Over the past year Farmers Feeding Utah has raised around 2.5 million dollars to buy food to donate to the community. The project was started by the Utah Farm Bureau at the beginning of the pandemic to support both farmers in the state and Utahns in need of food. UPR's Kailey Foster took some time to speak with Ron Gibson, the president of the bureau, to discuss the projects first year.
Kailey Foster: Thank you so much for being with me Ron, can you give me an overview of Farmers Feeding Utah over this past year?
Ron Gibson: 2020 was a crazy year for those of us in agriculture. When the grocery store shelves were empty, farmers and ranchers were also throwing away the food they had grown. It brought a lot of complexities into our minds and in our hearts as we were trying to figure out what in the world is going on.
I think that anybody tied to agriculture had to take a step back and ask themselves, "what in the world is going on here? How did we get into the position that we're in?" We ended up finding some weaknesses in our food supply chain.
I was doing a lot of media interviews then, and people were saying, "farmers and ranchers are trying to raise the price of food; are they trying to take advantage of the public? Why in the world, when we can't buy food, are farmers ranchers throwing their food away?"
I did this radio interview and talked about how basically, we had a food direction problem. We had a food distribution problem, not a lack of food. I got off the phone that day, and like an hour later, a guy called me and said, "well, my wife and I listened to you on the radio, and we want to know what we can do to help farmers." Anyway, right before he hung up, I said, "if we could figure out a way that we could buy that product from farms and ranches, raised the money, buy the product from farms and ranches, and give that food to people that are in need. Maybe we could get there".
KF: You pointed out that you noticed early on in the pandemic there were different weaknesses in the supply chain, what were those weaknesses?
RG: We've let our whole supply chain become very corporate. There are only a few places to sell your milk, only a few places to sell your beef, and only two or three places to sell your lamb in the whole country.
This makes it difficult for a small family farm to come into the market because we've got all these corporate players. It's not necessarily a negative thing. It's just the way it is.
KF: What have you noticed the community response has been in all these projects?
RG: It's just been amazing. I think that we're all tired of the politics that are going around in the world.
Our project in Salt Lake was very diverse. We had about everybody from the city council in Salt Lake andsome of our urban legislators who are Democrats. We also had a bunch of our republican leadership there. It doesn't matter when you're giving food away to people that are in need. Nobody cares what party you belong to.
It's about the farmers that are helping feed people with food insecurity, and it's pretty hard to make that political.
KF: Looking towards the future, we're starting to see communities slowly pick themselves back up from the pandemic. Looking past all this pandemic stuff, do you see this project continuing?
RG: As we look back someday on what 2020 did for us, we're going to have all these battle scars that we'll remember. What I'm going to remember is that it brought to our attention that there are many people in our local communities that are food insecure. It's not only based on COVID.
As we've watched people come and go through the lines, we've been able to give them 10 or 15 pounds of hamburger, a bag of potatoes, a bag of onions, and some fresh fruit. In some of our projects, we've been able to give four or five gallons of milk. We bought their groceries for a week or two.
KF: Can you share one of your favorite memories from this project?
RG: The first project we did was the Navajo project. We delivered 600 live sheep down there to the Navajo Nation. The very last stop was right at the Navajo mountain.
We got up there, and we unloaded the trailer, and there was a bunch of people standing around the fence just looking at the animals that we delivered. They were so excited, and this little girl named Anna came walking out. She was in a queen costume, and she had a little crown on her head. She was the queen of that little community. She was about eight years old, and her mom had died just a couple of weeks earlier from COVID-19. It was such a neat opportunity to be able to be there and know that what you were doing that day meant something.
To learn more about Farmers Feeding Utah, visit farmersfeedingutah.org