Skip to main content
The official hub for news and stories from Colorado Mesa University
Resilient Food

Educating the next generation of food growers through hands-on sustainable agriculture internships

In the face of sustained drought conditions, a changing climate and growing concerns around the quality of food, the Western Colorado Community College Sustainable Agriculture Program and Culinary Arts Program are partnering with Early Morning Orchard to ensure that our farms are resilient, that everyone in our community has access to high-quality fruits and vegetables and that we are educating the next generation of food growers in our community.

Early Morning Orchard was founded by Skip Doty when he recognized the need to provide responsibly grown, year-round vegetable production on the West Slope. In 2018 the farm began partnering primarily with food pantries in the region to help those in need and they recently added a culinary farm-to-table education program that provides experiential learning opportunities for aspiring chefs.

Last year over 100,000 pounds of produce was delivered to the farm’s food pantry partners, including the Community Food Bank of Grand Junction. Kaye Davis, the operations manager for Early Morning Orchard oversees the distribution of food to all their food pantry clients and believes that everyone deserves access to good food.

“That drives everything that we do here. We want to feed people, and regardless of how much money you have, you should be able to eat well and be well,” said Davis.

One person who has been instrumental in the responsible farming practices and educational outreach on the farm is Western Colorado Community College culinary arts and sustainable agriculture alumna Kasey Weingarten. Weingarten first discovered that sustainable agriculture was a potential career path as a student on a WCCC field trip to Early Morning Orchard. Now she is the farm director and her duties include leading educational tours on the farm.

During a recent tour, Weingarten explained to a group of current WCCC students that “a big focus of this farm is working on the health of our soil to produce healthier and more flavorful food. We make sure that we are regenerating the health of our soil by applying compost, using organic soil amendments, planting cover crops, strategically integrating animals, rotating crops and using all organic methods for weed management.”

Another WCCC student working at the farm is Travion Shinault, Early Morning Orchard’s farm chef. He works to take food that otherwise might go to waste and creates value-added shelf-stable items that can be distributed to community food pantries. He also prepares farm crew meals and helps to curate Feast in the Field events where community members can come experience a meal prepared on the farm using ingredients from the ground beneath their feet.

Assistant Technical Instructor of Agriculture Bryan Reed has the utmost respect for Early Morning Orchard.

“The farm is not only focused on environmental sustainability but is working on economic sustainability by keeping money in the local economy and they are working on social sustainability through their education, outreach and relationship development. It’s not just about one-and-done transactions and profits at Early Morning Orchard,” said Reed. 

Reed, along with Assistant Technical Professor of Culinary Arts Wayne Smith, is continuing to partner with Early Morning Orchard by offering agriculture and culinary internships for students, making the programming and community connections at WCCC stronger and helping to develop the next generation of food growers in our community. 

Weingarten works with Reed and Smith as a member of the WCCC faculty advisory board to make sure the college is teaching students the skills they need in the industry today. This ensures that when students leave WCCC they possess a good working resume and can obtain employment.

Together, WCCC and Early Morning Orchard are preparing students to be the next generation of food growers and to implement best practices in sustainable agriculture.


Written by Giff Walters