I often host ambassadors and other international visitors at Welfare Square, and one of my favorite places to stop on the tour is in front of the tall white grain elevators. It’s easy to drive by on the freeway or see a photograph of Welfare Square and not appreciate what those grain bins stand for. They are a tall white testament to the capability of women and men working together for a specific goal.
The Relief Society members for many years gleaned fields and grew wheat that was designated to feed poor families. However, they lacked a central place to store it. In 1940, 640 men and boys in shifts ran up and down boards continuously for eight days and nights to pour 15,000 sacks of mixed cement in order to build the elevators. Then the women of the Relief Society hauled their grain to Welfare Square for storage. It was exhausting work for everybody, but that structure still stands almost 80 years later as a symbol of men and women working compatibly together on an important cause.
Wheat stalks have long represented Relief Society as a symbol of preparedness and plenty. They are part of the Relief Society seal and adorn the outside of the Relief Society Building at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters. This is because for more than 100 years the Relief Society collected and stored wheat to provide for those who needed food. When the Relief Society donated all its wheat to the larger Church in 1978, many thought the era of Relief Society wheat was over, but that has not proved to be the case. We still are exercising the “power of wheat.”
The Wheat Storage Program
In 1876, Brigham Young asked Emmeline B. Wells to organize a wheat storage program among the women of the Church. At first the women gleaned wheat from existing wheat fields. Soon, they were able to buy their own fields or purchase wheat. Ward Relief Societies up and down the territory of Utah were buying and growing their own wheat and building their own granaries. Women would watch the wheat market and buy when prices were low and sell when they were high. Tips about combating pests and when to buy or sell were discussed at various Relief Society meetings.