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Hans Koepsell
Elder Craig Williams, a Church service missionary, picks peaches at the North Ogden Peach Orchard in Ogden, Utah, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.

NORTH OGDEN, UTAH

A warning if you’re offered a peach grown at the Church’s North Ogden Peach Orchard: Don’t take a bite without first grabbing an extra-strength, double-ply, high absorbent paper towel. The juicy peaches here can make a sticky mess of your face and fingers.

The thousands of people who volunteer each summer to pick the fruit from the orchard’s 7,000 peach trees take an understandable pride in their sweet, plentiful harvest. The peaches are blue-ribbon worthy.

But the North Ogden Peach Orchard is about more than high-quality produce. The harvest offers an annual opportunity for many to help people from all corners of the globe who are hungry and in need.

“Those who volunteer each year at this orchard understand true religion,” said orchard manager Bruce Liston.

Pure religion, of course, is about visiting “the fatherless and widows in their afflictions” (James 1:27). At the North Ogden orchard — and at dozens of other Church-owned orchards, farms and ranches — pure religion is found wherever a volunteer helps produce and harvest healthful food for people they likely don’t know and will likely never meet.

The volunteers don’t work alone.

“The Lord has really blessed us,” said Brother Liston as he looks across the 27-acre orchard that is expected to yield more than 750,000 pounds of peaches this summer.

It’s harvest season all across the Western Hemisphere, and Church agricultural properties are once again in full bloom and blessing lives. Almost every day during August, crates of peaches, tomatoes, squash, cabbage, beans, cucumbers, onions, corn and other fruits and vegetables grown at the orchards and farms are shipped directly to the bishops’ storehouse. The produce is on the tables of families in need or being processed at canneries within hours of being picked.

Most of the goods are grown at large operations like the North Ogden orchard. But many smaller properties, such as the nearby West Point Crop Farm, make valuable contributions under the skilled direction of service missionaries such as Elder Bruce Brown.

In addition to the bishops’ storehouse, the Church-grown food is shared with local food banks and with humanitarian partners such as Catholic Community Services. Burt Johnson has managed Utah’s West Point LDS Crops Farm for more than a decade. Still, the annual corn, onion and wheat harvest for Brother Johnson and his team of volunteers at the farm is never commonplace.

“We do the best we can each year knowing most of what we raise goes to help whoever needs it,” he said.

The work is never easy. “And it’s been a struggle with the heat we’ve had this summer,” he notes as he walks through tall rows of sweet corn.

Still, the Lord accepts the volunteers’ offerings and blesses His properties.

“This orchard,” said Brother Liston, “can do things that no [commercial] orchard can do.”

jswensen@deseretnews.com @JNSwensen

The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.