Venetucci Farm has an important legacy in our community. As so, in consideration of the PFC-contamination of the Widefield Aquifer, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation (PPCF) commissioned this study of viable uses of the Venetucci Farm property. Since the land can no longer produce edible crops or sell water rights, PPCF must find other ways of generating revenue for the land. In this project, you will assess the many models and ideas proposed for the Farm in terms of operational feasibility, financial sustainability and community impact in order to develop recommendations on the best uses for the Farm. PPCF intends to use this work to inform the search for and eventual identification of a viable operator for the Farm. This phase will build on the work of previous teams to prove an operating model that will preserve the farm’s impact for generations to come.
The previous teams worked on several possible solutions:
The team sees deep opportunity in using existing outbuildings on the property as an artisan marketplace to drive traffic, generate community interest and benefit area artisanal businesses throughout the year. A marketplace is complimentary to education uses, as it offers vendors a platform to educate the community about their processes and showcase the various trades, crafts and skills that they use to contribute to the local economy.
The team sees this marketplace occupying existing outbuildings on the Venetucci Farm property. Renovating these buildings will come with significant cost. A detailed forecast of financial performance will identify the specific financial requirements and suitable financial partners/tools to meet them. Marketplaces of this type are usually benefitted by being co-located with a destination food, beverage and/or entertainment venue.
Wetland Mitigation Banking
Wetland mitigation banking, as defined by the USDA, is the restoration, creation or enhancement of wetlands for the purpose of compensating for unavoidable impacts to wetlands at another location. A mitigation project generates credits that may be purchased on an open market by developers as compensation for the wetlands they impacted. For any wetlands regulated by the Clean Water Act, any development that impacts a wetland must restore wetlands nearby of similar function at least a 1 to 1-acre ratio. What wetlands are or are not under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act is currently a matter of great debate. The Clean Water Act regulates “navigable waters”, but the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the EPA has stretched the definition of navigable waters ever since the act was passed.
The profitability of a wetland mitigation project on Venetucci Farm is very uncertain. Only a site inspection and analysis from a firm specializing in such wetland projects could provide a clear idea of whether it is the right choice for Venetucci.
Functional Event Space
Having a space where different events can take place is important to take Venetucci one step further and make it a revenue generating institution that can support itself. The most valuable infrastructural asset the farm currently has is the large, red barn. Placed at the forefront of the property and holding both aesthetic and functional value, the barn has the potential to house a host of different events and activities for people of all ages. The potential for activates ranges from low cost and commitment classes to high revenue generating large scale weddings, that can be both aesthetic and financially supportive of the farm. With a little bit of work, this space will become the heart of life on the farm.
In order to maintain Venetucci Farm as a community asset, there must be opportunities for people of all ages to partake in the farm. While kids will be able to access the farm through their schools, it is vital that there is also specific programming targeting adults to make the farm appealing to people of all ages. Programming such as volunteering opportunities and adult classes are among some of the many different opportunities the team has researched.
Educational Programs K–12
The team considers re-opening Venetucci to educational programs for children as a key purpose of the farm. Venetucci Farm formerly offered programming for school groups and a day camp in the summer. In the past, 500-1,000 kids would come to the farm in a good Spring or Fall season in groups of 75-80, coming from as far as Monument and Woodland Park. Summer camp had 75-80 kids and would only go for about 3 hours a day. The camp was mostly run with volunteers and generated 8k to 10k in revenue over the summer. Many of the farm uses the team has considered work together to make Venetucci Farm a model for environmental sustainability and an excellent space for environmental education. Uses of the farm such as beekeeping, a community garden, composting and even drying spent grain all help teach about sustainability in the local food system. The team also considers the contamination of the aquifer to be a valuable element in the educational potential of the property.
Petting zoos generate revenue and create educational opportunities for both children and adults. Animals such as goats, sheep and alpacas are important ones to consider as they are both kid-friendly and produce viable products. Sheep and goats are particularly kid-friendly and can be raised well together. For sheep, the process of sheering their fur can take up to 30 minutes, which would allow people to view the process. Once done, the fur can be sold or made into clothing.
As for alpacas, the potential to generate money from shearing their wool is high. Alpacas are shorn, without harm, every twelve to eighteen months. Their fiber is sometimes compared to cashmere. The fiber can be woven into yarn and sold for anywhere between $30-40 or sewn into clothing and sold for $70+. Additionally, alpaca manure can be enriching for plants. One acre of land can house six to 10 alpacas.
In addition to the revenue generating portion of the petting zoo, kids and adults alike would have the opportunity to learn animal husbandry and shearing techniques through classes. These classes would help kids see where their clothing is coming from and the importance of understanding the sources of fibers. Other potential activities could include animal feeding or “Goat Yoga”, which has become a popular pastime and photo op.
Fall Festival & Corn Maze
The Pumpkin Giveaway is Venetucci Farm’s signature event and has a well-established reputation in the community. Maintaining the Pumpkin Giveaway as a free event by giving each child a complimentary pumpkin is key to honoring the legacy of the Venetucci. However, a revenue generating “Fall Festival” could be built in conjunction with the Pumpkin Giveaway. Picking and taking home a pumpkin could remain free for all children, but an admission price could be charged for all other Fall Festival activities.
A typical fall festival operation runs from mid-September through Halloween and includes elements such as a hayride, pumpkin carving, a hay bale slide, corn bins, tube swings, face painting, petting zoos and jumping pillows. There are a few competing pumpkin patches in the Colorado Springs area, although there are few within a half hour drive of Security-Widefield. The best known of these local operations is the Colorado Pumpkin Patch. A Fall Festival built off of the pumpkin giveaway is the most apparent way for Venetucci Farm to expand into the agritainment business
A corn maze can be a significant draw to a fall festival. Corn mazes range from simple operations on a few acres to intricate mazes with themes, puzzles, storylines and play-actors; picture the Broncos logo mowed into a field or an escape room-style competition in a corn maze setting. There are entire design firms dedicated to building advanced corn mazes or GPS software and mobile technology to aide in do-it-yourself projects. Depending on the scale, intricacy and difficulty of the maze, a corn maze could attract a wider demographic range than a simple fall festival, including those 19-30. A family-friendly corn maze by day could easily translate into a haunted corn maze by night.
Venetucci’s Pumpkin Ale has been a longtime favorite among community members and the general public alike. The beer, brewed by Bristol Brewing Co. is both historically significant and innovative. Dating back to the 1770s, pumpkins have been used to brew beer by colonists when malt was scarce.
Today, Bristol’s Venetucci Pumpkin Ale harkens back to the history of beer itself while also creating something new that holds deep meaning with the community. By giving back 100% of the proceeds to Venetucci Farm, the Pumpkin Ale has become a symbol of community engagement and a good cause.
A community garden is one of the strongest ways to give the community at large a role in the stewardship of Venetucci Farm. Allowing local urban homesteaders to take ownership and responsibility for a small piece of the property brings in free labor, ensuring that food continues to grow at Venetucci, though clean water would have to be brought in. A garden has high educational value for people of all ages, providing valuable lessons regarding sustainable agriculture and reshaping the food system. Sections of the garden could be reserved for school groups and summer camps to work the land. The garden could benefit from other uses of the farm in a symbiotic relationship. Fresh and free compost from a composting operation as well as access to a greenhouse would support the garden and entice local urban homesteaders to choose Venetucci over other community gardens. A beekeeping operation could support the health of the garden and the garden could be enhanced with pollinator flowers. A seasonal farmers market could be set up on the property, perhaps during harvest season in tandem with a fall festival operation, in which users of the community garden sell their extra produce. Although it is more difficult to manage, a shared-space community garden would embody Venetucci Farm as a place where community grows together.
Venetucci cannot reshape the local food system, but a community garden on Venetucci has the opportunity to be a shining example of sustainability in small-scale agriculture. It could incorporate advanced farming techniques such as drip tape and rain barrels.
Venetucci Farm has the potential to be at the forefront of academic research in Colorado Springs. The city is home to a variety of different universities that each have their own unique research opportunities and funding. The team sees having academic research on Venetucci as a mutually beneficial relationship, where the farm can receive information on things such as the status of their water contamination, and the students of the institutions can gain valuable research skills and knowledge.
Schools are places of learning and extended alumni networks. Funding through schools offer a unique opportunity for Venetucci to reap the benefits of another’s work without having to invest money or time into research. At the same time, students at surrounding schools such as Colorado College, University of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines to name a few, often are looking for research opportunities. By conducting research at Venetucci, students can gain hands on experience and become more connected to the greater community by working on a project that had a great social impact.
Beekeeping has the potential to support the health of the farm and to provide an educational attraction. Pollination from bees increases the yield of crops and would support the health of a community garden. The typical honey output per hive in Colorado is 2 – 2.5 gallons a year. Honey can be sold for about $69/gallon, so one hive can produce roughly between $138-$170 of honey per year. Creating honey combs and other products can increase revenue. Recouping initial fixed costs takes about four years. One can have up to forty hives per acre. A hive would not need to be placed adjacent to a community garden or crops; bees will travel as far as 1.5-3 miles from their hive to a garden. The hives could be a bit isolated from other sections of the farm so that bees are not too concentrated in other areas.
Beekeeping could form a simple, but core attraction. People enjoy looking at hives through glass panes, watching beekeeping demonstrations and potentially even putting on the suit and engaging with the bees. Having bees and a beekeeping garden fits into the narrative of sustainability that permeates Venetucci Farm. Beekeeping would not be a good source of direct revenue for the farm. However, if the right partnership is established the hives could be managed for free, with honey profits going to the beekeeper.
Birding is an interactive, yearlong activity, that a large demographic can take part in. From school kids to elderly bird enthusiasts, birding allows different people to come together and share their love for being in nature and seeing something new.
The state of Colorado is ranked within the best ten states to go birding, with over 1.3 million acres that are important birding areas due to its variety of habitat types. El Paso county in particular is host to many different birding habitats ranging from alpine tundra to grasslands. However, the county is short on “birdable” large bodies of water. Venetucci Farm is positioned perfectly along a vital bird migration corridor and has Fountain Creek running through its property, making it a unique area for birding. Due to its geographical location, the probability of seeing birds is large, but is currently only being utilized by an older population who has been birding at the farm for most of their life. Venetucci has the potential to be a birding hot spot again and can attract more groups, both from and educational and leisure standpoint.
In a nutshell, compost is decomposed organic matter. Composting is a natural process of recycling organic material, such as leaves and vegetable scraps, into a rich soil amendment.
According to the International Soil Conservation Organization, 65% of the world’s soil is degraded. Composting can help reverse that trend. Composting is a good way to get rid of items that would otherwise end up in landfills, including coffee grounds, tea bags, stale cereal, saltine crackers, nut shells, wet paper towels and expired herbs and spices.
Composting can clean the soil and prevent pollution, according to the EPA. Not only does composting help regenerate poor soil, but it can also prevent erosion and degrade chemicals and preservatives present in wood and soil. Composting reduces the need for fertilizers, as the compost itself is rich in nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive.
If Venetucci can implement a community wide composting program, a private-public partnership with non-profits like Colorado Springs Food Rescue, various local universities like UCCS, PPCC, CC and USAFA and local waste management companies to facilitate the pick-ups, Venetucci can run a large-scale composting operation that not only involves the larger community, but has an impact that has wider ramifications. Venetucci Farm could even open up the composting space for individual families to come and utilize the space at allocated times throughout the week, so they see where their scraps are going and the process by which it becomes soil once again.
Composting will need a substantial upfront cost, but after that it can soon become self-sustaining. “Raw materials” are essentially free, especially if partner agencies pay a nominal cost to participate in the program. At the end, the “finished product”, which is either soil or compost, can be sold back to various garden centers, vendors and the public at a competitive price. El Paso county has only one commercial compost facility, so the compost program would be a great and welcome addition.
Brewers’ Spent Grain (BSG)
BSG is the leftover insoluble residue that is separated from the mash before beer fermentation. Brewery spent grains can be fed to cattle, hogs, poultry, or fish. As they are ruminants, cattle are able to utilize a good portion of the nutrients from BSGs. This is the most common use for them among farmers.
Foam to farm, where brewers give their BSGs to local farmers, is not a new concept, especially not in Colorado. Arvada Beer Company donates some of its spent grain to a local dog biscuit bakery, while The Fort Collins Brewery bakes dog biscuits in their adjoining restaurant’s kitchen for local family friends. Empyrean Brewing Co gives all their spent grain to local farmers for use as cattle feed. 85% of brewers’ waste is spent grain, so there is a big revenue potential in getting spent grain from the many local breweries in the Colorado Springs area alone. Retail price for spent grain is about $300/ton.
While BSGs contain significant energy resources from their organic contents, they have some major problems. These include high moisture and nutrient content and handling difficulties. Drying has been the most effective method of preserving BSGs and prolonging storage time. Drying also reduces the product volume and decreases transport and storage costs. Drying BSGs require space to spread the grain so they can be air dried. No other specialized equipment is required, but trucks will be needed to pick up the BSGs. There trucks can be acquired from the breweries.
Especially for students looking to go down the agricultural or sustainability path, the process of turning spent grain into feed can be a big educational opportunity. It helps answer a number of problems, including taking care of the trash generated by brewers and providing feed for cattle and other livestock.