Teacher, Mentor Puts Talk Into Action

David Fuertes uses his ranch to mentor youth in at-risk communities in Hawaii County.

By Josie Malepeai Lealasola, American Samoa FSA and Lester Ueda, Hawaii County

David Fuertes wanted to do more than just deliver lip service when it came to agriculture.

Working as an ag teacher at Kohala High School on Hawaii Island, Fuertes taught and mentored students about caring for the land and giving back to the environment.

“My goal has always been to live up to our state motto, ‘The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.’ The proper investment in the right practices ensures that I’m being a steward of the land,” said Fuertes.

So after 30 years of teaching, he settled into retirement to do just that — become a steward of the land.

“I was prepared to start my own ranch assuming the responsibility to care for the environment,” he said. “It was extremely impossible to start my ranch with limited capital and all the cost factors of farming with proper conservation practices.”

But he didn’t want money to be an obstacle in reaching his goals.

Agriculture has always been a passion for David Fuertes who enjoys the physical work and the direct link between input and harvest.  As a child he enjoyed gardening class so much he later became a leader in his Future Farmers of American Chapter placing him on a path to becoming an agriculturist. Fuertes attended the University of Hawaii and was subsequently drafted into the Military. He served during the Vietnam War and later in Heidelberg, Germany.

Fuertes didn’t let the war stop his passion for farming; instead he used his travel abroad as a learning opportunity by volunteering on weekends with German farmers trying to learn their hog raising techniques.  Upon returning to Hawaii, Fuertes completed his education using the GI Bill benefits and went on to become an agriculture teacher.

Now was his time to take all of his experience and put them into practice on his own ranch. Fuertes made his first steps toward that goal at the Farm Service Agency. “The FSA loan program helped me to ’walk the talk’ of responsible ranching practices to care for the land,” he explained.

Fuertes is currently the director of Partners in Development Foundation Ka Hana Noeau, a mentorship program that prides itself on drawing upon the ancient Hawaiian cultural traditions and concepts like the “ahupua‘a,” a system of land and environmental stewardship, and “ho‘ona‘auao,” traditional mentorship in education. The program addresses the needs of at-risk groups within the Hawaiian community.

Fuertes uses his ranch as a learning laboratory. By teaching youth the proper practices of ranching, his hope is that they will someday become agriculturalists.

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