The Mormons have arrived.
Yesterday, a taxpaying corporate affiliate of the Mormon Church announced it's finalizing a deal with St. Joe Company in the Florida Panhandle that will bring its overall land ownership to nearly 670,000 acres, a swath larger than any other private holding in the Sunshine State.
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The deal will bring in 382,000 additional acres of land. The acquisition, which went for $565 million, spills across Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla counties.
The farming conglomerate, AgReserves Inc., gushed over the land purchase. "AgReserves has demonstrated its commitment to wise land stewardship and prudent resource management," said Paul Genho, chairman of the board for AgReserves. "We will apply that same commitment and expertise to managing the property we are acquiring in Florida's Panhandle. We look to the long term in everything we do."
But if the company's slogan is to be believed, it's more complicated than that. Front and center on its website is a saying from its iconic church leader, Gordon Hinckley: "Good farms, over a long period, represent a safe investment where the assets of the Church may be preserved and enhanced."
The Mormon Church, which intends to farm and timber this new windfall of turf, already holds sway over the Desert Ranches, a 290,000-acre swath of land in Central Florida. With nearly 670,000 acres at its disposal, the Utah-based church now towers over any other land titan in the state. The Tampa Bay Times reports the next largest to be Foley Timber and Land Company, which has 562,000 acres.
What does this all mean? The Mormon Church has long fretted over any apocalyptic eventuality, concerned with "longer-term needs." So it plans to "gradually build" its food supply of wheat, white rice, and beans that "you can use to stay alive" for as long as 30 years.
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It's not quite clear what scenario would knock out every food source, but the Mormons aren't taking any chances.
And they'll use Florida land to do it. This will be "available as an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need," Hinckley once said.
Send your story tips to the author, Terrence McCoy.