My brother-in-law came to visit last weekend. As science geeks, we tried to see a shuttle launch while he was here (the launch was canceled 11 minutes before liftoff because of weather – ugh!). On the way to watch the launch we stopped by Deseret Citrus and Cattle Ranch to see the Mormon Church’s ranching operations:
Alas, as former Mormons, we failed to consider that they wouldn’t offer tours on Sunday. But we stopped by the Visitor’s Center anyway and drove around a bit. Here’s the Visitor’s Center:
I knew from the Deseret Ranches’ website and this wikipedia page that the ranch was big, but actually driving around the ranch made me wonder just how big it is. So, I spent a good 10 hours or so trying to see if I could map out just how big the ranch is. After all that time, I realized it was simply too big for me to easily map out by myself. But, the research I did do provided me with some fascinating information.
First off, thanks to a corporation registration website in Florida, I was able to track the name changes of the holding companies for the ranch over the years, eventually finding the current name. It used to be Deseret Properties of Florida, Inc., Deseret Farms, Inc., Deseret Farms Inc., Deseret Ranches of Florida, Inc., Deseret Livestock Company, Deseret Properties of Florida, Inc., Deseret Ranches of Florida, Inc. (1), Deseret Ranches of Florida, Inc. (2), but it is now called Farmland Reserve, Inc.. Once I finally found the current holding company, I was able to visit the property tax appraisers’ websites for the three main counties where the ranch is located: Osceola, Orange, and Brevard. On those sites I found all the property listings of Farmland Reserve, Inc. Here’s a summary of what I found after I added them all up:
Yep, you’re eyes do not deceive you – LDS, Inc. has more than $1 billion in for-profit property in Florida. The acres convert to 457 square miles, or .7% of the State of Florida. I can’t say for certain, but my guess is that LDS, Inc. is the largest landholder in the state behind the government. For comparative purposes, Disney owns 25,000 acres (that’s all of their properties, not just Disney World), or about 1/12th of the land owned by the LDS, Inc. holding company.
To tally all of this information, I actually built a spreadsheet that you’re welcome to download and peruse. I also started drawing the land parcels in Google Earth, but once I realized just how many there were, I decided I just didn’t have the time. I did complete all the land in Orange County and started on the land in Osceola County. If you want to see the maps or, better yet, if you’d like to improve/complete the maps, you can download them here: Orange County, Osceola County. If you do download them and improve them, please send me a copy of the updated versions as I’d like to have them.
As I was searching through these listings, on a whim I decided to see if Farmland Reserve, Inc. owned any property in my county, Hillsborough, FL, which is all the way across the state from Osceola and Brevard Counties. Turns out they do (see above table). That’s in addition to the $12 million owned by “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Corporation”, which is the company that holds the churches. This makes me wonder just how much property Farmland Reserve Inc. owns. I checked a couple additional counties in Florida but didn’t find any more property.
One of the reasons I wanted to visit the ranch is because my aunt and uncle recently completed a mission there (I should have gone while they were there, but never made it). The amazing thing about the fact that they served a mission there is that they did zero proselytizing and they paid to serve their mission. So, what did they do? My uncle was a high school shop teacher. He knows how to build and repair homes. So, they put him to work building homes on the ranch. He’s round 70 years old and was working 12 hour days 6 days a week for 18 months. His wife ran some of the tours and did other odd jobs around the ranch. When I found out that my aunt and uncle were paying for the opportunity to work for Farmland Reserve, Inc., a billion dollar for profit company, I was not very happy. Not only did the LDS Church use tithing money to buy the ranch (I’m assuming, maybe it was profit from some other business venture), but now it makes people pay for the opportunity to make one of their subsidiaries money. How is that at all ethical?
To wit, the obvious question is: How does the billion dollar ranching operation of the LDS Church further its religious aims? Why does a religion need a billion dollar ranch? Anyone?
Finally, all this searching around for property owned by LDS, Inc. led me to realize that we, the MSP community, could probably put together a pretty good estimate of the property holdings of LDS, Inc. (in the US at least) fairly easily if we distributed the work among us. If each person looked up the holdings of LDS, Inc. in their county and put them in a spreadsheet, we could aggregate them and keep a running total of known property value of the LDS religion. It would make a cool little widget for MSP to display. Thoughts?