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2022 Fellows Class

Building Leaders

The future of American agriculture and rural communities lies in the hands of those involved. As our hometowns and the face of family farming change, we need to ensure that those involved in decision-making understand and appreciate the role our communities play in the American economy and our society as a whole.

The RMFU Foundation offers educational and cooperative programs that serve not only members of RMFU but communities throughout the region. Our educational flagship is the Fellows Program, a year-long journey of leadership experiences. The Fellows Program was created to train and mentor new leaders in rural communities, leaders who can identify and voice concerns to state and federal lawmakers and who could envision community development projects that would work with the community’s current infrastructure and workforce.

Suzanna Denison (they/them/she/her) is the Land Access Training and Transition Program Manager and a certified Land Access Trainer for the American Farmland Trust’s Farms for a New Generation national initiative. They are a passionate advocate for farmland access and preservation. I grew up on a conventional vegetable farm in Maine, which transitioned to organic production in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, the family worked with an area agricultural land trust to place a conservation easement on their land. Off-farm, they directed the Western North Carolina (WNC) FarmLink program, a partnership facilitating successful relationships between farmers looking for land to farm and landowners aspiring to keep their farm and forest land in agriculture. To expand their work in farm transition planning, Suzanna became a certified farm succession coordinator through the International Farm Transition Network in 2018. Previously in New Mexico, Suzanna worked for the Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust and is currently the President of the Northern New Mexico Young Farmers’ Alliance.

Jen Ghigiarelli (she/her) is a diversified livestock farmer who works to manage ecosystems while producing high-quality meat and eggs for her local community in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. Jen believes in the positive impacts of well-managed animals on land. She further believes in the importance of connection and collaboration between producers, consumers, advocates, and organizations to build supportive structures around how food is raised, distributed, compensated for, and consumed within our regions. Over the last decade, Jen has worked to inform and integrate her experiences in various agricultural systems – from organic annual vegetable production, to goat dairy and cheesemaking, to perennial shrub and tree nursery, to diversified rotational pasture-based livestock. She tries to understand different schools of thought around agriculture – regenerative, conventional, indigenous, biodynamic, permaculture – to relate with people from a wide range of perspectives in the industry and identify opportunities for partnership. Beyond the scope of production work, Jen has also played an active role in planning and implementing a Farmer Training Program where she currently works at ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch in Basalt, Colorado. She takes particular pride in the success of this program, as Jen believes in the importance of agriculture as a viable career path and investing in people to diversify their skill sets and broaden their perspectives toward that cause. Jen herself completed a Livestock Apprenticeship at The Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming in the Hudson Valley of New York in 2017 and the 2019-2020 Beginning Farmer Institute through National Farmers Union. Jen also has served in an officer role as secretary in her local National Young Farmers Coalition/Rocky Mountain Farmers Union co-chapter from 2019 through the present. Jen holds an undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the West Chester University of Pennsylvania. She is an enthusiastic participant in any agricultural or food-related conference she can attend across the United States.

Tori Kauffman is a food systems worker and advocate. She strives to collaborate with agricultural producers, municipalities, and other stakeholders to create land-use systems that benefit the diverse values and needs of communities in the American west. As a native of Colorado’s front range, Tori has witnessed rapid changes in her home state’s landscape, climate, and demographics during her lifetime. She recognizes that the well-being of the land, ecological communities, and human communities are inextricably tied. Tori believes bridging cultural divides and fostering productive conversation amongst people of diverse perspectives and backgrounds is essential to solving the most pressing social and environmental challenges facing humanity. Although her hands-on farming experience is limited to working memberships, backyard gardening, and a few summer jobs, Tori has spent over five years working in the food service industry. This experience fostered a love for the resilient and hard-working individuals in the food community. She recognized these same admirable characteristics while engaging with farmers and ranchers during her graduate work. These conversations inspired her to engage with her local agricultural community in Larimer County, dive deep into her local food system, and pursue a career to support the resilience of Colorado’s agricultural communities and working landscapes. Tori is the Project Manager for Colorado Agricultural Drought Advisors, a collective network of professionals dedicated to both increasing access to drought planning resources and bolstering the preparedness and resilience of Colorado producers in the face of long-term drought. She holds a B.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience from Westmont College. She also holds a master’s degree in Sustainable Food Systems from the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Sara Mayer is passionately the sole owner and operator of Sara’s Pick of the Coop, a pastured poultry operation in Northern Colorado. She raises her 5000 fully pastured hens with the philosophy of giving her hens the most natural life possible, believing that healthy animals produce the most high-quality product. Sara has been raising chickens since age six when her dad brought home a chicken someone had abandoned in the woods. Sara took on “Jenny Penny” as her first laying hen and, by age 14 had begun her own egg production business. Jenny Penny, the chicken, eventually led to an Animal Science Degree from Colorado State University and an ongoing passion for farming and ag education. Over her years in agriculture, Sara has worked directly with more than 30 classrooms and with both children and adults to teach hatching projects. Moving forward, Sara hopes to expand her influence in agriculture, taking on roles that promote advocacy and education. To that end, she already serves as the policy co-chair for the Larimer County Farmers Alliance and as Chairwoman for the Loveland Trust Commission. She looks forward to expanding her network in the agricultural community.

Michelle Glasmann Skaggs is an owner of Tuff’s Ranch LLC and Tuff’s Animal Rescue at Tuff’s Ranch, a 501(c)(3). Michelle believes everyone should know where their food comes from and has created an agritourism destination in Bennett, Colorado, to educate the next generation. Michelle is a supporter of agriculture education in the state of Colorado. She believes that all school-aged children should know how their food is grown and that it does not just come from the grocery store or a laboratory. She has created a summer program, “Ranch Hand for the Day,” to teach these aspects. Michelle is an avid volunteer for Arapahoe County 4-H. Additionally, she is currently the secretary of the East Adams/Arapahoe County Farmers Union Chapter and a delegate to the RMFU Convention. Michelle holds numerous master’s degrees in Education and Business from Regis University.

Paul Skaggs is an owner of Tuff’s Ranch LLC and Tuff’s Animal Rescue at Tuff’s Ranch, a 501(c)(3). Paul believes everyone should know where their food comes from and has created an agritourism destination in Bennett, Colorado, to educate the next generation. Paul is a supporter of agriculture water rights in Colorado. As a headwater state, he believes that ALL agriculture in Colorado should have priority for fresh water. Paul was selected as a Fellow for the 2022-23 Young Farmers’ Colorado Water Fellowship Program. He is currently the President of the East Adams/Arapahoe County Farmers Union Chapter and will serve as a delegate at the annual RMFU Convention. Paul holds numerous degrees in Ethics and Compliance, Automotive F&I, Welding, and Sales Management.

Kathleen Voight (she/her) is a farmer, educator, and current graduate student with a background in growing diversified vegetables and raising pastured livestock. She believes agriculture, livestock grazing, and working lands are essential to healthy landscapes that balance human and ecosystem needs. Kathleen’s enthusiasm for agriculture developed while farming at Rock Bottom Ranch in Basalt, Colorado. She has since raised pastured livestock in New York state and conducted rangeland research in southern Colorado. While not farming, Kathleen has worked as an environmental educator at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. She is passionate about the importance of place-based education in building healthy food systems. Kathleen is currently pursuing a Master of Environmental Science degree at the Yale School of the Environment. Her masters research focuses on resiliency and drought adaptation in crop production and livestock grazing in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. She looks forward to returning west after completing her masters in spring 2024. Kathleen has served as a delegate to the RMFU Annual Convention in 2020 and will be again in 2022. Kathleen holds a BA in History of Art from Yale University. She likes to bike, hike, and ski as often as possible in her free time.

Ashley Wilcox’s passion is advocating for accessible and affordable education, particularly tied to agricultural literacy and workforce development. Ashley is the daughter of a dairy manager and a corporate lawyer. While sometimes it feels like a Lifetime movie, it has given her diverse views and a unique perspective of the urban and rural divide. She seeks to bridge the gaps through her professional career and volunteer time. Ashley is currently the Board President of the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture, a 501(c)3 that works with industry partners to help meet our shared vision of advancing Colorado agricultural literacy. She also works on development and engagement for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University. Ashley has also led nonprofit campaigns, organizations, and internship programs – all tied to education. For the 2012 election season, she was the Field Director for the United Council of UW Students in Madison, Wisconsin. As Field Director, she created, executed, and managed United Council’s first field program, including an internship program with over 50 university students and the widely successful #WeNeedToTalk campaign. Additionally, Ashley fully managed and executed the Landmark Services Cooperative and the Arizona Students’ Association internship programs – from recruitment to hiring to mentorship. Ashley earned a B.A. from Arizona State University-West in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration on Crisis Management. She lives with her husband Corey and dog Huey in Windsor, Colorado.

Matthew Marty grew up on a cattle and grain farm in Henderson, CO, and later on a farm in Strasburg, CO. During this time, he raised animals for 4-H, operated and maintained farm equipment, and helped with the general upkeep of the farm. Despite growing up farming, he had no interest in agriculture until he spent a week volunteering at a convent in L’Olleria, Spain. While there, he helped pick pomegranates and almonds, clean the property, and knock out built-in cabinets. A year later, Matthew worked at a vegetable farm in northeastern Kansas, where he helped pick vegetables that were sent to a local school. These experiences led him to realize that there are different, more desirable types of farming than what he grew up with. Marty attended the RMFU Leadership Camp every year he was eligible, was voted to be a Senior Youth Advisory Council member by his peers, and later worked as a counselor. Marty went to Benedictine College, where he studied History and Marketing, and hopes to own farmland in northwest Missouri one day.

Sam Schmidt is a cattle rancher in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, raising organic, grass-fed beef. Sam believes that agriculture is at the crux of many of the issues facing our society today and has the potential to serve as a solution to many of them; by producing nutrient-dense food for his community and improving ecological health through careful land and animal management. Sam’s work demonstrates that ranching can serve as the foundation for more vibrant and resilient human communities and the broader ecological communities they are a part of. Sam has worked at various agricultural operations on the East Coast and the West, including diversified crop and livestock operations, non-profits, meat processors, and cattle ranches. He is also a graduate of the Quivira Coalition New Agrarian Program. Sam holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Colby College.

Alex Lidgett During what she likes to call “The Colorado Hemp Gold Rush,” Alex farmed hemp for CBD, managing up to 600 acres at one point. This exposed her to a version of “big Ag.” Here she utilized the H-2A temporary agriculture program, experienced using large machinery, and ran large crews all to complete a common goal; producing cannabinoid medicines for the public. Alex then bought her own farm and raised diversified crops for the Grand Junction farmers market, as well as a small number of hogs that she sold as shares. Currently, Alex is the hospitality manager at a luxury dude ranch in Crawford, Colorado, the Smith Fork Ranch. Here, people come from all over the world to be exposed to the beauty of the West. She takes every opportunity to educate the public on the benefits of eating locally sourced, responsibly grown produce and proteins.  Alex is now on the board of her local FFA. She genuinely enjoys helping to teach the youth the importance of staying involved in agriculture through helping judge competitions and participating in classes to offer experience. Alex believes it is crucial to help foster the future of responsible farming in today’s youth. Alex sees agriculture as the basis of all economics and politics. She genuinely loves advocating for the ranchers and farmers of the United States. Alex is thrilled to experience every opportunity that RMFU has to offer. She is now the Vice President of her Delta County Farmers Union Chapter. Alex is very thankful for the opportunities the Fellows program has provided.

Monica Bettencourt is a cattle feeder who works for Five Rivers Yuma Feedlot in Northeastern Colorado. She serves as Feed Manager, caring for and feeding, on average, 90,000 head of cattle. Monica believes the world has a growing population that desires high-quality protein. She has dedicated her career to fulfilling that need by feeding beef cattle and being “boots on the ground” in production agriculture on a large-scale operation. She has been with Five Rivers since 2016, where she has held management positions in the four core production departments of Yard, Cattle, Feed Milling, and currently Feeding. When asked what she hasn’t done, Monica will say, “I’ve done it all on the feedyard except being horseback and buying cattle and corn.” Monica is Beef Quality Assurance certified in animal handling and feed processing. She is also trained in heavy equipment operating, welding, and other feed milling processes. Monica holds a Bachelors of Science in Animal Science with a Production emphasis from the University of Idaho. Monica is a Rocky Mountain Farmers Union member and a Fellow for the year 2022. She was also recently accepted as a participant in the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program Class 16.

Noelle McDonough is a ranch manager who works on a grass-fed and finished cattle operation in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. Noelle knows that to produce nutritionally dense food, it is necessary to feed and foster living communities above and below ground. Given that many public health issues that challenge our society are directly related to the quality of food we consume, Noelle is working towards making the beef she raises accessible to her local community, creating relationships with schools in the San Luis Valley to buy local beef. Noelle is a recent graduate of the Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program. Prior to moving out west, Noelle worked as a prep chef and server in various restaurants, a butcher at a whole animal butcher shop, a goat dairy in Wisconsin, and a permaculture farm on the Big Island of Hawaii. Noelle holds a BA in Food Service & Restaurant Management from SUNY College at Oneonta.

Zach Withers farms on his family’s land in central New Mexico, east of the Sandia Mountains. They specialize in heritage breed pork production and also keep a flock of laying hens and bring on sheep, goats, and cattle to periodically intensively graze their farm. They divert over a million pounds of food waste to their farm every year, as well as thousands of yards of wood waste, which they use to feed their animals and produce compost. Zach and his brother also operate a small butcher shop, and farm stand a few miles from their farm, where they process, and direct retail their meat and provide a year-round outlet for other farms and ranches around the state. Zach is passionate about local food systems and regenerative agriculture.

Sarah Wentzel-Fisher is the executive director of the Quivira Coalition based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She lives at and helps operate Polk’s Folly Farm, a direct market, farrow to finish hog farm in San Antonito, New Mexico. She also sits on the boards of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and the Southwest Grassfed Livestock Alliance. She enjoys advocating for healthy soils, agricultural workforce and regional market development, as well as the working lands of New Mexico.

Interested in being a Fellow?

Applications for the 2023 Fellows Class coming soon!