Launched by the Utah Farm Bureau Federation in early May, Farmers Feeding Utah has the two-fold goal of helping sustain farmers and ranchers impacted by COVID-19 and providing food and donations to Utah families in need. The first project identified by the Utah Farm Bureau and its partners was distributing Utah lamb and other essential goods to several Utah chapters of the Navajo nation in the southeastern part of the state.
Over the past week, the Utah Farm Bureau delivered 600 live sheep, about 16,000 pounds of frozen lamb and 10,000 pounds of Utah flour.
“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. These ranchers have had their market for lamb reduced significantly with restaurants operating at limited capacity,” said Ron Gibson, president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation.
The Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation in the country, has seen higher death rates from COVID-19 than most other states in the country. Many live in areas considered food deserts. For some communities, unemployment rates are 100% or close to it, as many depend on recreation to fuel their economies.
Navajos believe in Dibé bei Iiná (loosely translated to mean “Sheep is Life”). They value the life of a sheep because of the food they provide, the products they provide for rug weaving and for cultural ceremonies.
Farmers Feeding Utah was launched in partnership with Utah State University’s Hunger Solutions Institute, other hunger relief organizations and the Utah Department of Agriculture & Food.
“As a state, we really need to step up to make sure our local food production stays intact. Once we lose a farm, it’s gone forever. The time is now to step up and keep farmers and ranchers producing local food,” Gibson said. “It has been an amazing experience to participate in this first project. The expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving from the Navajo members of our state has been unbelievable. At the same time, many of our sheep ranchers have benefited and this has helped to give them a hand-up at a time of need.”
The campaign includes a crowdfunding component through which individuals, organizations and private companies can donate funds via FarmersFeedingUtah.org. Every penny of the donations will go to purchasing, processing and distributing locally sourced food from Utah’s farmers and ranchers to families in need. So far, people have donated about $200,000.
The Utah Farm Bureau envisions the campaign continuing for the long-term, and perhaps indefinitely, as a way to serve those in need in the state. The organization has identified several projects for the coming months. It most recently identified food pantries in several northern Utah communities as needing help, and announced a new campaign goal of $150,000.
“We’re encouraging all Utahans to help grow a miracle by donating to the Farmers Feeding Utah campaign, so we can keep our state’s farm and ranch families producing the local food we all need, and also feed the growing number of families in need,” Gibson said.
Those interested in contributing can do so by visiting https://farmersfeedingutah.org/.