Venetucci Farm suspends operations in wake of tainted Widefield water

Venetucci Farm suspends operations in wake of tainted Widefield water

By: Jakob Rodgers

July 22, 2016 Updated: Today at 7:37 am

All farming operations – including the watering, harvest, sale and distribution – of Venetucci Farm products have been temporarily suspended amid concerns about its use of contaminated water pulled from the Widefield aquifer.

The decision was made "out of an abundance of caution," because the 190-acre urban farm is irrigated solely with water drawn from the fouled waterway, said Gary Butterworth, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation’s chief executive.

The suspension will remain in effect "until results from water, soil and produce testing are complete," the foundation announced Friday.

Left uncertain is the fate of the famed pumpkin harvest, which has attracted thousands of schoolchildren to the farm each year to pick out free pumpkins for Halloween.

Butterworth said the decision was not made earlier this year because he expected test results on the farm’s soil and produce to be completed more quickly.

"We understood that we would lose crops, we would lose revenue," Butterworth said. "But again, in the best interest of the community, we felt this was the most responsible action to take."

Results may not be available for another one to two months, he said.

"I think it’s important to note that all of the information we have thus far indicates that we do not believe there is a high risk associated with the produce," he said. "But we want to know for sure."

The move comes as Security, Widefield and Fountain grapple with the presence of perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, in wells tapped into the aquifer.

The chemicals have been used commercially in food wrappers and Teflon products, as well as in a firefighting foam used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base.

But concerns about PFCs have been on the rise.

Growing evidence of their dangers led the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten its guidance in May – issuing lifetime health advisories for waterways where PFCs test at levels exceeding 70 parts per trillion.

Above that level, the chemicals may cause a host of health ailments, including low birth weight, kidney cancer and testicular cancer, federal officials say.

Public wells in the area of Venetucci Farms tested between 103 and 408 parts per trillion, according to a map by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. One well at the Colorado Springs Airport tested at 2,000 parts per trillion – nearly 30 times the EPA’s new limit.

People receiving contaminated water should consider bottled water – especially women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding, state health officials say.

Less clear, however, has been the chemicals’ effect on vegetables grown using contaminated water, and on the soil itself.

The Colorado School of Mines is researching the contaminated aquifer’s effect on crops grown at the iconic farm along U.S. 85/87, south of S. Academy Boulevard. Their work is ongoing, and their results have not been announced. Along with the annual pumpkin giveaway, the farm hosts a popular community-supported agriculture program, wherein participants pay a fee before each four-month growing season to receive a weekly box of freshly-harvested food.

The bounty includes myriad types of vegetables – such as tomatoes, squash and potatoes – and changes from week to week.

The farm also serves as a wellspring for educational programs on farming, nutrition and the benefits of healthy eating – allowing students to farm their own food and then cook it.

One such course begins in August – leaving the program’s leader, Nanna Meyer, shaken. The course may now focus more on the challenges urban farms face.

"It’s a test and proof of a changing world," said Meyer, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs associate professor specializing in sport nutrition and sustainability.

She said she wished the decision to suspend operations had been delayed until results came back – noting that PFC testing techniques are still evolving and take time.

Then again, she said she had to consider the health of her students.

"It’s a really difficult, fine line to draw," Meyer said.

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