By Brice Wallace
Utah’s farmers and ranchers are hoping the public can address what the lieutenant governor calls “this incredible paradox.”
Spencer Cox, himself a farmer, said the paradox involves Utah having “the same number of people eating the same number of meals every day, and yet the people producing that food are losing money, and we have people going hungry because they have food insecurity.”
With the twin goal of helping farmers and ranchers hit hard by the coronavirus and getting food to needy Utahns, the Utah Farm Bureau has launched “Farmers Feeding Utah,” a fundraising campaign allowing the public to donate to help sustain those affected farmers and supply families and food organizations with needed locally sourced food.
Interested individuals, organizations and private companies can donate funds via the campaign website, FarmersFeedingUtah.org. All donation funds will go to purchasing, processing and distributing food from Utah’s farmers and ranchers to families in need.
The campaign is a partnership among the farm bureau, Utah State University’s Hunger Solutions Institute, other hunger relief organizations and the Utah Department of Agriculture & Food.
Ron Gibson, president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers and ranchers started seeing the impacts from the coronavirus about two months ago.
“Immediately, agricultural markets started to take a dive,” he said at a news conference announcing the program at Bennett Farms, a 600-acre farm in Davis and south Weber counties. “Most of our agricultural markets are 30 to 50 percent down from where they were two or three months ago, and farmers and ranchers across the state and across our country are in a tough spot.”
The pandemic disrupted food supply chains. Food was unable to find markets and some retail stores implemented purchasing limits.
Cox said it was an example of taking farmers for granted “for far too long.”
“And it’s led us to a place where we are relying on supply chains that we thought were robust and it turns out, in a matter of just weeks, we realize are not as strong as we thought they were,” he said.
That coincided with the virus prompting layoffs and furloughs as businesses throughout Utah closed, leaving “an unprecedented number of people in need right now,” according to Heidi LeBlanc, director of the Hunger Solutions Institute. Food assistance programs throughout the state have been running out of food supplies, she added.
“With record-breaking numbers of families needing help during this unprecedented time, connecting them with our state’s agriculture families and the local food they produce just makes sense,” said Logan Wilde, commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. “We think this is a great way to keep our valuable industry going and reduce the gaps in our food supply chain.”
Gibson said the campaign is a way to “break through the barriers that we have in our supply chain and get the food that people desperately need through this program.” The campaign also will also help the state “come through this with a stronger-than-ever agricultural community and society in the state of Utah,” he said.