istockphoto Oktay Ortakcioglu
Recent calamities of nature have emphasized the importance of emergency preparedness and the opportunity we have to minister to those in need. Like Joseph in Egypt , sometimes the Lord preserves life through self-reliance rather than a miracle such as being fed by manna in the Sinai wilderness. Joseph told his brethren:
“I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt . Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
– Genesis 45:4-7
In our day we have been counseled to practice provident living that includes storing a year’s supply of basic foods, clothing and where possible fuel. This supply is to minister to both ourselves and to others in times of need. President Hinckley emphasized:
“We have built grain storage and storehouses and stocked them with the necessities of life in the event of a disaster. But the best storehouse is the family storeroom. In words of revelation the Lord has said, ‘Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing’ (D&C 109:8). Our people for three-quarters of a century have been counseled and encouraged to make such preparation as will assure survival should a calamity come.” 1
What Brigham Said
I found a quote by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses that described the plight that the saints faced during the first winter in the Salt Lake Valley . It was more interesting because I had studied more about the events of the year when it was given, 1856. Even though we usually remember the cricket plague of 1848 where the crops were saved by the seagulls, the most serious insect plague for the pioneers was “the great grasshopper invasion” of 1855, resulting in the loss of over 70% of the crops throughout the now extensively settled Utah Territory . Here is one description of these numerous and dangerous pests.
“Often the first approach of the grasshoppers was signaled when swarms of them appeared in the air overhead—-an awesome sight. Settlers described them as looking like a ‘heavy snowstorm’ or snowflakes and so numerous as to cover the sky and darken the sun. The Deseret News reported one massive appearance in which ‘the grasshoppers filled the sky for three miles deep, or as far as they could be seen without the aid of telescopes, and somewhat resembling a snow storm.” 2
Heber C. Kimball traveled through the Utah territory in 1855 and reported in a letter to his son that “From this place south as far as we went, the grasshoppers have cut down the grain, and there is not fifty acres now standing of any kind of grain in Salt Lake Valley, and what is now standing, they are cutting it down as fast as possible. In Utah County the fields are pretty much desolate; in Juab Valley not a green spear of grain is to be seen, nor in Sanpete, nor in Fillmore.” 3
In 1856, as Brigham Young delivered this address, the saints were praying that their new harvest would be able to keep them from starvation after the previous devastating year of grasshopper attacks. The handcart companies were on their way to the valley starting in this year. If their crops failed or the hated insects returned again in force, the handcart pioneers might have arrived in the valley in the middle of a serious famine.
Here is what Brigham Young said in the tabernacle on June 8, 1856:
The first year that I came into this valley I had not flour enough to last my family until harvest, and that I had brought with me, and persons were coming to my house every day for bread. I had the blues about one day; I went down to the old fort, and by the time I got back to my house I was completely cured. I said to my wife, “Do not let a person come here for food and go away empty handed, for if you do we shall suffer before harvest; but if you give to every individual that comes we shall have enough to last us through.”
I have proven this many a time, and we have again proven it this year. I have plenty on hand, and shall have plenty, if I keep giving away. More than two hundred persons eat from my provisions every day, besides my own family and those who work for me.
I intend to keep doing so, that my bread may hold out, for if I do not I shall come short. Do you believe that principle? I know it is true, because I have proven it so many times.
I have formerly told this community of a circumstance that occurred to brother Heber and myself, when we were on our way to England . We paid our passage to Kirtland, and to my certain knowledge we had only $13.50, but we paid out $87.00; this is but one instance among many which I could name.
You who have flour and meat, deal it out, and do not be afraid that you will be too much straightened, for if you will give, you will have plenty, for it is God who sustains us and we have got to learn this lesson. All I ask of you is to apply your heart to wisdom and to watch the providences of God, until you prove for yourselves that I am telling the truth, even that which I do know and have experienced. 4
Brigham Young had been diligent in doing all that he could before he received these blessings where the Lord literally multiplied his food. His wagons were full of flour and his land planted as best he could. Also, in true pioneer spirit of thrift, industry and hatred of the dole, those in need who were able bodied would expect and be expected to work for what they received.
Sharing Our Food Supply
In April conference of 1976, Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone also talked about sharing our food supply with our neighbors.
I should like to address a few remarks to those who ask, “Do I share with my neighbors who have not followed the counsel? And what about the nonmembers who do not have a year’s supply? Do we have to share with them?” No, we don’t have to share-we get to share! Let us not be concerned about silly thoughts of whether we would share or not. Of course we would share! What would Jesus do? I could not possibly eat food and see my neighbors starving. And if you starve to death after sharing, “greater love hath no man than this .” (John 15:13.)
Now what about those who would plunder and break in and take that which we have stored for our families’ needs? Don’t give this one more idle thought. There is a God in heaven whom we have obeyed. Do you suppose he would abandon those who have kept his commandments? He said, “If ye are prepared, ye need not fear.” (D&C 38:30.) Prepare, O men of Zion , and fear not. Let Zion put on her beautiful garments. Let us put on the full armor of God. Let us be pure in heart, love mercy, be just, and stand in holy places. Commit to have a year’s supply of food by April 1977. 5
In two recent conferences, Bishop Keith B. McMullin has given us detailed counsel on self-reliance so that we can “Lay up in Store” so that our “stores may not fail.”
Faith, spirituality, and obedience produce a prepared and self-reliant people. As we obey the covenant of tithing, we are shielded from want and the power of the destroyer. As we obey the fast and give generously to care for others, our prayers are heard and family fidelity increases. Similar blessings come as we obey the counsel of the prophets and live within our means, avoid unnecessary debt, and set aside sufficient of life’s necessities to sustain ourselves and our families for at least a year. This may not always be easy, but let us do our very best, and our stores shall not fail-there shall be “enough and to spare.” (D&C 104:17) 6
From President James E. Faust, Second Counselor, we hear: “Every father and mother are the family’s storekeepers. They should store whatever their own family would like to have in the case of an emergency . [and] God will sustain us through our trials.” From President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor, we hear: “Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had their year’s supply of food . and were debt-free. Today we find that many have followed this counsel in reverse: they have at least a year’s supply of debt and are food-free.” From President Gordon B. Hinckley, the Lord’s prophet, we hear: ‘The best place to have some food set aside is within our homes. . We can begin ever so modestly. We can begin with a one week’s food supply and gradually build it to a month, and then to three months. . I fear that so many feel that a long-term food supply is so far beyond their reach that they make no effort at all. .
Inspired preparation rests on the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ, obedience, and a provident lifestyle. Members should not go to extremes, but they should begin.
We call upon priesthood bearers to store sufficient so that you and your family can weather the vicissitudes of life. Please see to it that those entrusted to your watch care receive these two pamphlets entitled “All Is Safely Gathered In.” Exhort them to prepare now for rainy days ahead. 7
The Book of Mormon also emphasizes the importance of gladly ministering to the needy.
“And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.”
The prophetic and scriptural message seems to be that after diligent effort to be obedient and self reliant, it is our Christian generosity that then determines that we will have plenty, even extended miraculously, during difficult times. Following these principles, we might imagine that the man with the shotgun protecting his food from his hungry neighbor may go home to find his own food stolen or infested with insects or rodents. We also might imagine a modern day widow, like the widow of old who fed the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17:7-16), with her carefully saved buckets of food miraculously being able to feed a hungry multitude.
1. Gordon B. Hinckley , “If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear,” General Conference, October 1, 2005.
2. Davis Bitton and Linda P Wilcox, “Pestiferous Ironclads: The Grasshopper Problem in Pioneer Utah ,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 46 #4,
“The worst year, by any measurement, was 1855, when grasshoppers invaded the territory from the far north through Iron County , wiping out the third sowing of some crops in Salt Lake County , destroying all or nine-tenths of the grain in some Iron County towns, and denuding whole fields elsewhere. Following a trip throughout the territory in the spring of 1855, Heber C. Kimball wrote to his son William, describing the extent of the devastation:”
‘From this place south as far as we went, the grasshoppers have cut down the grain, and there is not fifty acres now standing of any kind of grain in Salt Lake Valley, and what is now standing, they are cutting it down as fast as possible. In Utah county the fields are pretty much desolate; in Juab Valley not a green spear of grain is to be seen, nor in Sanpete, nor in Fillmore. In Little Salt Lake they are still sowing, also at Cedar City , that county being so much later the grain is not yet up, but the grasshoppers are there, ready to sweep down the grain as soon as it comes up. In the north as far as Box Elder the scenery is the same…. and to look at things at this present time, there is not the least prospect of raising one bushel of grain in the valleys this present season…. I must say there is more green stuff in the gardens in G. S. L. City than there is in all the rest of the counties; still there is a great many of the gardens in the city entirely ruined. Brother Wm. C. Staines told me this morning that he had 500,000 young apple trees come up and they are all cut down to the ground, and many gardens where the peach trees were full of peaches, every leaf and peach are gone.’
“Twenty years later, it was still estimated that 70 percent of the cereals, vegetables, and fruits that year had been destroyed, making 1855 stand out as a year of crippling loss.”
See also: Ronald P. Millett, “A Year’s Supply for Times of Liberty and Plenty,” Meridian Magazine, 4/08/2002, https://meridianmag.wpengine.com/sci_rel/020408supply.html
4. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol 3, p.332-333, June 8, 1856.
5. Vaughn J. Featherstone, “Food Storage,” Ensign, May 1976, p. 116.
6. Keith B. McMullin, “Be Prepared . . . Be Ye Strong from Henceforth,” Ensign, November, 2005, p. 10