The First Miracle Project (Navajo Nation, Southern Utah)

The Miracle of Agriculture Foundation was launched by the leadership of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation in early May 2020 with 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 Miracle Project of the Foundation was launched as Farmers Feeding Utah, a campaign designed to tap into the well-known generosity of the citizens of Utah, as well as the agricultural producers in the state.

This initial Miracle Project relied heavily on Utah State University’s Hunger Solutions Institute, other hunger relief organizations, and the Utah Department of Agriculture & Food.

The first Miracle Project involved the Utah chapters of the Navajo nation in Southeastern Utah – specifically, the Mexican Water, Aneth, Oljato, and Navajo Mountain chapters.

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.

The first delivery of frozen lamb, purchased from Sanpete County sheep rancher Drew Jorgensen, was delivered to the Blanding Food Pantry on May 22.

On Monday, May 25, partners of the Foundation gathered at the home of former San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally in Montezuma Creek, and delivered more than 300 live sheep to needy families from Aneth, Red Mesa, and Tódahadekanii. Household eligibility was determined by Community Coordinators, with priority given to single parents, Tribal elders, members with disabilities, and members with military service.

The second delivery of 250 live sheep took place on June 1, and focused on residents in Halchita, Navajo Mountain, and Oljató/Mounument Valley. The live sheep were purchased at the Salina livestock auction from several area sheep ranchers.

“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.

This Miracle Project also included logistical assistance from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“This [sheep donation] will probably be the single most important thing that happens during this pandemic,” said Todd S. Larkin, an Area Authority for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Larkin has been coordinating the Church’s humanitarian efforts on the Navajo Reservation. “The [Navajo community members] will take these sheep, and it will provide food and nourishment to their families, probably until this is over. I sure hope it doesn’t last longer than that.”

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 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 cultural ceremonies.

“Because of Covid-19, some people are on lockdown quarantine and they feel lonely and depressed. They feel that maybe no one is thinking about them,” said Rebecca Benally. Benally was an invaluable partner in coordinating the distribution of sheep and food to other community members. “With these sheep, people tell me it has given them hope and helps them know someone cares about them. Sheep are very symbolic of hope and prosperity. You will see people here very happy to get sheep, and they will utilize every bit of the sheep to give them hope.”