CEW-MR-1-Ag advocacy925One mother’s realization of how quickly families become removed from the farm
by Steven E Smith
“She is my inspiration,” stated Debbie Lyons-Blythe. Her “inspiration” is a young mother in the Midwest. Instead of being two or four generations removed from production agriculture, Shannon, who is actually an extended family member of Lyons-Blythe, is just a generation removed. “After discussing food purchases with her and realizing how torn she was when considering grocery purchases and whether or not to buy organic or other specialized food, I knew I needed to speak up for agriculture.”
Lyons-Blythe is a spunky, outgoing rancher from the Flint Hills of Kansas. As a speaker at the National Angus Conference, Lyons-Blythe explained to the audience how to become an agricultural advocate through social media. She is a blogger, a tweeter and a Facebooker. “Before you head for the exits, please realize that these technologies are not as intimidating as they may appear. The fastest growing demographic of users of Facebook today are women ages 55 to 60. This is just the beginning and it removes the challenges of time and costly expenses to reach out to people.”
Since 2009, Lyons-Blythe has been having a conversation with non-farm moms, a growing following maybe because she doesn’t over tell the story. Some people get so excited that they just tell too much and the verbose detail becomes a reason to become “unfriended.” In the case of Facebook, the unfriender just disconnects from their relationship online with the “over wordy story teller” who frequently posts about too many details within their own life.
Instead, a classic posting by Lyons-Blythe went as follow… “headed to the boys’ basketball game. I am so really excited for them. Checking a heifer that is in labor and hoping not to miss much of the first quarter.” The post is really about the family activity but the agriculture aspect is included. “If any of my followers ask questions from the initial post, then I take it further from there,” shared Lyons-Blythe.
If I can change the choices of one mom’s perspective on food and agriculture, I am doing what I should. Ultimately, I have no issue with organic food. My issue is with the impact that activist groups are having as they misinform and pull at the heart strings of these consumers. “But we are not going to change the activist.” But their impacts need to be considered. The backers of PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S. are hard at work again. They are sending lesson plans to schools that talk negatively about animal agriculture. The good news is numerous research findings have found that roughly 95 percent of consumers trust farmers and ranchers. “We just need to be in a conversation with our consumers.”
A conversation about agriculture despite the net wrap
At their 250 cow registered Angus ranch, Lyons-Blythe finds all kinds of opportunities to have a conversation about life on the ranch as a mother of five children. “I use to have time to tweet or post a quick blurp or picture while the balers covered the bale with twine. But net wrap is too quick. I occasionally catch flak from my children who wonder what is wrong and then realize the tractor is in park and I am on my phone.” At her blog post, Lyons-Bylthe, who was named America’s Farm Mom of the Year in 2012, shares life, recipes and happenings at the ranch. But an important thing to remember, according to Lyons-Blythe is that you can’t over think or over edit your interactions. Barring major spoofs, being authentic and putting it as you would in person is also important. “You might find yourself or another person on your crew snapping a photo or making a comment online about what your farm is doing today. I post about once a week. I think people tune me out if I am too active in my posts.”
“Instead, I have learned to make this interesting and fun for my audience. Each week, I reward the best, most interesting question on my blog with with a $20 certificate for Beef Bucks.”
While they are not specific to her meat market trade, Beef Bucks is actually a non-profit organization designed to promote the beef industry and educate the general public about all of the great things about America’s finest food, BEEF! The “Beef Buck” itself comes in two forms; a pre-paid check or a VISA debit card that can be redeemed at a wide variety of locations across the country. “People get interested in this as well as applying some of the recipes I have recently featured.”
Get out there too
While on a typical 30 mile adventure to the shopping center, Lyons-Blythe said she got into a conversation at the meat counter and before the talk was over, had volunteered herself and a friend to service at an upcoming event. “I ended up being invited to hand out samples of Certified Angus Beef at the store’s customer event. It was a privilege to be able to serve samples to the public and field questions as a producer. We handed out Certified Angus Beef information as well as talk about Beef Quality Assurance and the Masters in Beef Advocacy programs to these customers who were within short driving distance of our ranch.”
Other ways to advocate
“Consider doing school presentations such as reading a book about agriculture and then answering questions from the classroom full of students. Other farms have had quality experiences allowing school field trips or by participating in Farm City Day events. There are countless chances to explain the industry to so many people who have never had the privilege to know agriculture first hand. Their concern for their families come to us in the form of questions of natural and revelant concern to any parents. The agricultural community needs to always be mindful that these questions if unanswered by us will likely be dramatized into unrealistic issues by just a few fringe activists.”
While you may not think of yourself as a tech minded, social media guru but your genuine love for agriculture, coupled with your knowledge and experience could be just the voice or connect for the one out of the more than 155 people you ultimately feed each year. This is the age that we are in. For example, there are over a billion Facebook users. If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s third largest at more than double the U.S. population. If you don’t believe Lyons-Blythe as she stresses reaching out to the consumer public, just get online, go to YouTube and watch video on Socialnomics. Things are changing in society and not all for the worse especially when people embrace powerful tools and opportunities for the positive.