Ron Caird (Class 10)


Ron Caird (10) is the owner and CEO of Por La Mar Nursery in Santa Barbara, a horticulture enterprise he founded with his wife, Pat. The 52-year-old wholesale operation has more than 100 acres and more than 300 varieties of blooming and foliage products. It is the largest gladiolus grower in the U.S. and continues to stay innovative with third-generation family members. Ron has served in leadership roles for numerous industry and community endeavors, including Cal Poly San Luis Obispo College of Ag and Environmental Sciences, Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce and Ganna Walska Lotusland. Ron graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in ornamental horticulture. He commenced from the California Agricultural Leadership Program in 1981. 


In what ways did the Ag Leadership Program enable you to make a greater impact in agriculture and beyond?
With Ag Leadership, you become a more volunteer-minded person. The program inspired me to become a more active volunteer in the industry and in my community. We must give back to our communities. With the program, I also became a better communicator and speaker and was able to give agriculture a bigger voice in my community. Working in an urban environment, this has been critical. The program also positively and unexpectedly impacted my nursery business. After traveling to China, Hong Kong and the Philippines for our international trip in 1981, I found an opportunity to expand our import business.

How are you strengthening California agriculture through your practiced leadership? Why is doing so important to you?
I’ve supported the Cal Poly SLO Plant Sciences Department for many years with time, guidance and financial contributions. It’s important to me because we don’t have enough people going into horticulture. There are so many incredible jobs in horticulture and agriculture, but many graduates are going into environmental science-related jobs. I have spoken to many Cal Poly classes, and I try to inspire the students to pursue and get excited about the horticulture industry. Horticulture is a big industry – from the growers to landscapers to maintenance. It’s a hard business with so many varieties, different growing conditions and constant challenges. But it’s also exciting. I love plants, which is key to this business. 

I’ve also served on the County of Santa Barbara Ag Advisory Committee for several years. Each county supervisor has one ag representative on the committee (I represent the second district). It’s a valuable group because we make recommendations on ag issues for the county. I’m also involved in the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and other endeavors. 

What personal and professional values do you carry through your life, and how do those show up in your leadership?
One of my core values is transparency because it builds trust and helps in managing issues. I have residential neighbors surrounding my nursery, so I need to be transparent and communicate effectively with them and be a good neighbor. I can’t emphasize that enough. I have a third-generation business, so with my grandchildren joining the business, I offer them wisdom and guidance. I also allow them to make mistakes because that’s how they learn. 

How has your understanding of your specific role as a leader changed since the program?
I’ve been an urban farmer for many decades. Working in agriculture in an urban environment that is not necessarily ag-friendly can be challenging. My issues are somewhat different from those in more rural regions. As a business and community leader, I’ve had to become increasingly aware of issues that affect my county: urban neighbors, strict city regulations, labor and living costs, water, etc. South Santa Barbara County, where I’m located, has changed significantly since I graduated from Ag Leadership in 1981. Santa Barbara is one of the most expensive cities to live in the U.S.   

After 50 years as a leader in the industry, what would you tell a prospective applicant to inspire them to apply to the program?
I didn’t know anything about the Ag Leadership Program because I was in an urban area. But then a county farm advisor told me about the program and thought I should apply. Lo and behold, I was accepted. I believe so strongly in the benefits of the Ag Leadership Program. I give a lot of credit to the founders who paved the way. I am grateful to alumni like Loren Booth for ensuring the program would survive. I would tell prospective applicants that we need them for the future of agriculture. Farming is essential to society, so we need strong, proactive leaders to help sustain the industry and ensure we stay relevant.