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From candidates to COVID to fluoride to agriculture, Alfie Oakes has been making headlines in Southwest Florida for years.

Starting out as a teenager selling produce from the back of a truck, Oakes evolved into what one pundit called “our mini-Trump,” forging a new kind of GOP identity, far removed from the long-standing, traditionalist country club attitude.

But who is this influential figure who openly clashes with her Republican colleagues (most recently with Collier County Election Commissioner Melissa Blazier)?

“Our Mini Trump” How Republican farmer Alfie Oakes became Collier County’s kingmaker

Alfie Oakes has worked his way up from the ground up

Born in Delaware City, Delaware (you can still hear a bit of the accent), Francis Alfred Oakes III is 56 years old, according to his Facebook profile. When he was five, his father, Frank Jr.,’s produce business went out of business and the family moved to a duplex in East Fort Myers. As a child, Alfie worked in his father’s convenience store and attended North Fort Myers High School. On weekends, he would drive to Immokalee to buy produce to sell at the foot of the Cape Coral Bridge. Then, at age 18, he opened the Hancock Farm Market on Hancock Bridge Parkway. He and his wife, Deanne, a former cashier at the market, have three children: Dain, Kyle and Hannah. He also began growing vegetables and teamed up with his father, who died in 2013.

Success and controversy

Oakes opened the spectacular-by-all Seed to Table in 2019, just as COVID was on the rise, then became a lightning rod after telling Naples Daily News columnist Phil Fernandez the disease was a lie and suing Collier County over its mask mandate.

Pickets gathered to protest this, as well as his 2020 Facebook tirade against the Black Lives Matter movement, which he called a hoax, and against George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis and whom he called a “disgraceful career criminal.”

Lee County Schools severed ties with Oakes, and he sued, claiming the termination of his three-year, $6 million contract was a breach of contract and a violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech. He has spoken out against 5G cell towers and fluoridation of urban water, which he sees as a globalist strategy to suppress the population. “If you don’t think this is the intent to dumb us down and keep control of the people of this country, then I think you haven’t been paying attention… We don’t trust the white coats anymore,” he said earlier this year.

Oakes’ farms supply his stores

Oakes Farms, one of South Florida’s largest agricultural companies, employs about 3,500 people. Its empire includes fields, stores, packing houses and even a boutique. Its flagship product is Seed to Table, a $30 million food experience that goes well beyond produce and includes a bakery, butcher shop and event space.

Politics is also on the table

In this Republican stronghold, Seed to Table has become the clubhouse of the local Make America Great Again wing of the party. And Oakes is a man of his word. In 2021, he footed the bill for two buses full of Trump supporters to travel to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 to take part in what Oakes later called “the most peaceful and beautiful demonstration of well over a million people that I have ever witnessed.”

The following year, all seven of Alfie’s Freedom Picks easily won their seats in the Collier County election. This year, he is again supporting a number of candidates, including Dave Schaffel, who is running against Election Commissioner Blazier.

Alfie vs Melissa Blazier

Their dispute centers on whether Oakes filed the paperwork correctly to qualify for Republican committeeman, a position he has held for four years. Oakes says a clerk told him he was “good to go,” but when it turned out he had filed the wrong form, he rushed back eight minutes late to correct the error.

That’s enough to disqualify him, Blazier says, and as a constitutional official she must enforce the rules. “There is no fraud. There is no organized crime,” she said in a statement. “Mr. Oakes is ultimately responsible for not properly qualifying for his name to be placed on the ballot.”

Letters to the editor: Alfie Oakes is to blame for missing the deadline, now he’s making a show of it

He has famous friends

In 2021, part-time resident, rocker, gun enthusiast and COVID skeptic Ted Nugent appeared at Seed to Table before testing positive for COVID a week later. Naples Congressman Byron Donalds is a frequent guest at Seed to Table. Earlier this year, entrepreneur and former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy appeared for the lunch.