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AWC students put skills to farm use
Two Arizona Western College students recently combined their acquired knowledge to start their own business, Sunset Farm, where they sell farm fresh eggs, fertile eggs, small livestock, homemade canned goods and gift baskets.
It all started with an agriculture class Matthew Keeling took at AWC.
“The first week we planted some seeds,” he said. “A week or so later seedlings were coming up.”
The idea that he could grow food naturally without chemicals for his family took hold, he explained.
“The teacher really sparked my mind,” he said. “It came to me I didn't have to be a big farmer to grow food in an organic way. Using waste, I could produce beautiful fruits and vegetables.”
Meanwhile, he and life partner Jason Gastelum were looking for a new house and found one with some acreage, land that was certifiable for growing crops organically.
The two put together their education and skills and started Sunset Farm.
Keeling, who holds a culinary arts certificate and a business management certificate and is working toward a degree in agriculture, manages most of the day-to-day farming and business operations. He also applies his culinary arts skills to making award-winning jams and jellies that are sold in the farm's little store.
Gastelum, who has an entrepreneurial certificate and is working toward a graphic design degree, primarily draws on his computer expertise for marketing and design. He not only designed the farm's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/sunsetfarmyuma) from which customers may place orders, but he also designed the company's logo and product labels.
Sunset Farm raises turkeys, ducks and free-range, all-vegetarian-fed chickens. All animals are free of added hormones.
The farm sells the fresh eggs. People also can buy chicken, turkey and duck chicks to raise for food.
When it comes time to butcher the poultry, the partners will do it if the owners “don't have the heart to do it,” Keeling said.
The farm has goat milk available the partners purchase from someone else. But they just bought three milk goats they plan to breed in the fall so in the future they will be able to offer goat milk and goat milk products “strictly from our farm,” Keeling said.
In addition, he just planted a half-acre pumpkin patch and also is growing a variety of melons and squashes.
Last year, the budding farmers sold their products through a farmer's market.
They now have a small store on their land at 3143 W. 1st St. between Avenues B and C. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
Keeling said they also will make deliveries on weekends to busy moms. For more information, call Keeling at 246-4582 or Gastelum at 366-9133 or visit the Sunset Farm Facebook page.
For now Sunset Farm is a small two-acre property but Keeling hopes to eventually expand to 100 acres.
He doesn't have aspirations to become a wealthy man, though. He says he will be content if he can produce healthy food for his family — and a few others as well.
AWC's Culinary Arts Program is a 25-credit program designed to prepare the student for a career in food service in restaurants, resorts, catering, hospitals, cruise ships, television shows and food processing companies. Students develop creative food preparation and presentation. Volunteer placement is available for students who want to continue training before entering the job market.
The college's Entrepreneurial Studies Certificate Program is a 22-credit hour program that offers students a challenging curriculum to prepare them with the necessary skills to be an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur. It is designed to develop students ideas into a business plan that may lead them to realize their goals or develop them into an asset for employers.