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Article re church's interest in land


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Oregon Public Broadcasting ("OPB") just published an interesting article about a big land deal in Washington State that involves the Church.  The "deal" is actually a forced sale of a large amount of land of a bankruptcy debtor.  The two current bidders for the land are the Church (specifically, one of its for-profit farming entities, AgriNorthwest) and Bill and Melinda Gates (specifically, an investiment company, Cottonwood Ag Management, run by Cascade Investment, LLC, for Bill and Melinda Gates). 

The article also goes into some detail about both bidders:

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Nearly 12,000 acres of Easterday family farmland in Benton County will likely sell for more than its $210 million asking price, according to court documents and sources with knowledge of the deal.

Two big players are vying for the sweeping property near the Columbia River: Farmland Reserve's AgriNorthwest, which is backed by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates' Cottonwood Ag Management.

The highest bidder will be confirmed at a bankruptcy auction held next week.

The deal is subject to the federal court’s sale hearing on July 14.
...
The large-scale bankruptcy began with a massive swindle of 225,000 ghost cattle and has meant federal charges for Cody Easterday, and bankruptcy for a family farming and ranching dynasty as the vast Easterday empire unravels.

Here's a separate article about Cody Easterday: "Washington ranch co-owner Cody Easterday defrauded Tyson Foods of $233 million and another company of $11 million by selling more than 200,000 head of cattle that only existed on invoices, according to a plea agreement unsealed April 1."

Wow.

Back to the OPB article:

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The property on the block includes: four enormous farms, a slew of lucrative Columbia River irrigation water rights, vineyards, orchards, a 35,000-head cattle feeding operation, an employee-housing facility and a valuable complex of potato and onion storage sheds.

I wonder what the Church's real estate entities does when they acquire land with wine-producing vineyards.  

Quote

The actual auction isn’t public. Usually the bankruptcy auctions are held at the debtor’s council offices, but because of COVID-19 this auction will be held on video conference. But the sale price will be disclosed as part of the public bankruptcy hearing in July.

Following federal approval of the sale, parties will work toward a plan, or multiple Chapter 11 plans, to liquidate the Easterday Ranches and Easterday Farms. That could take several months.

Per a bankruptcy cooperation agreement, the money from the sale will first pay the secured mortgage holders, then the remaining proceeds will go into escrow funds to be divided among Easterday Ranches and Easterday Farms’ secured and unsecured creditors, as well as pay the administrative costs of the bankruptcy.

I like this article's illustrative explanation of this part of the bankruptcy process.

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The reserve bid, or stalking horse bid, was brought by AgriNorthwest's Farmland Reserve for $188 million, according to court documents. AgriNorthwest is one of the largest agricultural landowners in the Northwest, and is owned by the LDS church, which is one of the largest landholders in the nation.
...

In order to hold an auction, at least one other bidder had to come in with more than $1 million over the stalking horse bid.

Enter Cottonwood Ag Management, run by Cascade Investment, LLC, for Bill and Melinda Gates. The investment firm has become controversial after an article in the trade journal Land Report earlier this year revealed that the Gates' land group is another one of the largest farmland owners in the United States. It's also unclear how the couple's divorce and Bill Gates' questionable conduct, reported earlier this spring, could affect the sale.

Although it’s now certain that there will be an auction, that doesn’t mean Cottonwood or AgriNorthwest will prevail with the final bid. Several other entities are also vying for the land deal: controversial Northwest ag tycoon Frank Tiegs; potato-growing giant Simplot; and Homestead Capital, a San Francisco-based investment firm trained on acquiring U.S. agricultural lands.

These are interesting details.  I think John Q. Public doesn't often get a birdseye view of how big transactions like this play out.

Here's the part where the article goes into some analysis of the Church's doctrinal tenets that, per the article, play a role the Church's land acquisitions:

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“Blossom as the rose”

Bidding for a swath of prime earth the size of the Easterday deal takes serious money. It discourages all but the most affluent buyers by its sheer size. But there are several reasons why the Gates’ land acquisition arm and the LDS church want to — and can — compete for the property.

Church-owned AgriNorthwest is already a massive entity in the Columbia Basin, with some 100,000 acres in Washington and Oregon. Its many unmarked white pickup trucks roam section-line farm roads like sentries, overseeing thousands of acres of potatoes, onions, corn, carrots and other rotational crops.

Farming is knit into the fabric of the LDS church, says Betsy Gaines Quammen, a historian, conservationist and writer. In her doctoral dissertation for Montana State University, which she turned into a book published last year, she argues that the way Mormons view land ownership is shaped by the faith’s own history and texts.

I've read a few reviews of Quammen's book (here, here, here).  I need to read the book, but it seems pretty clear that it focuses on Cliven Bundy and his antics.  Quammen, a "conservationist," may be imputing his decidedly off-kilter views onto the Church ("the way Mormons view land ownership").

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In the LDS faith, she says God promised a homeland — known as Zion. But believers were run out of Missouri, Ohio and Illinois before heading West to the Great Basin in Utah. They established their homeland there, displacing Native Americans, and learned to farm using irrigation methods.

“The Mormon church has been very interested throughout its history in acquiring land and using land,” Gaines Quammen says. “It’s a sacred promise that God, by the way of Joseph Smith, to ensure that the Mormon people had land.”

Broadly speaking, this sounds pretty fair, though again, I need to read the book.

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A futuristic vision of food and water shortages is baked into the religion. Even “latter days” is in the religion’s name, Gaines Quammen says. And this shortage, or time of disruption, could last a long time. So, she explains, shoring up food insecurity with their own farms is considered a top priority.

“There are varieties of ways in visualizing ‘latter days,’” Gaines Quammen says. “But there is an imperative in the way the church operates to prepare for a time of struggle and by acquiring land, this is an act of preparation.”

The church is affluent and further building the coffers is a godly thing to do to help prepare, Gaines Quammen says.

“In terms of thinking about latter days, acquiring land, especially agricultural land, land that could raise food, would be advantageous if there were a big religious event,” she says.

I wonder how much of this idea of "shoring up food insecurity" as "a top priority," this "prepar{ing} for a time of struggle ... to help prepare" for "a big religious event" is borne out in reality.

In other words, I wonder if the Church's investments in land are more broadly mundane and sensible, and less "preparing for the Apocalypse"-ish as Quammen would have us believe.  Perhaps it's just a good opportunity (as evidenced by there being multiple big players interested in the land).

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The church often references the Bible’s Old Testament. Although there are many versions, the often-quoted verse from Isaiah goes: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.” So, farming is considered a religious, sacred practice within the Mormon faith, Gaines Quammen says.

The scripture here is Isaiah 35:1.  I wonder if it is "often-quoted" though.  I've never heard it quoted.  However, the Church's website has it quoted in the 1945 dedicatory prayer for the Idaho Falls temple, in a 1972 Ensign article by Reed C. Durham, Jr., in a 1976 BYU devotional talk by Elder LeGrand Richards, in a 1977 book by Elder Ezra Taft Benson, in a 1982 New Era poem, and a 1997 General Conference talk by President Hinckley.

The article concludes:

Quote

The New West

Darryll Olsen, who leads the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, says this is a new era of farming in the West. Stashing money in agricultural lands is a solid investment for the long term if you have stable water supplies, such as the Columbia River water rights these up-for-sale farms hold, Olsen explains.

“All you have to do is put your head out the window and look about 800 miles to the south (from Washington) and see what’s going on,” he says. “California is losing water. And you’ve got problems in the Klamath (Oregon). Texas groundwater is drying up. Arizona doesn’t have that much irrigated acres left. In other areas of the West, irrigated ground is declining. There are no other solid water supplies like the mainstem Columbia River anywhere else.”

Neal Goplin, helps large financial institutions lend money on land deals across the Northwest out of his hub in Walla Walla. He's a bit nostalgic for the small family farm, like the place he grew up in North Dakota. It's good to have land values hold up, but he says it's hard for family operations to expand or keep pace in the Columbia Basin.

“Smaller players are getting forced out,” he says. “That’s happening quicker than people expected.”

He says the giant players will take a lot of the decision-making on the landscape away from the region.

“The earnings don’t necessarily come back to the area,” he says. “In a lot of ways you still have the same number of workers out there, it’s just they aren’t tied to the land the same as the family farm ownership always has been in the past.”

Perhaps the urgency of this giant New West deal tempting these two economic titans — the Gateses and the LDS church —  can best be summed up by a line often attributed to author Mark Twain: “Buy land, they aren’t making it anymore.”

The Church's finances have long been a source of controversy.  I'm okay with that.  Reasonable minds can disagree about such things, and perhaps there are ways the Church can improve.  

That said, one thing that makes me pretty happy is the knowledge that the Church is a good steward of its finances.  It is not profligate.  The Brethren are not living large.  The wealth of the Church is expended on good and proper things, or else invested wisely and grown.  The Church could just let funds sit in a bank's coffers at grow at a flimsy rate barely ahead of inflation (if that), or else it could do what the banks do: put money to work in sound investments.  And here, the Church is apparently thinking about investing in an asset that produces huge amounts of food.  That's very cool.

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

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5 minutes ago, smac97 said:

The scripture here is Isaiah 35:1.  I wonder if it is "often-quoted" though.  I've never heard it quoted.  However, the Church's website has it quoted in the 1945 dedicatory prayer for the Idaho Falls temple, in a 1972 Ensign article by Reed C. Durham, Jr., in a 1976 BYU devotional talk by Elder LeGrand Richards, in a 1977 book by Elder Ezra Taft Benson, in a 1982 New Era poem, and a 1997 General Conference talk by President Hinckley.

Not to derail, but really? You've never heard that scripture quoted? I've heard that countless times. Just doing a quick search on the church's website returned 26 pages of references to that quote. 

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6 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

Not to derail, but really? You've never heard that scripture quoted? I've heard that countless times. Just doing a quick search on the church's website returned 26 pages of references to that quote. 

So have I. Other references include:

"Gov. Gary Herbert evoked the Beehive State’s pioneer history Wednesday, saying Utah continues to “blossom like a rose” by luring new residents with good jobs, good schools and a good quality of life." (Gov. Gary Herbert’s final budget asks for investment in education and green transportation (sltrib.com))

"Visitors [of the St. George Temple] will also notice lush landscaping. “This idea that St. George will blossom like a rose is a very important part of this community,” Emily Utt, historic sites curator for the Church History Department, said in the release. “This town is very proud of its landscape, of its trees, of its plantings.” (This week in Mormon Land: Giving Machines give way to COVID; update on new hymnbooks; an Oz-like message to Trump (sltrib.com)

"This is a desert, people. Yes, the early Mormon pioneers made it "blossom like the rose," but that was back when there was enough water to go around. Several million people later, we're lucky to make the desert blossom like crabgrass." (Kirby: The grass is always greener on my neighbor's side of the fence - The Salt Lake Tribune (sltrib.com)"

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3 minutes ago, Analytics said:

So have I. Other references include:

"Gov. Gary Herbert evoked the Beehive State’s pioneer history Wednesday, saying Utah continues to “blossom like a rose” by luring new residents with good jobs, good schools and a good quality of life." (Gov. Gary Herbert’s final budget asks for investment in education and green transportation (sltrib.com))

"Visitors [of the St. George Temple] will also notice lush landscaping. “This idea that St. George will blossom like a rose is a very important part of this community,” Emily Utt, historic sites curator for the Church History Department, said in the release. “This town is very proud of its landscape, of its trees, of its plantings.” (This week in Mormon Land: Giving Machines give way to COVID; update on new hymnbooks; an Oz-like message to Trump (sltrib.com)

"This is a desert, people. Yes, the early Mormon pioneers made it "blossom like the rose," but that was back when there was enough water to go around. Several million people later, we're lucky to make the desert blossom like crabgrass." (Kirby: The grass is always greener on my neighbor's side of the fence - The Salt Lake Tribune (sltrib.com)"

I thought it was part of the Utah vernacular. I've heard it probably thousands of times since childhood, and I didn't even grow up in Utah. 

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2 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I thought it was part of the Utah vernacular. I've heard it probably thousands of times since childhood, and I didn't even grow up in Utah. 

I have heard it alot too.  It just goes to show how sometimes someone can miss things that others think are common knowledge in the church.  Kind of like polygamy in the early church,  I've heard about it my entire life and it isn't a big deal to me,  but sometimes there are church members who seemed to have missed it.

It just goes to show that missing other think are obvious is a common occurance and we should not be hard on ourselves or others for missing something that seems obvious to us. 

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11 minutes ago, Danzo said:

I have heard it alot too.  It just goes to show how sometimes someone can miss things that others think are common knowledge in the church.  Kind of like polygamy in the early church,  I've heard about it my entire life and it isn't a big deal to me,  but sometimes there are church members who seemed to have missed it.

It just goes to show that missing other think are obvious is a common occurance and we should not be hard on ourselves or others for missing something that seems obvious to us. 

It's easy to assume that we have a shared cultural and religious upbringing if we were born in the church. Apparently, that's not a safe assumption.

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1 hour ago, smac97 said:

In other words, I wonder if the Church's investments in land are more broadly mundane and sensible, and less "preparing for the Apocalypse"-ish as Quammen would have us believe.  Perhaps it's just a good opportunity (as evidenced by there being multiple big players interested in the land).

-Smac

I do agricultural litigation.  In Kern County (Bakersfield), California, the Church is the largest landowner.  Almond groves. I don't think there is any doctrinal reason for the church to own property in Bakersfield.

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Gates' financial managers are agressively buying farmland - - -

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Edited by longview
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Just now, ttribe said:

^^Cue the Gates' conspiracy theories in 3...2...1...

I've had this problem since I got vaccinated where anything metal--keys, nail clippers, anything--sticks to my forehead because I've been magnetized.

 

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5 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I've had this problem since I got vaccinated where anything metal--keys, nail clippers, anything--sticks to my forehead because I've been magnetized.

Did you even check before?

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1 hour ago, jkwilliams said:

Not to derail, but really? You've never heard that scripture quoted?

I should be more clear: I have never heard that scripture quoted in the context of land acquisition/ownership.  

1 hour ago, jkwilliams said:

I've heard that countless times.

I've heard it a few times, but far from "countless."

1 hour ago, jkwilliams said:

Just doing a quick search on the church's website returned 26 pages of references to that quote. 

Huh.  I did a similar search and only found the ones I provided (five or six quotes).  However, my search was for "wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them."

A search for "and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" yield's five pages (50 citations in English) to that phrase (more search results in other languages as well).

Also, a quick survey of the hits for these searches show that the citation is used more for its illustrative/poetic, rather than prosaic, application.

Thanks,

-Smac

 

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3 minutes ago, Chum said:

Did you even check before?

Well, no, but people have told I'm kind of repellent.

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1 minute ago, smac97 said:

I should be more clear: I have never heard that scripture quoted in the context of land acquisition/ownership.  

I've heard it a few times, but far from "countless."

Huh.  I did a similar search and only found the ones I provided (five or six quotes).  However, my search was for "wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them."

A search for "and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" yield's five pages (50 citations in English) to that phrase (more search results in other languages as well).

Also, a quick survey of the hits for these searches show that the citation is used more for its illustrative/poetic, rather than prosaic, application.

Thanks,

-Smac

 

You're welcome.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/search?lang=eng&query=desert blossom as the rose&highlight=true&page=1

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21 minutes ago, Bob Crockett said:

I do agricultural litigation.  In Kern County (Bakersfield), California, the Church is the largest landowner.  Almond groves. I don't think there is any doctrinal reason for the church to own property in Bakersfield.

Putting the "in Bakersfield" aside, I think there is a pretty strong doctrinal reason for the Church to own property.  A few reasons, actually.  Most of them cluster around doctrines pertaining to stewardship and provident living.

Thanks,

-Smac

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11 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I've had this problem since I got vaccinated where anything metal--keys, nail clippers, anything--sticks to my forehead because I've been magnetized.

 

That was the most hilarious video of her putting the key or whatever, on her (probably sweaty) chest and it sticking and then trying her face with different objects and them falling right off. 

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1 hour ago, jkwilliams said:

I thought it was part of the Utah vernacular. I've heard it probably thousands of times since childhood, and I didn't even grow up in Utah. 

I've heard it far more frequently in relation to D&C 49:24 ("But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose.").

Thanks,

-Smac

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5 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

Well, no, but people have told I'm kind of repellent.

You could be both. More bipolar than polar.

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4 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I've heard it far more frequently in relation to D&C 49:24 ("But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose.").

Thanks,

-Smac

I have heard that, too, but more often in the context of the pioneers making the desert blossom as the rose. I've also heard it metaphorically applied as our making our part of the world better for the Saints having been here.

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18 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

I have heard that, too, but more often in the context of the pioneers making the desert blossom as the rose. I've also heard it metaphorically applied as our making our part of the world better for the Saints having been here.

Yes, I've heard it in those contexts.

I have not heard it in the context of the Church's acquisition and use of agricultuaral land.

The quote in the OP said that this scripture is "often-quoted" by the Church in relation to the idea that "farming is considered a religious, sacred practice within the Mormon faith."  And from this she apparently extrapolates the Church's interest in agriculatural land.  That seems a bit . . . off to me.  I see the Church's use of land as not being reflective of "end times" thinking and more along the lines of wise stewardship (it's a smart investment) and also as pertaining to long-term provident living efforts (producing food).

Thanks,

-Smac

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55 minutes ago, Bob Crockett said:

I don't think there is any doctrinal reason for the church to own property in Bakersfield.

Not much of a doctrinal reason for the Church to be in Salt Lake, either.

Yet here we are. 

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1 minute ago, smac97 said:

Yes, I've heard it in those contexts.

I have not heard it in the context of the Church's acquisition and use of agricultuaral land.

The quote in the OP said that this scripture is "often-quoted" by the Church in relation to the idea that "farming is considered a religious, sacred practice within the Mormon faith."  And from this she apparently extrapolates the Church's interest in agriculatural land.  That seems a bit . . . off to me.  I see the Church's use of land as not being reflective of "end times" thinking and more along the lines of wise stewardship (it's a smart investment) and also as pertaining to long-term provident living efforts (producing food).

Thanks,

-Smac

I chalk it up to the reporter not knowing much about the church, and the historian trying to explain Mormonism to an audience that does not know much about it either. I do think that there is an element of "preparedness" in the church's acquisition of land, end time or not, but I also think it's just a part of diversifying the church's portfolio.

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Quote

 

A futuristic vision of food and water shortages is baked into the religion. Even “latter days” is in the religion’s name, Gaines Quammen says. And this shortage, or time of disruption, could last a long time.

 

Which is exactly why we shouldn't be farming cattle.  If we are planning for food and water shortages, cattle farming is one of the worst ways to utilize and be stewards of the land the church owns. 

Edited by pogi
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5 minutes ago, pogi said:

Which is exactly why we shouldn't be farming cattle.  If we are planning for food and water shortages, cattle farming is one of the worst ways to utilize and be stewards of the land the church owns. 

Again, I think it's more of an investment. 

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21 minutes ago, jkwilliams said:

Again, I think it's more of an investment. 

That doesn't fix the problem.   

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