It's a parent's nightmare; seeing your child bullied for standing up for his lifestyle or what he believes. When your child is targeted or ridiculed by another child, you see it as an opportunity for intervention; teach appropriate behavior so each child comes to appreciate their differences while hopefully becoming more respectful adults.
But, what do you do if your child is bullied by an adult, an adult who disagrees with your child's lifestyle or pokes fun at his passion? That's what happened to Jamie Pudenz at the recent FFA Convention in Ames.
Jamie, a shy farm kid from Carroll, is one of those rare finds; a teenager who works hard, doesn't complain and speaks glowingly about his parents, his teachers, his fellow students. He sets the bar high for himself and constantly strives to push himself. His passion for the land and livestock is the very quality you hope all future farmers possess.
FFA Advisor Kolby Burch says when this football-playing junior takes on a new project, he tackles it with the seriousness of a preacher preparing for a Sunday sermon. It was quite a challenge for him to enter the FFA Public Speaking contest. His entry, "Unveiling the HSUS and the Need for Animal Agriculture," was written with passion. He spent months preparing and practicing out-loud. He sailed through preliminary contests, but took the stage at state, knowing it was a controversial subject for a wider audience. "I knew going to the state level, I'd face resistance; I put it in the back of my head, just went to the front of the room, took a deep breath and got started," said Jamie.
According to the rules, the purpose of the FFA Public Speaking event is "to develop agricultural leadership, communication skills and promote interest in leadership and citizenship by providing member participation in agricultural public speaking activities." While the rules state that judges don't need an ag background, they should all be 'competent and impartial.' Normally, judges are chosen well in-advance, but because of a scheduling snag, a last-minute FFA alumni from Illinois became the third judge.
As soon as Jamie finished his speech, the volunteer judge, decked out in Birkenstock sandals, white socks, a rumpled cotton shirt and jeans, leaned forward and asked, "Is feeding cattle 100 percent efficient?" Jamie wasn't sure at first what to say. "I closed my speech about livestock and how we feed them corn because they can't be sustained on grass alone, so I told him we feed them out and it's much more efficient. But before he let me finish he said, "No, you're completely wrong."
He then proceeded to berate Jamie on how animals are meant to be raised on pasture and raising them indoors is a perversion of nature, horrible for the environment and the cause of all society ills. He then jabbed a finger at him and said, "And, another thing, you call this a 'Works Cited' page? Who taught you how to do a 'Works Cited' Page? This is a mess!"
Jamie says he was surprised by the harsh tone and unsure of the implications of the comment, so he defended his English teacher who helped him with the 'Works Cited' formatting.
FFA advisor Burch says the burly teen held his composure, but was choking back emotion after he left the room, his confidence shaken.
Jamie Pudenz isn't interested in a career as a public speaker or writer. He doesn't dream of being a politician or sportscaster. He wants to be a farmer, just like his dad. "We need livestock production around. If I don't' start talking about the threats against us now, it's myself, my friends, my neighbors who will pay. If HSUS shuts us down, I'm out of a job. So are so many other kids like me."
I believe, as most farmers do, that consumers should have a choice when it comes to their food and farmers do their best to provide them. There will never be a return to the days when everyone farmed the same way and consumers didn't care for the narrative. Consumer demand for choice should be the tie that binds Iowa's incredibly diverse farmers together. And, choosing one type of food production over another shouldn't involve 'shooting the messenger,' whether that messenger is a consumer, a farmer or a child. Anything less is, well, being a bully.
But, at the end of the day it seems to me Jamie can already teach a valuable lesson to those who think it's someone else's job to 'do PR.' He won't give up. His quest to tell the diverse story of ag is even bolder because of the resistance he met in a wider audience. He's ready for 'round two.' How about you?
Laurie Johns is public relations manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau