Venetucci Farm: An Agricultural Role Model

Venetucci Farm, one of Colorado Springs’ beloved local assets, has come a long way since the Venetucci family began plowing the fields off the dirt roads outside the city in the 1930s. Growing up, Nick Venetucci watched his father work long, hard hours in a coal mine trying to earn enough money to buy the family a small plot of farmland. Earning the funding for a farm proved to be a difficult feat, so Nick decided to direct his attention to a hobby of his: baseball. At the age of 22, Nick was invited to develop his career as a catcher for the New York Yankees. However in 1936, he received the phone call from his father telling him they’d finally invested in a larger plot of farmland. In response, Nick relinquished his baseball career and returned to his family to help establish Venetucci Ranch. During World War II, the United States Military approached the Venetucci family in search of land in the area and offered the family $10 an acre for some of theirs. Once the transaction was settled in 1942, two-thirds of Venetucci Ranch turned into Fort Carson Military Base. The remaining 200 acres of the ranch transformed into the thriving and well-known Venetucci Farm.

The Venetuccis got involved in the community and started the tradition of opening the farm to the public every October. They allowed children to pick one pumpkin off the fields to take home with them free of charge. The couple loved seeing the joy that their family farm could bring to the community. After years of successful operation and bountiful harvests, the elderly couple found they couldn’t keep up with the farm’s high maintenence any longer. Before Nick Venetucci’s passing in 2004, the family agreed to leave the farm in the care of someone who they thought could keep up with the farm’s many demands—the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, a local charitable organization that had already successfully served the community for several years. Under the agreement that the property would be protected from future development, the family farm truly became a community farm.

The Pikes Peak Community Foundation, or PPCF, was established in 1992 with one sensible goal in mind: to improve the quality of life in the community while advocating local responsibility, integrity, investment, and philanthropy. Under the leadership of Executive Director and local Michael Hannigan, PPCF actively donates to various local charities, works to preserve community assets, and has to date invested over $80 million in donations to community projects and grants that help improve the Colorado Springs area.

In a recent interview, Mr. Hannigan told me that Venetucci Farm receives avid support from its community members, with the farm receiving an average of 20-30,000 visitors each year. Although PPCF is a multi-faceted organization involved in improving numerous areas of the community, Venetucci Farms serves an exceptional example that represents how this humanitarian foundation successfully gives back to the community through public involvement and education.

PPCF uses the farm as a way to emphasize agricultural education and the value of sustainability. The foundation particularly aims its efforts at the younger generations, finding it crucial that children know where their food comes from and how it’s produced. Venetucci Farm is proud to be chemical-free, a claim no longer common among farms in the area. In a market full of unhealthy, chemically-treated, and highly processed food, it rests in the hands of the younger generations to re-evaluate the importance of nutrition and reform the food market to make healthier, local options the status quo. Classes available for kids cover pivotal, yet fun topics that highlight the value of healthy soil, seeds, bugs, farm animals, agriculture, sustainability, and renewability. These topics are also summarized on the farms tours, where children can get a feel for the farm’s operation as a whole. Hannigan mentions, “Kids often show up to the farm knowing little to nothing about where their food comes from or the process. On the tours they do taste tests and they end up falling in love with the taste of real food because they’re not getting it at home.” PPCF strives to raise agricultural awareness in youth and advocates the importance of good health.

Classes for adults are also available and include a more abstract selection of topics. October classes include topics such as finding edibles in the wild, fall mitigation methods, bee keeping, and making goat cheese. While most classes have a fee, PPCF has made it Venetucci Farm policy to never turn anyone away due to financial inability. Most classes fill up well in advance, compelling PPCF to think about how to expand class capacities without compromising learning opportunities. With the admirable emphasis PPCF has on education, community members have the opportunities available at Venetucci Farm to increase their quality of life through agricultural awareness and involvement.

Use of environmentally conscious technology has accounted for some of the family farm’s success and make them an inspirational model for future agricultural practices everywhere. In addition to stimulating learning, PPCF always strives to improve the farm’s sustainability. In 2011, Colorado-based company SunShare installed 500 kilowatts of solar panels (about 2,500 panels) on a non-farmable Venetucci field to allow for solar community gardening. The solar panels all connect to a central power grid on the farm’s property, and produce power by soaking up the sun and converting it into a clean, renewable energy. The installation of the panels has drastically reduced the dependency that the farm has on power from an outside source. Currently, community members have the option of leasing a solar panel on the field instead of having one installed on the roof of their house. Those who choose to lease a solar panel on the farm in turn receive credit on their regular utility bill. It gives consumers an opportunity to know exactly where their power comes from.

Not only do the solar panels increase the farm’s self-sufficiency, they also act as an opportunity to expose the younger generations to a viable source of renewable energy. The field of solar panels is visible to visitors, and children tend to be particularly curious because they don’t necessarily know what the panels are or how they work and they can gain that information from the farm. Hannigan adds, “The farm sees 6,000-8,000 children in the month of October alone, so it’s great exposure.” Teaching children the importance of renewability is essential because renewable energy, such as the energy provided by the solar panels, is energy that will never run out and also has a significantly lower environmental impact. With the current dependence on the finite supply of oil, the exposure of the solar panels at Venetucci (and other farms advocating environmental responsibility) set an example that will hopefully make a small difference in the way upcoming generations approach the use of sustainable resources.

What started as a family farm in 1936 has evolved into a philanthropic community staple for the Colorado Springs area. Being on the farm has the remarkable capability to remind visitors of a simpler time, allowing people to explore their ancestral roots and agricultural heritage. Community gathers together at the farm with the knowledge of where the food came from, how it was grown, and that it had the opportunity to prosper thanks to the combined effort of neighbors. Even though the Venetucci family has passed on, PPCF continues to improve the farm with tremendous love and care in the family’s honor. Hannigan recalls, “At 93 years old Nick looked at me from his deathbed, tears streaming down his face because he still wondered what his life would have been like had he pursued his baseball career. He would have played with the big shots—we’re talking Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.” Yet Nick passed away with a greater idea in his mind; the idea that he’d had a positive impact on so many lives in his community, and that his traditions would be carried on for the next generations to enjoy. Thanks to the oversight of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Venetucci Farm serves as an agricultural and communal role model that can continue to nourish the Pikes Peak region. Through using innovation and communal cooperation, the farm is able to provide the resources to improve the lives of those in the region while inspiring use of renewable energy, self-sustainability, and philanthropy.