Venetucci Farm suspends sales until water tested

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UPDATE:

After getting calls and emails over the weekend, the Indy has more information to share about the situation at Venetucci.


First is that Peterson Air Force Base, the primary suspected source of this contamination, has pledged $108,000 to supplying the most affected residents with bottled water until a more permanent treatment plan gets finalized. The select recipients include Venetucci Farm which got its first shipment on Friday. But, the bottled water is enough for the humans — but not the plants or animals — to drink.


Second is that people are pissed.


Brittany McCulloch, who puts in hours at Venetucci in exchange for produce, wrote to the Indy expressing discontent with PPCF’s decision. “To ‘suspend sales and distribution’ of the produce changes not just my dinner plate, but my life,” she said. “We are informed consumers: [farm manager Susan Gordon] has been clear and upfront about the water situation. With this information, we made the choice to continue eating Venetucci produce. Yet now, a few people have taken away our ability to choose for ourselves.”


A farm share member for 7 years, Amanda Gaden shares the sentiment. “We were, as members, fully aware of the situation, and had all the information presented to us as you got it - with the option to cancel our membership,” she wrote to Gordon. “And we didn't, for a whole host of reasons, all made by consenting and conscientious adults.”


And third is that jury’s still out on the beer front.


Bristol Brewing Co. marketing coordinator Steve Oliveri says the brewery will await test results too as it eyes its annual fall harvest of gourds for its highly popular Venetucci Pumpkin Ale.


He says the brewery harvested in the first week of October last year, so there’s plenty of time between now and then to figure out a strategy should the brewery need to replace its pumpkin source. Either way, he says the brewery remains committed to supporting the farm as part of its Community Ales series.


Bristol co-hosted a volunteer weeding session this past Saturday at the farm, which will be followed by more similar events. He says even if the pumpkins can’t be used for consumption, the farm can still grow them to be given away to children for jack-o’-lanterns come October.
The biggest and oldest working farm in the city will have to leave its produce in the dirt to rot for the rest of this growing season due to uncertainty around contamination of the groundwater



A press release from Pikes Peak Community Foundation on Friday afternoon announced that Venetucci Farm won't be selling or distributing anything until results from testing its water, soil and veggies come back. That won't happen for another month or two, hence the precautionary measure, according to PPCF CEO Gary Butterworth. "We wanted to take an abundance of caution," he told the Indy, adding that the nearly 200-acre heritage farm "is still an asset we can utilize in some fashion."

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For now, he says, there are no definitive answers for what will happen to the produce, finances or operations of the farm. No employees have been laid off. 

Flags were first raised on the farm back in mid-May when the Environmental Protection Agency lowered advisory levels of perflourinated chemicals, or PFCs — an unregulated toxin linked to low birth weights, cancer and heart disease. Because Venetucci irrigates with private well water drawn directly from the aquifer, its water was then found to contain PFCs above that new, lower threshold for what you may not want to consume. 

It’s unclear, at this point, whether vegetables uptake the contaminant.

But it is clear that the suspension will be a painful blow to everyone who looks to Venetucci for fresh, local food (which they've been reliably providing since 1936.)


Natalie Seales, manager of the Colorado Farm and Art Market where Venetucci has been vending for years, is disappointed that “all this produce is going to waste when it should be feeding the community.” Since July 6, Venetucci made $600 sales under the Double Up Food Bucks Program which lets food stamp recipients double their benefits. And considering the market is a co-op, losing that will hurt not just Venetucci farmers and customers, but all the other vendors too.


“Especially when the stuff at grocery stores is covered in all these chemicals, it’s frustrating to see a farm that’s been in our community for 60 years take a hit like this,” Seales says. 


Farm manager Susan Gordon chose not to comment on this story. 

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