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Tainted water creates uncertain future for popular local farm

Venetucci Farm dates back to 1862

Venetucci Farm Tries to Recover From...

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Operators of the Venetucci Farm on Highway 85/87 near Fountain wonder if they'll return to business as usual this year after a turbulent 2016.

The same groundwater contamination that has affected residents in nearby Fountain and Security-Widefield also affected the farm, suspending produce sales. 

The issue is still being addressed.

The pumpkin crop was wiped out by a hailstorm late in the season.

As spring planting season approaches, the farm's future is unclear.  The farm has been managed by the Pikes Peak Community Foundation since 2006.

Meanwhile, an advisory committee expects to recommend next month who should be the farm's long-term owner and operator.

Some suggestions include donating the farm to the Springs Rescue Mission, or turning the farm into a separate nonprofit entity.

Neighbors said they're worried about a new owner turning the farm, now in its 155th year, into development."I hope they can rescue it and keep it," said Tammy Kennedy.  "It's a landmark here."

Foundation CEO Gary Butterworth said Tuesday that pumpkins will be grown on the farm this year, but production of other crops remain suspended until he's satisfied irrigation water for crops pose no risk to the public.

"We want to continue the community tradition of the pumpkin giveaway for kids," he said.  "On the whole, pumpkins generally are not purchased for consumption but are carved for jack-o-lanterns and other decorations."

The decision to grow pumpkins means the farm's popular pumpkin ale should be available this fall.

The water contamination issue surfaced last summer when the EPA tightened standards for amounts of certain chemicals already present in groundwater.  The contamination was traced to a foam used for firefighter training at Peterson Air Force Base.  The base now uses a different foam with much lower levels of the chemicals.

Tests of the farm's produce found small enough chemical levels to determine it was safe to eat, but Butterworth said he wants the water quality issue resolved before resuming full-scale production.

The farm has five wells.  One is used by the farm's caretakers, three are used for irrigation and one is leased to Widefield.Butterworth said the foundation is considering options for improving the quality of irrigation water.

"Pumping in water from other sources as some water districts are doing now, trucking it in, extensive filtering of the existing water, even using Fountain Creek water, they're all suggestions we've discussed," he said.  "But we don't know yet how feasible they are.  All of those ideas would be expensive."

The farm likely will be among dozens of homes, businesses and institutions receiving filters from the Air Force to treat contaminated groundwater.

Terry Outlaw, a farm neighbor, said she was disappointed to hear there won't be public input on the committee's recommendation.

"Public input is important," she said.  "I hope the committee has people who live in the area and not just bureaucrats."

Kennedy and Outlaw are divided on the risks of crops grown at the farm.

"I wouldn't eat anything from there," Kennedy said.

"I don't think I'd be afraid to eat it," Outlaw said, "having lived here for many yeas and dealing with water issues before.

"Butterworth said the farm's educational and volunteer programs should continue this year, even without full-scale production.

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