U.S. agriculture secretary tours Welfare Square, praises how Utah, LDS Church care for the needy

After seeing the food production facilities at Welfare Square — a tour that included samples of cheddar cheese and chocolate milk — the U.S. secretary of agriculture said his agency could benefit from studying how Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints help those in need.

“The USDA could learn some lessons from Welfare Square on how to help people,” said Sonny Perdue, adding that he admired the collaboration in workforce training that takes place among the state’s government leaders, private businesses and the faith-based community.

Self-sufficiency and independence “through the dignity of work and providing for one’s family instead of relying on social services" should be the goal for the whole country, he said. "Government can’t be doing it all.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Gov. Gary Herbert, and Bishop W. Christopher Waddell on a tour of Welfare Square in Salt Lake City on Wednesday May 22, 2019.

Perdue was led on his Welfare Square visit by Gov. Gary Herbert, along with an entourage that included staffers and Latter-day Saint leaders.

It followed a morning event at which he signed a “shared stewardship” agreement regarding the management of Utah’s national forests.

Herbert knew Perdue when he was Georgia’s governor and said that Perdue, now the secretary of agriculture, understands “the significant role that the states should play” in policymaking.

“Sometimes that is forgotten,” Herbert said. “Working together, we can get more done than working apart.”

The Welfare Square campus, at 751 W. 700 South in Salt Lake City, includes a landmark 178-foot-tall grain elevator, a large storehouse, a bakery, a cannery, a milk-processing operation, a thrift store and an employment center. It has provided food and materials for the poor — including victims of natural disasters — since the Great Depression.

After the tour, Perdue talked about the trade war with China, praising how his boss, President Donald Trump, was handling the dispute that is adversely affecting farmers and ranchers.

“We know that China has not played by the rules since they have joined the WTO [World Trade Organization],” Perdue said, "and he has had the courage to say that we are not going to go along any longer. Fair is fair and free is free, and we want to have free, fair trade. "

While agricultural producers “bear the brunt of this trade disruption," Perdue said, “part of the money we get from tariffs will go back to farmers who will be hurt by trade disruptions.”

With his Utah visit, Perdue has traveled to all 50 states since becoming secretary two years ago. During that time, he has logged more than 100,000 miles, held nearly 200 town hall discussions and visited nearly 100 farms, talking to farmers, ranchers, foresters and producers, his office said.

When asked why it took him so long to visit the Beehive State, Perdue joked, “I saved the best for last."