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100 percent faith — The unexpected blessings that come from holy ground in Montana

GERALDINE, Montana — Try forming a quick list of holy spaces in your mind.

The temple is likely at the top of the “holy space” list, followed, perhaps, by a quiet burial ground, a dedicated meetinghouse or maybe a quiet corner of one’s home reserved for prayer and scripture study.

Now add the Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm to the list.

The Church-owned 5,000-acre stretch of farmland on the edge of Montana’s fertile Golden Triangle looks and feels a bit different from other holy places. It can be blast furnace hot or teeth-chattering cold — often in the same week. It’s usually dry. It’s often dusty. And, it’s undeniably sacred.

Grain bins at the Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm store tons of durum wheat that will eventually be used to make pasta products to be sold at Church-operated Bishop's warehouses.
Grain bins at the Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm store tons of durum wheat that will eventually be used to make pasta products to be sold at Church-operated Bishop's warehouses. Photo: Jason Swensen

The farmers who work GMC say the Lord’s hand is traced in each kernel of protein-rich durum wheat harvested here each summer. “Our number one job is to provide for the needy,” said farm manager Bill Summers. “What we are doing here goes far beyond the membership of the Church. We’re helping feed people worldwide.”

White and ready to harvest

As a Church agricultural specialist, Wade Sperry spends much of his time taking stock of crops raised on welfare agricultural properties. One day he might be slicing open a peach picked from the Church orchard in Brigham City, Utah. A few days later, he’s inspecting the Church-produced peanut crop in south Texas or perhaps swapping notes with missionary-cowboys herding cattle in Taylor, Arizona.

And each year he travels to Geraldine.

Church agricultural specialist Wade Sperry, left, and Great Falls Montana East Stake President Eldon Pfile inspect wheat at the Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm.
Church agricultural specialist Wade Sperry, left, and Great Falls Montana East Stake President Eldon Pfile inspect wheat at the Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm. Photo: Jason Swensen

The work being performed here along this vast stretch of plains is essential to the Church’s welfare food program. The GMC welfare farm provides almost all of the grain used at the Deseret Mill and Pasta Plant in Kaysville, Utah. The spaghetti, macaroni and other nutrient-rich pasta produced at the towering facility off Interstate-15 typically began as durum wheat in northwestern Montana.

“This farm provides wheat for the pasta that’s made available for bishops to help those in need of assistance,” said Sperry. “It is sacred ground. Through this farm, the Lord pays attention to the poor and needy.”

President Eldon Pfile presides over the Great Falls Montana East Stake, which functions as the agent stake for the GMC welfare farm. Each year, members of all ages from his stake donate essential volunteer hours to ensure a bumper crop. The farming pros such as Bill Summers operate the massive John Deere combines that seed, fertilize and eventually harvest the wheat crop. But volunteers are enlisted to clear rocks, remove trees and clean storage sheds.

From left, President Eldon Pfile, farmer Bill Summers and Church agricultural specialist Wade Sperry discuss the 2018 durum wheat harvest at the Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm.
From left, President Eldon Pfile, farmer Bill Summers and Church agricultural specialist Wade Sperry discuss the 2018 durum wheat harvest at the Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm. Photo: Jason Swensen

“We come here to volunteer temporally, but we leave spiritually uplifted,” said President Pfile.

Some of the youth volunteers are not accustomed to farm life. They are fascinated by the seemingly endless stretches of dirt road encircling the Church property. They lament the spotty cell phone coverage. “But whenever they work out on the Church farm they come to me and say, ‘The Spirit here is so strong,'" said Summers.

For farmers and volunteers alike, each year’s durum wheat crop teaches eternal principles such as the law of the harvest and the law of consecration. “We learn that you reap what you sow,” said President Pfile. “We can (realize) a harvest that blesses us and those we serve.”

Bill Summers repeats a phrase he learned from a fellow farmer who labored on the Church-owned Geraldine property: “We go the temple to make our covenants — we go to the farms to keep our covenants.”

Farming with faith

The Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm is a dry farm. Irrigation is not an option. So every drop of water consumed by the vast, thirsty wheat crop is counted as a gift from God.

Waist-high durum wheat is ready for harvest at the Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm.
Waist-high durum wheat is ready for harvest at the Geraldine Montana Crops welfare farm. Photo: Jason Swensen

Rain is abundant some years. And other times, the clouds are few. So members here petition heaven through fasting and prayer.

“We are on our knees quite often asking for His blessings,” said Summers. “Farming is 100 percent faith.”

Few people who receive manna-like sustenance from a plate of spaghetti or macaroni made from GMC-grown wheat will ever visit this northern Montana farm. But each year’s harvest reminds local Latter-day Saints of the meaning of “pure religion”: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction (James 1:27).

Sometimes those reminders are close by, said Summers. A fellow ward member once threw his arms around him after learning he worked at the GMC welfare farm.

“I grew up on Church welfare,” the man told him. “My father left my mother when I was young and we lived on what the Church gave us.”

“That,” said Summers, fighting back emotion, “really opened my eyes.”

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