61: Feed My Sheep
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.
The talk by Elder Holland that KaRyn quotes: "The First Great Commandment," from October 2012 General Conference
Read the LDS Living article about Ryan sharing his potatoes: "How 1 Latter-day Saint Farmer's Decision to Give Away 2 Million Potatoes Had a Worldwide Impact "
The pile of potatoes on Ryan's farm where people could come grab what they needed:
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 laughted 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 connection with a man out of New York City and we shipped a full semi load of boxed potatoes to the Bronx. And they were just trying to do something good for their community. And that was really the story of what I saw.
As people reached out, many people wanted to help. We'd get anonymous donations from as far away as New York and Canada. And they felt like, you know, with the potatoes that we were giving away, that was, you know, going to bankrupt us. That really wasn't the case.
Initially, I refused that. I didn't want to take money for this. This was something we kind of talked about as a company that we would continue to just give them away. Somebody tried to slip envelopes here and there, but we'd give them back. But I really couldn't stop the money that was coming in from distant lands and anonymous money.
So as the Facebook posts expanded, I started to hear from some news agencies. I did interviews with CNN, Fox News, ABC, NBC, I do a little podcast with NPR. And then some of those stories ended up into the national or the world media.
And so I started to have messages and comments and emails from people from all over the world. And one of the people that I noticed on one of the Facebook comments, was a lady named Susan. She's from Kenya, and, for whatever reason, I'll just remember, seeing her picture and this impression that I wanted to just see what she had to say. And so I clicked on her comment. And the comment was something along the lines, "I wish you could send some of those potatoes to me." But just, you know, shipping potatoes to Kenya or even other parts of countries, you know, it's cost prohibitive so it's not going to work.
So I responded, "Well, I wish I could. What is it like in Kenya with COVID?" She just commented that she lived in Nairobi, Kenya, and it's a city of about 4 million people. We're talking dirt floor, tin shack, cardboard-type homes, and she just explained how they were living hand to mouth as it was, you know, trying to feed her family. She's a single mother of three children. And then with the lockdowns that the government had put on, imposed upon them in Kenya, you know, they really didn't have an opportunity to go into work and, you know, bring food home to the family.
And so as I thought about a little bit, I come back and asked her a little bit later, you know, if there's nothing I can do to help? She really says, "Well, I don't think there's much you can do to help. But we just need something to eat."
So I think I thought about that a little bit and in my pickup, I've had $100 bill that had been floating around in the center console of my truck for almost a year. And I'm like, " I'll just, I'm just gonna send her this money."
And it's really not that easy to send money to Kenya. We finally figured out how to do it. And so I ended up sending the money over there to Susan. And a couple days later, I think it was over the weekend, so I think on Monday, she sent me a little picture of her family as they come back from the store with their groceries. And she brought back, you know, a big bag of flour, rice, and cooking oil and sugar, and just the staples, beans. And right on the very top a little there's one little teeny pack of cookies.
It just struck me funny as we eat here in our country and go shopping, you know, you bring home for frozen pizzas and Snickers bars and ice cream and just things that didn't even cross her mind. And she wrote me back and she sent a picture and just saying, "Thank you. This will fit our family for months."
So I continue to have money come into the company to help us. I've been thinking about you know, "Is there something I could do with this money, or something I could leverage to make this something bigger?" And in one of my conversations with Susan, she said, "My dream and prayer is to educate my children and to see them go to the university. I don't want them to raise their children in the ghetto like I have raised them."
I don't know, there's something that really struck a chord with me on that. And so almost immediately, I had an idea, I'm like, "That's what I want to do. I'm gonna, I'm gonna help her children receive an education." And so I had the thought, "Okay, I'm gonna take the money that have already been given and put that toward the cause. I'm going to do a GoFundMe and I'll send this out to everyone that was wrote these nice comments and things on my Facebook page, I linked that to it.
And so I pondered over it on a Sunday, all day. I started to do a little video to put that out and asking people for help. And I thought people responded really well to it. So we were able to raise more than enough, I think, to put most her kids through college.
I think some people felt like maybe it could be a scam, or something like that. But I really felt in my heart, I knew that it was not. I had big, long conversations with Susan. I knew her heart. And so I was so excited about it. I'd share it with the family every day, we sit around the dinner table discussing where we're at what to do, and we've decided that even if we come up short, we as a family, we're gonna pitch in and make the dream happen for them one way or the other.
And about then I kind of lost contact with Susan. At first, I was, I was a little bit wary. I'm like, okay, you know, what if something happened to her or. . . But then I saw a post, and I think she had maybe even posted it herself, on Facebook and of like bulldozers bulldozing buildings and stuff down. And so I clicked on it and it was following that a little bit. And so I looked it up on the news and there was an article on it in the Kenyan news about how the goverment was working on a big waterworks project and this sewer plan, so they decided to knock those homes down. And, and so, as that was all demolished and twisted up in the metal and some of the belongings, and that, you know, I know that it was probably very devastating for, for her. And so the excitement of raising, you know, the money to help her children was kind of overcome with, we just needed to survive the next while. I was very nervous about how they were.
Prior to and during this process, I made another friend in Kenya in Nairobi, his name was Titus. And he's a member of the Church there was in the bishopric in one of the wards and he seen an article on LDS Living that had been done about the story. So he reached out to me and just asked if there's something you could do to help. So I asked him if he'd go see if you could find Susan. And I had her phone number, but he was able to track her down and to check in on her.
She found some shelter in a church, somewhere in the city for a few nights. And she had family nearby. And so her one sister let her stay with her for a shorter period of time while she got her feet back under underneath her.
And so eventually, I heard back from her, and she, you know, she told me what had happened. They were safe. They were sound, they just needed somewhere to stay. She's was very discouraged, and in quite a bit of despair, I would say.
So it was about this time that we started to have a little bits of discussions on occasion about God, talking about faith. And I asked her if she'd be willing to meet with the missionaries from my church, and that they would have a message that they would share with her that potentially changed her life, for the better – forever. She willingly accepted. And said she'd be happy to meet with the missionaries.
So how do you get in contact with missionaries in a foreign country? Our friend, good friend, Titus, connected us with the missionaries and was able to get her phone number, make the connection, and so the missionaries like right away, they started to teach the first discussion.
She'd come over to the church where they met and did a discussion and gave her a little tour of the church, and . . . But as I've seen before, as I served on my own mission is, you know, sometimes as people start to learn and hear about the gospel, life can get really complicated for them pretty fast. And so, again, I couldn't make contact with Susan for quite some time.
Finally, Titus, I think was able to track her down, and she's been robbed, and had been her – had her phone stolen. And I just thought, Well, yeah, this is – she's starting to learn about something that really can have life changing meaning in her life as she prepares to learn about the Savior and the Gospel. And then she's robbed. Like, what else could possibly go wrong?
Again, an impression come to me that, you know, sometimes during our darkest hour comes – next comes the light.
I really felt like that was going to be the case that Susan would soon see light in her life. And I didn't know exactly what that meant. I really wasn't that optimistic that things would go far with the missionaries, but I knew that there was going to be something good that happened in her life.
In all our discussions with Susan, she never asked me for a single thing, and one day, she sent me a little message. And she said, "I feel like that I'm becoming a burden to you." She wanted to become more self–reliant and to be able to take care of her family. She expressed her concern in doing that. She didn't want to be a burden to others.
She said that her doctor had told her that she needed to quit doing what she has done for an occupation to help feed her family, and that was doing construction. I have pictures of her packing these huge concrete blocks on her shoulders into the construction sites. And she talked about how how little money that paid how hard it was, and it had done damage to her back. Many times the women over there were taken advantage of and sometimes not even paid for their work.
She said that she has an opportunity, that something she knows, to start her own business. And so she asked me the first time for something, and that was "Would you loan me some money so that I'll be able to start this business?" It was just a few hundred dollars, a very small amount.
So I told her, "Yeah, I'd be, I'd be thrilled to help you start your own business." And so it had come to me the thought about the self–reliance course on how to start your business. And so I reached out to Titus and asked him if he could come up with the manuals and the books. And he did. And he took them to Susan and gave it to her.
And so a week or so later, I asked her, "How's the business start–up going?" And she says, "No, I'm not, I'm not doing any of that, I want to finish reading the self-reliance manual first." And so she was like, really into it, you know, reading the self-reliance program and how it can help her, and then Susan was able to start her own fruit stand business.
So it's about this time that she was pretty quiet about things. And Titus actually told me first that she made a decision to be baptized, her and her daughter. But then the next day, in the conversation with Susan, she told me that she decided to be baptized and become a member of the Church.
I was thrilled. I expressed to her that I wish that I could be there for it, because I really wanted it to be. I wish I could just jump on an airplane, fly out there, but I knew that wouldn't be realistic. I asked, "Could you make sure you send me pictures?" And so I asked her that, and she – and they did, they sent lots of pictures. And Titus was there too and he sent me pictures.
It was a really special day, just to see the smiles on her face and see them all dressed in white. It was kind of surreal, but it was something that really touched me and our family was in celebration for the whole day. It was just a great experience to see.
And I knew this could be a great beginning, that could really change her life and the lives of her children. She's expressed to me many times about her testimony and God and His desire to help her and that she's recognized that things will come in their own due time, in God's own time.
We've since taken some of the education fund, and we've got her kids enrolled in private school. Public school in downtown Nairobi, you know it's a very difficult circumstance – 150 kids shoved into one classroom, there's not a lot of learning going and so we felt like if they're gonna have a chance at the university, that private school is going to be the best for them. And it's not a lot of money, a small amount.
She sent me a pictures of her boys on the first day of school all dressed in their little uniforms and their books. It was the cutest thing you've ever seen. Her daughter, Serena just enrolled in school, but because of COVID her schools are still shut down, and so we haven't been able to get her in yet.
At times in our life, when we think times are the most difficult, and are the most challenges it's really something that can end up being our greatest blessings. And I've seen that many times in my life. It's something that we see on the farm all the time, if the rain comes for 30 days straight – at the time it seems like the worst possible thing in the world because we can't get the work done, can't get it done timely. But six months later, when we're harvesting our crop and we have record crops – then comes the blessing that we see the law of the harvest, of how what seemed like the most difficult thing really ended up being something great.
And I think we're seeing that in, in this circumstance with, you know, having to dump potatoes, you know, what seemed like a total disaster ended up being such a wonderful blessing, lead to a family in Kenya, on the other side of the world that could potentially have their lives changed forever.
I just couldn't envision that at first. But I knew that as they had prayed, what could we experience, what could we learn from this COVID and from the whole tailored experience of being patient and waiting on the Lord's time for that to come to pass.
I really feel like that has come to fruition and really just see somebody's live blessed as we learn to listen to the promptings of our Heavenly Father that come to us and follow them.
It's really how we accomplish going about doing God's work that He would do if He was here Himself, to do our Heavenly Father's work. And I really want to envision and look just to see if Susan's family, a decade from now, a generation or two from now, to see what kind of difference that made. Something little, a little thing like dumping a few potatoes out in a, in a pile on the edge of a field, how that can lead to change the lives of many generations to come and really to see great things come to pass.
That's really a testament to me of really how God works. We have to have trust in Him and what He allows us to go through and the trials that we have that that He – iti is maybe be what's best for us and really can be our greatest blessing.
That was Ryan Cranney. LDS Living first shared Ryan and Susan's story in a written article this past spring, and we loved that we could get it in Ryan's own words here on the podcast.
And because you know that we love to have all sides of the story here at This Is the Gospel, we did reach out to Susan to see if we could make that happen. But the time differences from Kenya to the US and technological challenges made it impossible right now. We're so grateful for her willingness to be part of the story and we will have more of her own words in our show notes as soon as we possibly can.
You know, when story producer Katie Lambert was working on this story, she remarked to me several times, pretty much every time we talked about it, how much she enjoyed Ryan's unassuming demeanor. She is well acquainted with the Idaho farmer life and said that he is an Idaho farmer through and through. Matter of fact about the loss of a major part of his income for the year, and matter of fact about his decisions to give the potatoes away and matter of fact about his prompting to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with Susan and her family.
I'm in awe of Ryan solid faith in God's timing and His plan for each of us. He understands something that I feel like I'm still trying to learn every single day. The loss of the potatoes and the money that those potatoes represented was a temporary and temporal setback. But the joy in feeding thousands or helping one soul come home to the Savior's fold, that's an eternal and everlasting joy, nothing temporal about it.
And that kind of perspective is exactly what Elder Holland was talking about when he gave his beautiful 2012 General Conference address titled: "The First Great Commandment." There isn't time here to recount the entire address, we'll put it in our show notes, you really need to go and reread it. It's so good, and so important.
But Elder Holland shares the story of the resurrected Savior coming to His apostles who have turned back to the work they did before they were first called to leave their nets and follow Him. And after showing them his power to feed the world, physically, by filling their empty fishing nets, He implores Peter three times, "Do you love me?"
And when Peter answers have after each question with "Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee." The Savior responds with these words, "Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep." Elder Holland goes on to say, quote, "I am not certain just what our experience will be on judgement day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter, 'Did you love me?' I think he will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate and sometimes childish grasp of things. Did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all? Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind. And if at such a moment, we can stammer out, 'Yeah, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee,' then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty. 'If ye love me, keep my commandments, 'Jesus said. So, we have neighbors to bless. Children to protect. The poor to lift up, the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right and truth to share and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can't quit and we can't go back. After an encounter with the living Son of the living God, nothing is ever again to be as it was before." End quote.
When I think of Ryan's story, I think of this kind of love. This kind of loyalty. The kind of love that started with a pile of potatoes in an attempt to feed a hungry world. The kind of love that presented a willing heart that some may have seen as naive, ready to engage with someone very different from himself and his circumstances.
And finally, the kind of love that knows that the true soul food of this sometimes treacherous, and confusing earth life, the real sustenance for those of us who hunger and thirst looks a lot less like potatoes, and much more like the making and keeping of sacred covenant as disciples of Jesus Christ.
So this week, my friends, regardless of what your test results say, or a relentless year flings at you, I pray with all of my heart that we will seek to be filled with that kind of love. And as Elder Holland invites us to do, that we'll move forward, ever forward, to show that love by feeding His sheep.
That's it for this episode of This Is the Gospel thank you to our storyteller Ryan Cranney and Susan. We'll have more information about them and their story including pictures, as well as the link to Elder Holland's talk in our show notes at LDS living.com/Thisisthegospel. You can also get more good stuff by following us on Instagram or Facebook at Thisisthegospel_podcast.
The story in this episode is true and accurate as affirmed by our storyteller. And of course, if you have a story to share about living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, please call or pitchline and leave us a story pitch. We're currently looking for Christmas stories. Stories about getting it right, getting Christmas right. The best pitches will be short, they'll be sweet and they'll have a clear sense of the focus of your story. So call 515-519-6179 and leave us a message.
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This episode was produced by me KaRyn Lay with help from Sarah Blak – bless you Sarah – and story production and editing from Katie Lambert. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix at Six studios and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at LDSliving.com/podcasts.
Be well everybody! Stay safe.