When the demand for potatoes plummeted during the outbreak of COVID-19, Ryan did something unthinkable. He dumped 2 million pounds of potatoes on his farm and, through a Facebook post, invited anyone to take what they needed. Little did he know that this post would reach a single mother in Kenya and give him the opportunity to act on the Savior's invitation to feed His sheep both physically and spiritually.
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Welcome to This Is the Gospel, an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
At the time of this recording, I am currently in quarantine waiting for the results of my COVID-19 test. I'm okay. It's okay. But it is amazing how quickly a little under-the-weather feeling sends us into a downward spiral of brain frenzy. Where have I been? Who was I with? Did I take off my mask somewhere forget to wash my hands that one time? Who did I give this to? It's enough to drive you crazy, whether it's COVID or not.
But it also has me thinking about this week's theme and story because in the midst of all the uncertainty and exhaustion I have been fed, literally and figuratively, a simple warm bowl of soup from Chick-fil-A on the porch from a neighbor, a just-checking-in text from a friend, an offer to take things off my work plate, bless you. And a well-timed scripture in my "Come, Follow Me" study that's bringing me a lot of hope. All of these things have helped me to know that I am not alone, even when I'm feeling really vulnerable. And they bring me a sense of safety of peace, and, like I said, hope.
I think that regardless how we interpret or act on the Savior's charge after His resurrection to feed His sheep, the end result for those that we care about will be the same—a sense of safety, of peace, of fullness, and of hope. And in today's episode, we have one story from Ryan, a farmer in Idaho who thought he was being prompted to do what farmers do: feed people from the land. But it wasn't the potatoes that ultimately made the biggest difference. Here's Ryan.
We farm about 20,000 acres. We do a lot of potatoes and sugar beets, and a lot of other crops as well as cattle.
We grow potatoes for both the process industry, which is companies that make french fries, that's our biggest customers is the french fry. And then we also do fresh pack where we're part-owners in the company that packs potatoes into boxes and bags that go to grocery stores and restaurants.
This last year, was in 2019, was a great year. We were super excited at the end of the harvest, we had a great crop, things are looking very good and the economy was doing well. People were out in about, you know, eating and restaurants. And there actually was a really good demand for potatoes, specifically. And there also was a little bit of a tight supply of potatoes and so potato prices looked like they were going to be at record levels. So we were really excited about how things look for us. And so a lot of optimism going into the first part of 2020.
And then, you know, sometime around, you know, the end of January, in the very first part of February, I started to hear a little bit about this virus. I remember, right at the very beginning having kind of a sick feeling in my gut, you know, this could be something very serious, both for the world but also for our company. And then we started talking about how are we going to control this, we're going to do shut downs and things like that, then the reality really start setting.
So the first thing that we saw here was the food service side, the restaurants really took a beating as they began to close down. And so we saw our customers' demand go from very strong to almost a complete stop. I felt a sense of almost panic at the time. I felt like that, you know, we could be in financial jeopardy, that potentially it could take farms out of business.
At this time, we were praying as a family that we would be able to sustain through this difficult time, asking for Heavenly Father's help to get through it. I also asked many times, "What is it we need to learn from this experience? What are the correct decisions might be that we continue to support our family here for generations to come?"
So I guess April time is planting time, but it's also the time of the year where we have still have potatoes in storage from the previous year's harvest. Usually, we can either sell those to other farmers or we can take those to the dehydrated market make dehydrated flakes. And so I made the usual phone calls to the dehydrating companies. They just laughed at me, they're like, "We're not buying anything right now. We don't see anything opening up." You know, farmers were cutting back because of their contracts and what they were going to plant so there was no one to sell the potatoes to.
They were beautiful potatoes. You know, I really struggled with what to do with them. And the other only option that we had was to be to feed them to cattle as we have some of our own cattle. So that's kind of what our initial intent would be to dump them on the ground, we could feed them later to our own cows.
But as a as a dumped them there looked at how pretty the potatoes were. And when we were all said and done, we had about 2 million pounds of potatoes. And if you figure about, you know, a half pound is a potato, there's probably 4 million potatoes there. I'm like surely there's got to be something that would be a better use than cattle feed. So I pondered that over for a part of a day. And I had the distinct impression to give some of them away.
I knew that people were, some people lost their jobs, maybe struggling financially. So I just made a post on Facebook or something along the lines of, "Due to COVID, we're gonna have to dump some potatoes, you're welcome to come get some if you'd like some." Really, I had no idea that people will take that as seriously as they did. I thought maybe a few friends, neighbors would come gather a few up and the rest would go to cattle feed. But I was wrong majorly wrong.
The first day, people started to show up, you know, friends, neighbors, just car after car after car. And I would say hundreds of people the first day came. We were just blown away. We couldn't believe the amount of traffic and it was like a almost like a highway.
So then, the next day, I thought things would be over and it would quiet down. But by early morning, this traffic started up again. And same thing, steady stream of traffic going by. And so during this whole time, the Facebook posts started to spread. And I started to get a lot of comments, but a lot of shares, ended up with over 10,000 shares when it was all said and done.
So we started to see, after the first few days, people come from far away into you know, Utah, up into the Boise Valley, both a three, four hour drives. Then even brass even farther and I saw people come in from down into Nevada and Elko and Wells, you're starting to talk no more like a five or six hour drive. And then as far as way as Las Vegas and Moscow, Idaho, straight, you know, 10-hour drives. One lady called from Kansas, which is like an 18 hour drive.
And after a day or two what really started to stand out to me was the reason why people were coming to get the potatoes. The gas money was way more than what the potatoes were worth in, all circumstances. But I started to get a glimpse of the people just wanted to come and do something good for somebody else. It was the beginning of the lockdown, they been locked in their home. And I think it was just a great way for people to have an opportunity to get a glimpse of something they could do, something kind for other people. And that's really what amazed me. I would say 95% of everyone that came came in for somebody else.
You know, I made a…