Sampling orchards, wineries

SAM WATERS/The Daily Sentinel—Brant Harrison shows the Kokopelli Farms organic orchard to members of the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program, a two-year program in which Colorado residents learn about the industry while developing leadership skills.

Agriculturalists from across Colorado learned about Western Slope water and agriculture this past weekend as the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program made a visit to the Grand Valley.

The Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program is a two-year program in which Colorado residents committed to the future of agricultural and rural communities learn about the industry and develop leadership skills.

Program participants commit to nine travel and study seminars and the completion of an individual project over the two-year period.

“We’re learning about Colorado agriculture and how it fits into national agriculture and international agriculture,” said Cody Sullivan, a participant from Eaton.

In the first year of the program, the participants focus on Colorado agriculture and travel to different parts of the state. The visit to the Western Slope consisted of tours of local orchards, wineries, the Whiting Poultry Farm in Delta and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District facility.

“I just wanted to expose them to the fruit industry and water. I wanted them to see that water is as dire here as it is anywhere else,” Brad Webb said.

Webb, a program participant and manager of Mesa Park Vineyards, organized and planned the local event. For many participants, this was their first visit to the Grand Junction and Palisade area.

The Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program began in the early 1980s and was managed first by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, then by Colorado State University, for 20 years, according to Angie Cue, executive director of the program. After that, the program was halted for six years.

The class that toured the Western Slope is the first since the program’s six-year hiatus. The class of 30 included industry professionals, sales people, CSU employees, government employees and producers of all kinds. Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, a participant of the program in the 1980s, also joined the tour.

“It’s a very diverse class, which is good for discussion, and they all learn from each other,” Cue said.

This was the group’s last gathering in Colorado until February. Its members will visit New Orleans in September, touring the port and learning about international trade. In December, they will spend nearly two weeks in China studying international agriculture.

“You get to meet people throughout the state and the world that you wouldn’t otherwise get to,” Sullivan said of why he likes the program.

In March, participants will visit Washington D.C. before their graduation in April.

Several other states have or are launching similar programs. The class will work with the Louisiana program when it visits New Orleans this fall and plans to also meet with Montana’s new state program in Washington D.C.

“It’s great to see that other states are doing what we’re doing in either starting a new program or regenerating a program and caring about the future of agriculture,” Cue said.

The next class will begin in the fall of 2014. Applications for the program are available and accepted at any time on the program’s website.

For more information on the program, visit


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Given the average age of a farmer, this is a really important program. We need farmers, and we especially need farmers that are aware of the industry trends.

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