Local college students will deliver a proposal to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation later this month detailing a vision for a beloved community farm in Security.
The pitch: Open a whiskey distillery and wedding venue on Venetucci Farm and use the property for an annual fall festival.
The foundation, the farm’s owner, has been trying to decide what to do with the land since farming was suspended in July 2016 after the Environmental Protection Agency found potentially hazardous amounts of perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, in wells the farm uses for irrigation.
So the foundation’s leaders asked for help from the Quad Innovation Partnership, which brings together students from the Air Force Academy, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado College and Pikes Peak Community College to help solve problems for area organizations.
“One of our big goals was making sure that Venetucci doesn’t go away. So that’s why, with all of our proposals, we made sure that they were financially sustainable,” said Air Force Academy sophomore Preston Semenuk, who helped present the proposal at Colorado College on May 6.
The students estimate that a wedding and event venue would require an investment of more than $1.3 million and generate about $440,000 annually, allowing operators to break even in the third year.
A whiskey distillery could churn out a product, such as Bristol Brewing Company’s seasonal Venetucci Pumpkin Ale, that could make money while promoting the farm.
And a fall festival, while not particularly profitable, aligns with Venetucci’s legacy as an annual pumpkin patch and site for agriculture-oriented education and fun, the students say.
“We just foresee it as people having a good time and creating that emotional connection to Venetucci,” said Semenuk.
The team started early this year with more than two dozen ideas for farm uses brainstormed by Quad participants from two past semesters. They narrowed that list down, nixing ideas such as a paintball venue or site for wind turbines, said Quad Executive Director Jacob Eichengreen.
Whether the community foundation adopts all, part or none of the students’ proposal is up to its Board of Directors, said Gary Butterworth, CEO of the foundation.
The foundation would have to find local businesses or other organizations fit to run the events venue, distillery and festival, he said. A conservation easement also limits how the property can be developed.
“They’re interesting concepts,” Butterworth said. “All of this gets back to ensuring that whatever Venetucci becomes is something that the community foundation is proud of and that this community will be proud of. When looking at potential operators for any of these uses, we’ve got to ensure that they are of the integrity and the character and have the appreciation for what that farm represents.”
The farm’s water woes have yet to be resolved.
Venetucci’s staff were terminated in late 2017 after the farm lost its biggest revenue source when local water districts said they would no longer lease water rights to wells on the 190-acre property because of contamination.
The Security Water District and the foundation are suing the federal government amid allegations that the Air Force ignored its policies on hazardous waste disposal for decades, tainting a key aquifer and leaving Venetucci contaminated. The foundation is seeking nearly $3.2 million for past and future agricultural losses at the farm, which sits atop a portion of the aquifer that was among the most affected. That total also would pay for a treatment system so the farm again could irrigate its crops.
The Air Force has agreed to pay for a new, central filtration system for the water district, said Roy Heald, manager of Security Water and Sanitation Districts. Venetucci might be able to benefit from that filtration system if it becomes a customer of the water district. However, the district currently does not have the pipes or infrastructure that would be needed to take water from the farm’s wells, to the treatment system and back to Venetucci, Heald said.
For now, the property is covered by crops whose sole purpose is to maintain the health of the soil, Butterworth said. A caretaker who lives on the farm uses bottled water.
“The water issue, I have confidence, will get resolved in some fashion, whether that’s through filtration or finding a potable source for the long-term benefit,” Butterworth said. “That’s critical to the health and well-being of the farm.”