The recently launched “Farmers Feeding Utah” campaign will focus its efforts on delivering thousands of pounds of lamb to various chapters of the Navajo Nation in southeastern Utah while raising money for farmers and ranchers who have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Utah Farm Bureau Federation launched the campaign on May 7, which President Ron Gibson described as “a way to get money to farmers and ranchers for their product and get that product to people that are hungry throughout our state.”

“We know that farmers and ranchers aren’t the only people in this state or in this country that have been challenged by this virus and this terrible pandemic,” Gibson said during a press conference celebrating the launch of the campaign. “We know that families all across the state and all across the country are in need of help.”

The Navajo Nation, which is the largest geographic Native American reservation in the country and extends into Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, has been devastated by the pandemic.

There were 4,071 confirmed coronavirus cases and 142 deaths in the Navajo Nation as of Monday, according to the Navajo Department of Health. CNN reported on Monday that, based on the Navajo Nation’s 2010 census estimates, it surpassed New York and New Jersey as having the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in the United States.

In a news release, the Utah Farm Bureau Federation said the goal of the “Miracle Project” was to raise $100,000 in online donations by Wednesday and distribute lamb to different Navajo Nation chapters shortly after. Those chapters include the Navajo Mountain, Mexican Water, Aneth and Olijato chapters, all of which are located in San Juan County.

“We’ve been blown away by the initial response to the launch of this campaign and are looking forward to making this first delivery of food,” Gibson said in the Thursday news release. “Through this first project, we’re able to help a very deserving group of people that have been hit hard by the … (COVID-19) pandemic and help some Utah sheep ranchers at the same time.”

All agriculture industries in Utah and throughout the country have been impacted by the pandemic, but sheep ranchers have been especially affected.

According to an April 8 report from American Sheep Industry Association, “loss of meat sales from COVID-19 forced the industry’s second largest lamb processing company to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy” and “all other American lamb companies (have) report(ed) weakening sales to their food service customers” as a result of coronavirus-related food industry restrictions.

“The loss of the food service market due to the COVID-19 pandemic is devastating to the American lamb industry,” the report said.

Matt Jarvis, owner of the Jarvis Sheep Company in Palmyra, told the Daily Herald on May 9 that he believes the pandemic will “have a devastating impact” on his livelihood and ability to sell breeding stock rams.

The effort to deliver lambs to the Navajo Nation is part of a partnership with the Utah Division of Emergency Management, Utah State University Hunger Solutions Institute, USU Extension-San Juan County and local food pantries, the news release said.

“We are aware of the various difficulties many are experiencing due to this pandemic and realize that an effective pandemic response requires the whole community to pull together,” Anna Boynton, state tribal liaison for the Utah Division of Emergency Management, said in the news release.

Hundreds of people have made donations ranging from $10 to $1,000 to the Farmers Feeding Utah campaign as of Tuesday, according to the campaign’s website.

Those interested in donating to the campaign can do so by visiting http://farmersfeedingutah.org. Farmers and ranchers can get involved by signing up at http://farmersfeedingutah.org/join-as-a-producer.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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