Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Quad Innovation Partnership students research ways to save Venetucci Farm

Posted By on Tue, May 15, 2018 at 5:02 PM

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO
  • File photo

Pikes Peak Community Foundation has something new in the works for its Venetucci Farm, which has been plagued by financial problems since its water was ruled unsafe for human consumption in 2016.

The foundation is joining forces with the Quad Innovation Partnership, a collaboration between four local universities, to develop new solutions for maintaining the beloved farm’s role in the community. Student research teams in the Quad program will lead the effort starting this summer and continuing through the spring 2019 semester.

The students hail from Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy. They comprise two research teams of three to five students each, and come from a variety of academic areas — including public affairs, economics and philosophy. Some will be graduate students; others undergraduates, said Jake Eichengreen, Quad’s executive director.

“Jake’s program is a really good resource for bringing in a lot of good community voices,” said Samuel Clark, director of philanthropy for PPCF. “Especially the voices of young, entrepreneurially-minded individuals that are engaged with the community.”

Venetucci Farm’s recent problems started in May of 2016, when the farm’s well water was considered unsafe under new EPA regulations. The water had been polluted by Peterson Air Force Base’s use of a fire fighting foam that contained perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs.

Before farmers and local legends Bambi and Nick Venetucci died, they left their family farm to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which had a broader, grassroots community mission at the time. They intended for the farm to remain a community fixture.

But when water troubles arose, PPCF’s new CEO, Gary Butterworth, exercised an abundance of caution, suspending produce sales mid-season despite protest from some community members that the food was still safe to eat. The water itself, which had accounted for over half of the farm’s revenue, could also no longer be sold.

The financial turmoil that followed has left the farm’s future in question. Funding could come in the form of a reimbursement payment from the Air Force, which would allow for a water treatment facility to filter the groundwater. In the meantime, lacking revenue from the well water and produce sales, PPCF laid off longtime farm managers Susan Gordon and Patrick Hamilton.

PPCF is optimistic that the new partnership with the Quad will open new doors.

“I think that we just have the right people and sort of the right kind of voice and energy to work with on this process,” Clark said.

Ideally, the research efforts will result in a request for proposal (issued by the foundation, which owns the farm) to community organizations to implement some of the strategies the students will develop.

“Using that information from what the Quad teams discover, we can then package it and send it out to organizations to say, now that we understand what the opportunities are, who and how would we be able to take those opportunities,” Clark said.

Eichengreen emphasized the Quad’s enthusiasm about the upcoming project.

“I’m a Colorado Springs native and I grew up getting pumpkins from Venetucci Farm,” Eichengreen said. “Many of the fellow staff and students that I work with have similar connections to Colorado Springs and the community, and we’re just committed to doing this right.”

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