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Old 12-03-2008, 10:01 AM
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Default LDS Church welfare farms increase production to help fill growing need

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Times are tough. High food prices have taken a toll on many families’ finances. But at least one farm and one ranch in Tooele County are doing their part to provide food to those who need it.

The ranch, in Vernon, and farm, in Erda, are part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ welfare system, which includes canneries, farms, and factories. The system is designed to care for the needy while enabling them to become self-reliant.

According to church officials, because of the downturn in the economy, demand on the church’s welfare system has significantly increased. Both operations in Tooele County have increased their yield and production levels to keep up with the demand.

Brent Chugg, manager of production for the LDS Church Welfare Services, said the Vernon ranch raises beef while the Erda farm grows corn for livestock and wheat for storage.

The ranch, called Vernon Utah Livestock, which began in the 1950s, currently consists of about 700 head of mother cows, according to Scott Livingston, manager of the operation. The operation was a dairy for a couple of years, but went back to being a cow-calf operation.

“The way it works is the calves don’t leave the church system,” he said. “We ship the calves to a church feed lot, then to church meat-packing plant, then to the poor. Everything we do is with volunteers.”

The LDS Church Welfare Services is a vast network stretching across the globe. According to data from the church, that network includes 138 storehouses, 55 production projects, 24 processing facilities, and 37 storage and distribution facilities. In 2007, the system produced 88 million pounds of wheat and dry beans; 34 million pounds of row crops (vegetables); 27,000 tons of animal feed; 5 million pounds of fruit; 4,100 head of cattle; 1.3 million pounds of turkey; and 81 million pounds of raw milk.

The entire network runs on the donated labor of volunteers. The system is also supported by fast offerings, which are donations from Church members who fast two meals a month and donate the money they would’ve spent on those meals.

When Livingston needs help at the ranch, he calls a woman in Tooele whose calling in the Tooele South Stake is to find volunteers. He said volunteers don’t have to be members of the church and don’t necessarily have to have expertise in ranching operations.

For example, last Friday he needed people to help check cows to see if they were pregnant. Sixteen volunteers came out, including from the Tooele Valley area and other parts of the state.

The all-volunteer operation helps keep operating costs, and thus prices, down, according to Livingston.

Only he and an assistant manager are paid.

Livingston said production on the ranch within the past year has increased dramatically.

“This year it jumped very large numbers just because the need is out there right now,” he said. “They’re wanting more and more now just wanting to fill the gaps.”

The LDS Church has two other welfare ranches in the country like the one in Vernon — one in Nephi and another in Ely, Nev.

The feed lot where the cattle are sent is located in Elberta, in Utah County. It is here where the calves are fattened until they reach about 1,800 pounds. Then they go to a church meat-packing plant in Spanish Fork. From there, the meat goes to Welfare Square — a facility in Salt Lake City that includes a milk-processing plant, cannery, a bishops’ storehouse, thrift store, employment center and silos where wheat and other grains are stored.

Products can then be transported on trucks to wherever they are needed, including other bishop’s storehouses. There are 138 bishops’ storehouses around the world.

According to Cody Craynor, spokesman for the LDS Church, the services provided at the bishops’ storehouses are made available by bishop referral, which can include members as well as non-members.

Various products can be shipped all over the world for humanitarian efforts, including disaster relief. From 1985 to 2007, the church gave aid in 185 major disaster assistance efforts, according to church records.

The Erda Utah Crops project, run by manager Jason Heward, operates in much the same way as the Vernon ranch.

There are a total of more than 1,000 acres on three parcels of land in Erda where corn and wheat are planted — roughly a 50-50 split. The parcels are on Sheep Lane, Erda Way and off SR-36. Heward said the Erda project has been operational since the 1950s. At one time, there was also a dairy. The crops grown used to be hay and wheat, but about three years ago the hay crop was switched to corn.

The corn goes to Elberta for the feed lot and dairy there. The wheat, which is stored in granaries, can be distributed to where there is need.

Heward said yields in recent years have gone up as demand has gone up.

With just three paid employees — Heward, an assistant manager and an office manager — the work of volunteers is imperative to the success of the operation.

The Stansbury Park Utah South Stake has a stake coordinator and ward coordinator who Heward can contact when he needs volunteers. In addition, Heward said there is no restriction on who can help, including non-members. Volunteers run tractors, mow stubble, weed whack, fix fence, repair things, paint, and conduct various maintenance on the farm.

He said volunteers put in between 3,000 to 5,000 hours each year at the farm. The help of volunteers is especially needed at harvest time.

Other church farms in Utah are in Fielding, Corrine, Layton, West Point, Nephi, Saratoga and Riverton.

Heward said the farms are crucial during tough times.

“It’s nice to know people can get help when they need it,” he said. “That’s why I like this job.”
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Old 12-03-2008, 01:53 PM
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