Year of the Farmer | Debbie Lyons-Blythe: Farmers, It’s Time to Join the Conversation

Year of the Farmer | Debbie Lyons-Blythe: Farmers, It's Time to Join the Conversation

Welcome back to RamZone’s Year of the Farmer guest blogger series, where stories of life on the American farm are offered up by the people most qualified to tell them—American farmers. The goal of the series, of course, is to raise awareness during the Year of the Farmer of the values, ideals and simple pleasures associated with the farming life.

Last month, guest blogger Kelsey Pope discussed the modern farmer and his or her ability to adapt to the ever-changing times. This month, returning blogger Debbie Lyons-Blythe advises her fellow farmers to join the online conversation with consumers about how our food is grown.

Debbie-Lyons-Blythe-Guest-Blogger-Cow-SunsetFarmers, It’s Time to Join the Conversation

By Debbie Lyons-Blythe*

Making hay, hauling hay, building fences, vaccinating calves and cheering at high school football games on Friday nights—I love the fall season in Kansas. This time of year on the ranch, we are preparing for the final harvest. The hay is mostly in bales, and we are as busy as squirrels storing food for the winter—hauling the hay bales to barns and stacks to save to feed the cows when the winter hits. That makes for some late nights following the tractor and hay wagons home and some early mornings heading out to check cattle before the late summer heat makes them hide in the shade.

Farmers and ranchers are busy people. We don’t punch a time clock, but if we did, we would probably get a raise. The job needs to get done and we don’t count the hours it takes to accomplish it. It seems the “to-do” list never shrinks; there are always more jobs being added faster than we can scratch them off. But there is a job that most farmers and ranchers neglect to do, one job that they really don’t know how to do, and therefore they don’t even add it to their list of things that need doing. That job is connecting with consumers.


There is a movement in America in which more and more people are making their food choices based not only on the nutrition, safety and price of a certain food, but also on how it was raised. Until recently, farmers have let the conversation go on without them. But what conversation about food is complete without participation from the people who grow it? When encouraging farmers and ranchers to take time to connect with consumers, I often say that imagination can take the place of facts, especially when people don’t have facts to consider. If we, as farmers, don’t get involved in the conversation, how will people know what we do to raise their food?

Let me put it this way: If I wanted to know what it is like inside a steel mill, I would ask a steel mill worker. They are the only people who can really tell me what it is like to work in that environment. Likewise, if someone is interested in knowing what happens on my farm, who should he or she ask? ME! Who is the best qualified to talk about my farm? ME! So why have we left the job of talking about raising food up to people who either study it or talk about it for a living, when they are not the ones who actually do the work?

Debbie-Lyons-Blythe-Guest-Blogger-SunsetThere are many ways to connect with consumers. Some of the easiest and most fun ways are online. Check out Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, just to name a few popular social media applications. If you are a farmer or a rancher, you can talk to people who don’t live anywhere near your farm just by connecting on social media.

Take my advice, farmers. Get involved. Connect with a consumer. Answer a food question today. You will find that consumers are just like you and me—they just want to feed their families safe, nutritious, delicious food. When we step up to the conversation, we are able to share truths and connections and encourage understanding and healthy decisions!

Visit Life On a Kansas Cattle Ranch for more writing from Debbie Lyons-Blythe.*

*This guest blogger was compensated by Ram Trucks

  • Joanne Rigutto

    Good post. Facebook’s my medium of choice. I have a very small diversified farm (row crops, livestock/poultry, nursery). I love reading about what others in farming are doing. So much to learn and farming is such a diverse industry.

    My farm’s facebook page in case any one’s interested –

    • Debbie Lyons-Blythe

      Thanks for what you do, Joanne! Facebook is great if you can make connections outside of the ag-world. Looks like your page is a fan/business page so people don’t have to be your friend to like the page. That is great–that widens your audience! Try asking questions on your page and answering them a day or so later–might get some interesting discussions started! Once again, keep up the good work!

  • Zach Frazier

    Great thoughts! I go to school at Purdue and in our Collegiate Cattlemen’s group, we are trying to stress the importance of “agvocating,” but it seems like few are interested! I know there is they saying, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” but to say, they don’t know how to use the waterer, is exactly how I feel. We have talked about the new Chipotle ad, seen various anti-ag demonstrations, etc., yet still seem to have no interest. It is like some think that others will just take care of it (aka Ag Comm students). I am really struggling with this, what are your thoughts?

    -Zach Frazier

    • Debbie Lyons-Blythe

      Zach, as an Ag Comm graduate myself, I understand that we have a responsibility to connect with consumers. But every farmer and rancher has to make themselves available to answer questions–whether it is in a grocery store or an airplane, or at a school or church. Not everyone can agvocate online–and we need all kinds! There is no right or wrong way to agovcate…just make yourself available and listen to the conversations around you. Tell your fellow students that they can even connect with other college students in their classes and be sure to be armed with the truth. But most importantly, just tell your side of the story. It isn’t the consumer’s fault that they don’t know who to listen to….but we have to be willing and ready to get involved in the conversation. I often talk to Collegiate Cattleman’s groups. (K-state has a brand new group and I’m one of their biggest supporters!) Look me up on facebook and send me a private message if you need someone to come talk to the group and encourage them to see the need!

      • Zach Frazier

        Thanks so much, we will keep you in mind!

  • Liz Harfst

    I completely agree! Communication is a two way street, and as farmers we not only need to tell our story, but LISTEN to what our consumers have to say. A lot of the time their concerns aren’t always a problem, just a miscommunication between us and them. Sometimes changing how we say things can greatly affect how our words are interpreted.

    • Debbie Lyons-Blythe

      And sometimes, all a person needs is to be heard! I have had a few conversations at the meat case in a grocery store that I really don’t have to say anything. Just to listen to the consumer and agree that quality and safety are important. God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth–we should listen twice as much as we talk!

  • Cheyenne Patton

    Growing up on a Kansas cattle operation I love this article. In the heartland we are proud of the way we raise our cattle and provide consumers with quality beef. I fully agree that the best way to educate the consumer is to ask the producer. This is really a great article

    • Debbie Lyons-Blythe

      Thanks, Cheyenne! Keep up the great work and be ready to answer those questions when they arise! It is amazing the places that I have been able to talk about beef–grocery stores, buses, airplanes, parent-teacher conferences, high school football games….and on and on!

  • Jessy Eggerling

    I agree wholeheartedly! However, the ones who are telling our stories seem to me like the same people over and over again. How do we reach out the farmers/ranchers who aren’t on Facebook or connected with the different social media outlets – the ones who’s only media they have are the local farm journals they get once a month? How do we convince them that their stories are being told by someone else and that they need to step up the plate? I’ve been talking to a few old-timers who are under the impression that things like the Chipotle video will have absolutely no affect on them. How do we get them to open their eyes to the fact that they need to their stories?

    • Debbie Lyons-Blythe

      Jessy, I have to admit, there are probably a few old farmers who will not be capable of advocating. But I have met grandmas who join twitter just to connect with consumers! Remember, social media isn’t for everyone, though. We need to advocate face to face as much as online. Both are important. So I guess we encourage the ones who seem willing to work to connect with consumers and the ones who can’t–don’t waste your energy trying to get them convinced. It takes all kinds of people with different ways to communicate to get the message across! Keep up the effort! We are doing what is right–that is what keeps me going.

  • Matilda Davis

    I agree 100%. As farmers and ranchers our most difficult task is connecting with consumers. We are very willing to share with consumers how we produce their food. However, they must be willing to ask questions and be willing to learn about agriculture. As producers we need to do a better job of making consumers feel more comfortable asking us questions and making ourselves more accessible to them. I hope this blog gets read and shared again and again to spread our message.

    • Debbie Lyons-Blythe

      Bless you Matilda! I agree! We have to be available to consumers and no adversarial! We are all trying to do what is right and feed our families good, safe food. We just have to work to make ourselves approachable and do our best to answer questions and respond to concerns. Keep doing what is right on the farm/ranch, and work hard to share that information with people around you.