Farm Talk

Area Farm & Ranch News

March 4, 2014

Morris Co. woman advocates for agriculture

Frank J. Buchman — When Debbie Lyons-Blythe tells her story, there’s no question about authenticity — she is a cattlewoman-farm mom.

And, she’s the 2012 America’s Farmers Mom of the Year.

The White City, Kan., farm advocate kept 210 attendees’ complete attention during the 580 WIBW Farm Profit Conference last week at Paxico.

She’s a rancher with 250 registered Angus cows, along with a commercial heifer development program. Amid running the ranch, she also manages five kids and a husband, Duane Blythe, and shares her experiences through her blog, www.kansascattleranch.blogspot.com.

She was selected as the Southwest Region’s Farm Mom of the Year by a panel of judges from American Agri-Women and Monsanto, and later the 2012 America’s Farmer’s Mom of the Year through online voting.

“There are literally thousands of farm moms who do what I  do and who are so deserving of the award. I really don’t know how they select just one, but I’m honored to have been spotlighted by the America’s Farmers program,” Debbie said. “Farmers and ranchers need to tell their story; or laws, regulations and even decisions made in the kitchen will be misinformed and will limit us on what we do here.”

The K-State grad has worked as a newspaper editor and writer as well as a county agent but now works from the farm.

“We made the decision if I was to take care of our family, I could also take care of the cows, and even do the farming, while my husband has an off-farm job. Living on the farm that originally belonged to his great grandfather back in the 1ate 1800s. ... It works well,” related Debbie.

Why advocate? Consumers don’t understand meat isn’t grown in a package, corn in a can and milk comes from a cow, she said.

Having been raised on a purebred cattle operation south of Manhattan, Debbie said, “I didn’t really think about it until my husband’s cousin’s daughter brought her family from Denver to visit our farm and didn’t want them to eat hamburger or drink milk, because she believed those foods we thrive on would be harmful to their health.

“That was when I realized if she is only one generation removed from the ranch and didn’t know the true answers to these food and eating concerns, then the people much farther removed really needed to have good sources of information,” Debbie stated. “We all have the responsibility to share that information, and I am lucky enough to be able to tell our story.”

Debbie said her blog is an opportunity to share what she and her family do on the ranch every day, and connect with others interested in food production. And it works. She has had responses from people across the country.

“I met a fellow from California who has taken my stories and incorporated them into presentations he gives about having a healthy diet and lifestyle,” Debbie commented. “I love that he talks about beef and believes it is a healthy part of our diet.

“I’m talking to everybody, but especially the moms, just like I am, the ones who make the food purchases, and decide what their families are going to eat,” Debbie declared.

While 2.2 million farms dot America's rural landscape, less than 2 percent of the country’s population is farmers. “Most people don’t know anything about agriculture or food production period,” Debbie reiterated.

Adding to the serious situation for agriculture, the majority of the state and nation’s lawmakers, those who are determining legislation governing the nation, know little or nothing about food production.

Concerns about factory farms, raising pigs in stalls, milking cows in tight stanchions, chickens in cages and GMOs worry consumers, because stories reported  by media are sometimes inaccurate or incomplete.

“Conversation of agriculture advocacy is changing. We need less talk about agriculture industry and more about community —the farming community. We hear about corporations running agriculture, when in reality, 97 percent of U.S. farms are operated by families,” Debbie insisted.

“Today, the conversation should be less about ‘telling your story,’ and more about answering questions. Less talking and more listening. Less defending and more educating. Less facts and more emotion,” she continued.

“This is a very emotional subject. I get very emotional talking about agriculture and food production. But, consumers, mothers in the city, my relatives, they get emotional too about what they see, hear and eat.

“Commercials on television to donate to humane societies and seemingly worthwhile causes plead to emotions. We must be emotional in telling our story, too,” Debbie emphasized.

With her mother, Jan Lyons, and sister, Amy Langvardt, Debbie has been involved in handing out Angus beef samples in Manhattan, Kansas, and Manhattan, New York.

“I was really nervous at first in the ‘big city,’ but really consumers are the same everywhere. They like to eat, but are concerned about the quality and safeness of their food supply. It is my and your job to inform them accurately,” Debbie advised.

“There is no right way or wrong way to advocate. We need lots of voices. Mine is blogging, I tweet, but yours is your own. Play to your strengths, select your audience.

“But again, be sure to watch your terminology, say rancher rather than beef producer. It’s a farming community rather than industry.

“Use emotion, but have the facts to back it up. Then support each other,” Debbie asserted.

Obviously, Debbie Lyons-Blythe is a prime example of what it means to be a working rancher and mom, and the reason she is so special to her family, farm, community and all involved in agriculture.

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