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Venetucci Farm managers to leave in a few weeks, animals being parceled out

December 11, 2017 Updated: December 12, 2017 at 3:02 pm
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photo - Susan Gordon, with Duke and Dutchess. Photo courtesy of Betina Tacoronte
Susan Gordon, with Duke and Dutchess. Photo courtesy of Betina Tacoronte 

The on-site managers of Venetucci Farm have rejected an offer from Pikes Peak Community Foundation to remain for six months in order to remove belongings they have accumulated over more than a decade of living on the historic property.

"The terms were unacceptable, given our 11 years of service to the foundation and the community," Susan Gordon said in an email, adding that their employment ends Dec. 31, and her family will vacate "as soon as possible."

Gordon and her husband, Patrick Hamilton, had asked for time to transition off the land.

The couple and their two children have run the educational farm since 2006, after the late Bambi Venetucci donated the Security property to the foundation. Her husband, Nick Venetucci, had died in 2004.

Since 1936, the farm has given free pumpkins to school children. About 10,000 were distributed this year.

The farm also produced vegetables and herbs that were sold at local farmers markets.

Gordon said she and her family were notified Dec. 5 that the foundation was eliminating the staff.

The organization cited water contamination in the Widefield and Security areas from Air Force firefighting toxins and a subsequent loss of revenue from leasing water rights from four of its wells to the Security and Widefield water districts.

"While we don't know what the future of the farm will be, the decision has been made that we will not be a part of it," Gordon said.

The farm is not being sold, though, said Sam Clark, the foundation's special projects manager.

The property also can't be developed, he said, as a consevation easement with Colorado Open Lands protects the farm.

"It will exist in perpetuity as a community asset," said Gary Butterworth, the foundation's president.

But the foundation is seeking partnerships with other organizations to "optimize its value to the community," Butterworth said in an email.

In a letter to supporters, Butterworth said the organization is "working on a management plan for the farm for this year, and beyond."

"One uncertainty we face is how long it will take for the wells to become operational," he said. "This reality has pushed us to work with community leaders to find other revenue sources for the farm. Our belief is that there are opportunities for a vibrant Venetucci in the future. We are pursuing them."

Butterworth also lauded the work of Gordon and Hamilton."They have been shepherds of the Venetucci legacy; they have fed, educated, and cared for our community."

The farm's animals are being parceled out to new homes.

Two beloved Haflingers, Duke and Dutchess, now live at Next Step Horse Rescue in Ellicott.

They were once the icons of Venetucci Farm, said Betina Tacoronte, president of the nonprofit shelter.

"They pulled the farm plows, gave rides and took lovable hugs from the kids that visited the farm," she said.

Kids and adults still can visit Duke and Dutchess, who now are program horses at the shelter. They recently pulled carts decorated for the holidays in Calhan's first annual Christmas Parade and Ellicott's Christmas parade.

"We do similar educational programs, and they fit nicely here," Tacoronte said.

The rescue maintains about 40 horses, half of which are featured during school field trips, horse camps, programs for military families, and lessons on equine care.

As a Widefield native, Tacoronte said, she remembers going to Venetucci Farm to choose a Halloween pumpkin when she was a child.

"Venetucci Farm is the heart and soul of this community," she said. "We have an interest in how we can help preserve Ventucci."

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