J Allen Carnes, Winter Garden Produce
J Allen Carnes, Winter Garden Produce

Watching hard work rot in the field for lack of a workforce to harvest it left a lasting impression on J Allen Carnes.

“We nurtured and grew these crops and to see them basically rot in the field ... I said I’m not going to let that happen again,” Carnes said.

The 36-year-old president of Uvalde, Texas-based Winter Garden Produce and vice president of Uvalde-based Carnes Farms decided to get involved in industry advocacy.

Since then, he’s been interviewed for NBC Nightly News and testified on behalf of grower-shippers in Washington, D.C., numerous times. When not working on his third-generation family farm, he spends time on behalf of Texas growers on issues affecting their operations like labor and food safety.

He served as president of the Mission-based Texas Vegetable Association 2005-09 and continues to serve on its board of directors.

He also serves on the National Council of Ag Employers, the Ag Coalition for Immigration Reform, the United Fresh Produce Association’s government relations committee and the South Texas Onion Committee. He also serves on the Uvalde City Council.

“It’s kind of where I’ve found my calling,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of voices out there working on ag issues.”

Tom Stenzel, president of United Fresh, Washington, D.C., said Carnes’ commitment to the industry makes an impression.

“(He) has always impressed me with his commitment to making sure politicians in Texas and here in D.C. understand his business,” Stenzel said. “He’s been a forceful advocate for the produce business on immigration reform and a host of issues.”

Ray Prewett, executive vice president of the Texas Vegetable Association, said Carnes has “really gone above and beyond to take on issues for the Texas produce industry.”

“I think J has a very bright future in the public policy arena,” Prewett said. “Time will tell what the future will hold for J in the political arena as well.”

Carnes, a father of three who married his high school sweetheart, never thought he’d go into farming. After he earned a finance degree from the University of Texas in 1997, he returned to Uvalde to help in the family business. His father, who also is a cotton farmer, started the shipping operation of Winter Garden Produce a few years before and could use some help.

“It was one thing leading to another,” he said. “It’s not a path I expected but I’ve done well and my family’s done well.”

Carnes said one of the biggest challenges of his job is also the most rewarding part of it.

“We’re feeding and clothing our society,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges is making people realize how big this is and what an impact it has on everyone’s lives, from the smallest rural towns in Texas to the largest cities. This touches every one of us, every day.”