Pine Island Team Profiles: Gerardo Ortiz

Gerardo Ortiz, a supervisor who has been with Pine Island Cranberry for over thirty years, is a versatile team member who is involved with many projects over the course of a typical year. His knowledge of both the woods and the water make him an especially instrumental team leader who rises to every occasion.

Frequent readers of our blog know that at Pine Island, it is crucial to ensure we have clean water; it not only protects the environment, but enhances our viability and sustainability. One of Gerardo’s main responsibilities is the winter flood and its removal, which are important to the health and yield for our annual crop.

“Gerardo has an extensive knowledge of the water,” PIICM manager Cristina Tassone says. “If there’s a leak anywhere, he’ll find it.” Gerardo is also a proponent of new technology, such as the new system we borrowed from a neighboring grower that we’ve been trying over the winter. This system is run on solar power and uses sensors to monitor water levels; once the water is at the ideal level, the sensor will trigger a phone call to whoever is in charge of checking the water, so that they can go and slow down the stream coming into the bog.

Gerardo’s comprehensive knowledge of the water is also necessary during the harvest, where he is the Orange Team leader, responsible for both the picking and gathering crews as well as maintaining and monitoring the necessary water levels in order to harvest each bog most efficiently.

His current project is leading the team cutting survey lines, which are necessary in order to correctly delineate our property lines. This can be a tough job out in the Pine Barrens. “The surveyors have a laser with GPS that they use; it’s pretty neat,” Gerardo says. “You can do anything with those things.”

The team goes through both ahead of and behind the surveyors, cutting out brush and trees that are in the survey path along the border of our property. Once that is done, a team member comes through with a tractor and clears the line completely.

Cutting survey lines can be a tough job. While it’s only done every other year, the team also has to deal with swampy terrain in addition to thick underbrush. Often the job is done on days when it’s too wet or icy to sand. Gerardo says cutting the path itself can be tricky: “You need to cut down the trees as close to the ground as possible, or when the tractor comes through it could get damaged.”

We are also fortunate enough to have the second generation of the Ortiz family on the Pine Island team; during the growing season and his school breaks, Gerardo’s son Jerry brings a good work ethic and positive energy, just like his dad. “In his more than thirty years at Pine Island Cranberry, Gerardo has done every job there is to be done,” Bill says. “As Pine Island has grown, his responsibilities have grown, and he has never let us down.”