As part of this month’s county Farm Bureau presidents’ trip to Utah, leaders from across Iowa had the chance to give back to the communities they visited by helping to distribute food to those in need.

The group visited two charities, one managed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and the other overseen by Utah Farm Bureau, each with the mission of distributing food grown by members to those who need it most.

“We have food pantries back home, but not to this scale,” noted Adams County President Blake Anderson. “I think there are ideas here I can bring home; opportunities to partner with our local food pantries.”

One of the first tours county Farm Bureau presidents experienced was to Welfare Square, a grouping of processing facilities, offices and public-facing businesses all run by the LDS church.

One of the main charity programs at Welfare Square is a food pantry set up like a grocery store, where community members can collect food and hygiene items for free.

Many of the products available in the store are manufactured by church-owned facilities. Similarly, the raw materials for the food come from church-owned farms that raise grains, fruits, vegetables, meats and milk. These raw materials are processed into everything from ground beef and cheddar cheese to spaghetti noodles and breakfast cereals.

Anderson, who is an agriculture teacher, said he often talks with his students about the value of vertically integrated systems — where multiple aspects of the growing and manufacturing process all occur through a single business entity — as a part of running a smart farming operation. He was impressed with the system set up by the LDS church.

‘Awesome’ experience
After the store, county presidents were invited to tour the organization’s warehouse and help pack boxes with shelf-stable food supplies to be shipped to areas in the U.S. experiencing natural disasters.

“It was really an awesome experience seeing what the LDS church is doing here,” said Tama County Farm Bureau President Emily Doyle. “In Tama County, I focus on promoting Ag in the Classroom programs. I would love to start including service projects like this as part of that curriculum.”

The second volunteer opportunity came near the end of the trip, when members toured the Miracle of Agriculture Foundation distribution facility.

This program was set up by Utah Farm Bureau at the start of the 2020 pandemic.

When businesses and industries shut down that year, many farmers were left with animals and produce they couldn’t get to market. Farm Bureau worked with farmers and other charities in Salt Lake City to buy and process these raw materials, then give them to those who needed help.

County presidents from Iowa worked the distribution line. Cars lined up, and the volunteers loaded food into trunks.

“We were able to service about 275 cars,” said Decatur County Farm Bureau President Deanna Brennecke. “I was at the eggs and cheese station. That went pretty quick. Towards the end, all we had to give away were bags of potatoes. But everyone seemed very grateful.

“I was very impressed with the variety of food offered. Seemed like a very well-balanced food mixture. There are a lot of people in need; many have only recently come to the U.S. and are just getting established. And this just seems like a really well-organized way to help them.”

Adair County Farm Bureau President Beth Baudler said while distributing food, she had the chance to talk with a refugee advocate and teacher who works with recent immigrants on how to use the food they have access to in the U.S. and how to maintain a healthy diet with what’s available.

“I can’t imagine going to another country and not recognizing the food or not knowing what the nutritional label says,” Baudler said. “I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from. There are a lot of people who came through the line who worry about that every day. It was a very powerful experience.”