve got, and the need is huge this year.”
Church farmers are already planning their crops for next year.
“With our efforts to do what we can to not only take care of the church’s needs but help others, and both that and replenishing some of our inventories that we’ve drawn down a little bit over the pandemic, we think that the demand for our products will be up in the next year,” Cox projected.
Cox added that the church anticipates keeping this elevated pace at least to a certain degree into the coming years.