Moon Lake, in the Uinta mountains of northeast Utah, is now primarily a wilderness recreation area managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The surrounding area was settled in the late 1800s by ranchers and farmers, and today there are a number of small towns (Roosevelt being the largest) and unincorporated communities. Moon Lake reservoir, created by the building of a dam completed in 1940, helped to stabilize the water supply in the high desert region.
The Great Depression of the 1930s hit rural Utah especially hard. The Moon Lake Stake, led by President Edwin L. Murphy, was down and out in 1938 – 80% of the farms formerly owned by Latter-day Saints in the stake had been sold for taxes. Only 2% of the farms were operating at all – virtually no fall planting had been done in 1937, there were no plans for spring planting in 1938, and many of the stake’s members were surveying their limited options for moving elsewhere to earn a living. The stake’s members were living almost exclusively on the dole – even in terms of 1930s dollars, the amount of food shipped into that one stake in 1937, according to President Murphy, amounted to “$17,800.00 in canned vegetables; $7,000.00 in bakery bread; 200 tons of flour, 50 tons of breakfast bacon, 85 tons of salt side.” He lamented that most of that food could have been produced locally at a savings of many thousands of dollars … except that everybody was discouraged, and almost nobody had the capital to raise a crop anymore. Even bishops were so discouraged that they were asking to be released.
President Murphy decided to implement the full range of services available through the Church’s relatively new Welfare Plan in an almost desperate effort to help his people become self-sustaining once again. He organized stake and ward committees to work with Welfare’s Agricultural Committee, and went to work with them all.
They surveyed the farms to decide what had the best chance of growing in each locale (farming had earlier, apparently, been haphazard – “little consideration was given to the adaptability of seeds for our section of the state,” he said, “many just planting anything to cover the soil.”) High-quality seed was furnished by Salt Lake. Not all the local farmers received it, though; they were “very careful in placing the seed with brethren who would take good care of it.” Much of what they raised in the 1938 season was saved for seed for the next year; in addition to that, the Welfare Committee provided the stake with an additional $2,360 worth of prime seed.
By the spring of 1940, the crops had been so successful that almost no further outside seed was needed – instead, the stake formed a local exchange to provide all the farmers in the stake with the necessary seed. So much wheat had been raised locally – 23,000 bushels in 1938, 55,000 bushels in 1939 – that not one pound of outside flour needed to be shipped into Moon Lake.
They still need some canned goods from the central supply in 1940 – but local sisters were canning 75% of the stake’s needs. Some parts of the stake were well-adapted to growing tomatoes; others did better with peas, corn, and beans. With planning among the stake and ward committees, each community grew what was best for their soil, sunlight, and available water, each community’s sisters canned in their own homes whatever their ward grew, and the wards exchanged with each other for what they needed. In 1940, plans were drawn up to build a small local cannery to make this food preservation and exchange more efficient.
The stake’s members cooperated in other ways – ways that seem alien to today’s practices, and that no doubt would draw opposition from many in today’s political climate. The individual farmers in the stake formed a cooperative, pooled their money, and spent it unitedly. They invested in $2,365.00 worth of farm equipment – cooperatively. Those with dairy herds, which produced the area’s greatest cash income, formed a cooperative “cream pool” and sold their product to a single creamery, earning more than they could have done individually. In 1940, they turned toward building a stake creamery of their own.
They established cooperative feed yards to produce, store, and distribute their hay and grain, and, as with the cream pool, obtained better pay by selling as a block than they had been able to do individually. They cooperated to test different types of feed, deciding together what worked best for their herds. They jointly purchased and cared for the few bulls needed to improve the entire stake’s livestock– three Durhams, two Jerseys, three Holsteins, and two Herefords.
In addition to canning so much of what the community needed to feed itself, the Relief Society sisters cooperated in making 42 quilts in 1939 – turning their surplus of 18 over to Salt Lake City to be used elsewhere.
Two families lost their homes to fire in 1939 – the stake built them new homes.
The stake purchased land for a storehouse, and for a sawmill, to be supplied with timber from the nearby mountain slopes, with labor furnished by local priesthood quorums. Working as a body, and after much coordinated effort, the stake convinced the state highway commission to build a good graveled road into the area. Another stake committee made arrangements for government help in bringing electricity into the stake.
The cooperative efforts of the stake members were so dramatically successful that President Murphy was asked to speak about his work in April Conference of 1940. In introducing him, President J. Reuben Clark noted that the stake had been so successful that he, President Clark, wouldn’t have believed the reports if he had not known President Murphy to be an honest man.
President Murphy concluded his talk:
We have made notable progress by cooperation of the stake Agricultural Committee, Priesthood quorums, Relief Societies, other Church auxiliaries, Extension Service, Farm Security Administration, County Commission, etc.,in applying a planned economy to family living on the farm. We have attempted to put in operation the five-point program recommended by the general Church Welfare Committee, namely:
1. Conservation of our resources.
2. Production of more profitable crops.
3. Cooperative producing and marketing.
4. Assisting men to become farm owners.
5. Making farm life more attractive.
Cooperation. Not just for the 19th century. It’s the Mormon Way.