A hush came over the buzzing crowd of farmers, Gossner Cheese employees, business people, politicians and reporters. A blessing on the food was about to be said.
This was not a blessing on a fund-raising banquet or other civic-type feast. Rather, Monday morning's blessing was given on 280,000 half pints of milk at Gossner Cheese in Logan. The milk will be shipped to children in Armenia next week.The 150,000 pounds of milk - the largest milk shipment from independent farmers in the United States - came from donations by 41 southern Idaho and northern Utah dairy farmers.
"I never expected people in Utah would think of those in Armenia," said Father Haigazoun Najarian, a native Armenian now residing in New York who was invited to Monday's gathering. "It means so much, especially because it comes from simple folks."The milk was transported Monday morning from Logan to Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, where it will be flown to kindergarten children in Yerevan, Armenia.
Gordon Zilles, a dairy farmer from College Ward, Cache County, who campaigned for milk donations from local farmers, said he was somewhat surprised with the positive responses he received.
"The dairy industry is coming off a couple years of low prices," Zilles said. "But farmers are good people and are willing to give. A lot didn't have milk to donate, but because of the caliber of people they are, they were willing to help others who needed it."
Project organizer Leon Savage, a dairy farmer from Hyrum, Cache County, said he was overwhelmed with the generosity of the farmers and others.
"I always thought I'd come into negativism some place, but I never did," Savage said. "There were no major stumbling blocks."
Savage said he got the idea for the project two months ago after hearing about a group of Pennsylvania and New York dairy farmers who sent milk to 27 schools in Moscow.
"I said, `By golly, if they can do it, we can do it,' " Savage said.
He then contacted and received positive response from a number of individuals and groups - Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, about the Air Force transporting the goods; Dolores Wheeler, president and CEO of Gossner Cheese, about the company donating packaging and processing materials; independent milk haulers about bringing the milk from the farms to Gossner Cheese; and the dairy farmers themselves.
The four dairy farmers scheduled to accompany the milk to Armenia aboard the military transport plane - Savage; Zilles; Kay Carter of Preston, Idaho; and Ted King of Lewiston, Cache County - experienced an unexpected crimp in their travel plans. The military will not allow them to fly on the military plane. The Cache Chamber of Commerce is attempting to raise money to buy tickets for the farmers on a commercial airline.
Donations can be made by calling the chamber offices at 1-800-657-5353.
"I'm a little nervous after seeing they're still fighting over there," Carter said. "But someone told me they won't bite the hand that feeds them."
Carter has heard the children in Yerevan have not had milk for 45 days. "The smiles on those kids' faces will be my reward."