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Carmila Udarbe is youngest recipient of state FFA degree

HONOLULU — Carmila Udarbe made it home from the Hawai‘i Future Farmers of America annual state convention in time for the West Kaua‘i Lions Club community egg hunt on Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023.

During the state convention where the Hawai‘i FFA sought and received approval for Carmila to miss a few days of class at Waimea Canyon Middle School, the sixth-grade student was presented with a state FFA degree.

“She is the youngest recipient in the 94-year history of the Hawai‘i FFA, and her dedication and hard work is inspiring many other students to learn about agriculture production and sales,” said Ken Kajihara, state Department of Education program manager for agriculture education and the FFA.

“Her mother Vanessa Udarbe accompanied her to O‘ahu, and was also recognized on stage by more than 240 FFA students and teachers attending the largest state FFA conference in 25 years.”

Udarbe’s FFA degree includes honorary membership to individuals who made extraordinary contributions to agriculture education.

Soon after the pandemic gained ground in Hawai‘i, Carmila, under the mentorship of longtime community volunteer and Carmila’s basketball coach Basilio “Bunga” Fuertes, started to grow vegetable seedlings, including eggplant, sweet pepper, Maui onion and a number of other garden favorites.

“You like make money?” asked Fuertes, who also happened to be Carmila’s after-school mentor who at the time was a third grader at ‘Ele‘ele School. “You can sell the seedlings and use the money for college.”

During her tenure of growing starters, Carmila learned media preparation, seeding, irrigation and fertilizing skills.

The starters were either sold or donated to members of the community. When her brother, who was attending Waimea Canyon Middle School, needed to fundraise for a trip to Washington, D.C., Carmila opted to have a few months’ sales help him fund his trip.

The starters were distributed on Saturdays, a day banks and credit unions are usually closed. But Gather Federal Credit Union in the ‘Ele‘ele Shopping Center allowed her and Fuertes to set up tables where customers could purchase the seeds, many of which were acquired through the University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

“We do not bad,” Fuertes said. “People want the starters, and Carmila can still make the basketball games.”

Mom Vanessa Udarbe, a bank teller, was the source of her seeding timing after mom would get requests from her bank customers.

Over the three years Carmila and Fuertes have been doing the starters, the state FFA estimates that her earnings and donations have a value of more than $7,000.

Kajihara said the award was supposed to be presented much earlier, but COVID-19 and its resulting restrictions and considerations prevented the award presentation until the state FFA convention.

“I heard about Carmila and how she grows seedlings under the mentoring of Coach Bunga,” Kajihara said.

“I used her as motivational material for a leadership training program I did with the current group of FFA state officials. As a result, the state officers from Waipahu High School, McKinley High School and Moloka‘i High School wanted to do a special award for Carmila to honor her accomplishments in advancing agriculture.”


Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 808-245-0453
Source: The Garden Island

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