LOGAN – Heidi LeBlanc, director of the Utah State University Hunger Solutions Institute and USU Extension’s Create Better Health program, is in her element working with Farmers Feeding Utah and the families they are helping.
“This is amazing! I have worked with the university for 22 years and working with Farmers Feeding Utah is the highlight of my career,” LaBlanc said. “We are working together on something that is helping people, both those in need and farmers. And the people have been so gracious and appreciative of what we are doing.”
In June, an army of volunteers from Farm Bureau, Utah State University and other organizations distributed bags and boxes of locally grown produce, meat, and eggs to residents effected by the pandemic and job loss in Cache Valley. Now the group is preparing to take the food event to help the people of West Salt Lake City and Magna where the largest concentration of unemployed people in the Utah currently reside.
“Our role is to help find people to help put on the events, and get the people in need to show up,” LeBlanc said. “Farm Bureau works on the farmer side of things to find money to buy local goods to be distributed.”
LaBlanc and her organization’s research found that more than 15,000 individuals have recently lost employment and signed up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Utah, many of those people live in the western part of the Salt Lake valley. As the coronavirus numbers continue to rise, so will unemployment and the need for help.
“We’re using data to help us make the best decisions on who is in the most need and where to go with the limited resources we have,” LeBlanc said. “While we know approximately 15,000 people signed up for assistance so far, there’s no doubt the true need is even greater than that.”
The campaign hopes to raise $100,000 through grassroots and corporate donations by July 24 to help those struggling on the west side of the Salt Lake valley.
“The Farmers Feeding Utah program is a win-win for everyone,” LeBlanc said. “By serving a community on the west side of Salt Lake City, the program connects urban families and individuals in need with food from Utah farms and ranches. The program is helping inspire public confidence and support in American agriculture and meeting hunger needs at the same time. It is great for all involved.”
Ron Gibson, president of Utah Farm Bureau Federation, has been the lead on helping farmers by raising funds to purchase their goods. Those goods then go into the hands of people in need.
“Instead of mourning the barriers in the food supply system, we’ve gone to work growing a miracle with the Farmers Feeding Utah campaign,” Gibson said. “Another part of this miracle is to see the way things have come together. Utahns have been incredibly generous and stepped up to the challenge on our earlier projects, and I’m confident we’ll rise to meet this new one as well.”
Farmers Feeding Utah is a campaign of the Miracle of Agriculture Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that was set up as the charitable arm of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation.
Additional logistical and in-kind support has come from other partners, including Utah State University and its Hunger Solutions Institute, the Utah Department of Agriculture & Food, The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Farm Bureau Financial Services.