The bumper sticker on the back of Jerry Ornellas’ truck reads: Proud to be an American farmer.
When Ornellas isn’t doing research for CTAHR — College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources — he’s on his 15-acre farm in Kapa‘a Homesteads working with his adolescent longan trees. As vice president of the Kaua‘i Farm Bureau, Ornellas is committed to uniting local farmers.
“Rich farmers, poor farmers, chemical or organic,” he said. “Our competition isn’t among each other — the Farm Bureau is for all farmers.”
This weekend Kaua‘i residents will get a glimpse at the Farm Bureau Fair of what Ornellas considers “the cusp of an agricultural Renaissance.”
“Agriculture shaped this entire state,” he said. “The history of this state is the history of agriculture.”
With the passing of pineapple, dairy, sugarcane and most recently, the closure of Guava Kai, Ornellas interprets this as a transitional phase for Kaua‘i farmers. His intent for farming is to put the “human resource” back into the CTAHR acronym.
“What we need is more people farming on Kaua‘i,” he said. “Anyone interested in farming, join industry groups. You’ll be surprised how other farmers will share.”
Ornellas doesn’t candy-coat the hardship of farming, having worked with the ‘aina his entire life.
“I’m a professional farmer,” he said. “It’s a good life. It’s a solitary life.”
And this is why he encourages unity among Kaua‘i farmers.
“Other farmers know how hard it is and want to share,” he said.
Ornellas shifted from dairy farming to growing bananas and then most recently planted longan, a tropical fruit related to lychee. He attributes his success in his orchard to the mentoring he’s received from growers like the Kakimoto brothers.
“I used to grow bananas,” he said. “Up and coming banana farmers can come to me — I want to help them.”
Farming on Kaua‘i is a collaborative effort.
“Farmers helping farmers,” Ornellas said. “No one person has the resources to do it on their own — that’s why I’m involved in the Farm Bureau. There are a lot of people who need a voice.”
As for the future of the fair, Ornellas would like to see a larger venue. “What the Farm Bureau would like to see is fairgrounds,” he said.
What this lifetime farmer envisions is a multi-use facility for Kaua‘i.
“Bathrooms, paved walkways,” he said. “An established fairgrounds for the use of everybody.”
Ornellas’ vision is of a central location where residents could meet for equestrian and agricultural events.
“People lose sight of the fact that we are still a very rural community,” he said. “The right fit is not land development, it’s agriculture. People don’t want this island to get to the point where we don’t recognize it. America was founded by farmer philosophers like Jefferson and Washington, their vision was of an agrarian society. It was not an urban vision.”