The Pikes Peak Community Foundation has decided to temporarily suspend sales and distribution of Venetucci Farm products until results from water, soil and produce testing are complete. The suspension, which is due to dangerous chemicals found in some Southern Colorado water sources, is the first such case in the farm’s 80-year history, according to CEO Gary Butterworth.
Venetucci Farm draws its irrigation water from the Widefield Aquifer, which recently was deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency to have exceeded health advisory limits for perfluorinated chemicals. The industrial chemicals have been linked to health problems, including cancer and birth defects. Produce, eggs and meat from Venetucci Farm will not be distributed until a clean bill of health is given to the farm’s water supply, Butterworth said.
“Venetuci Farms has number of stakeholders,” Butterworth said. “[Community Supported Agriculture] members who receive produce throughout the growing season are certainly the most impacted. Ventucci products are also sold to downtown markets in Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, so they too are impacted. We also have restaurants that use these products and they also fall under this temporary suspension of sales and distribution.”
Butterworth said profits from those sales go back to support the farm, but he was unable to offer an estimate regarding the suspension’s impact on revenue.
“There’s no specific number, and [lost revenue] was something we considered. But between public safety and revenue, the decision is clear. We will err on the side of public interest,” he said.
The foundation is picking up the tab for testing and said water and soil samples have been sent to both the Colorado School of Mines as well as an independent, certified lab. Butterworth did not know the total cost of testing.
According to Butterworth, the suspension is likely to last anywhere from one to two months.
“We’re certainly a ways into the growing and distribution season,” he said. “But we felt like we needed to make sure we understood the results of those tests.
“I want to be clear,” he continued. “The farm is not shutting down. It’s not under any threat of shutting down. We are taking interim steps to ensure we understand the impact of elevated [perfluorinated chemicals] levels.”
Crops are still being grown, but will likely be composted, he said.
According to Colorado Springs Business Journal reports from earlier this year, EPA testing discovered 6.5 million Americans in 27 states are exposed to PFA-tainted drinking water. The chemicals have been detected in 94 public water systems — including Widefield, Security and Fountain systems.
Recent research from a study published by Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health and Richard Clapp of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell indicates PFAs are so toxic, safe levels may be as much as three times lower than current federal regulations.
“While we do not believe there are any health risks associated with the consumption of Venetucci Farm products, it is with the best interest of the community in mind that we have decided to temporarily suspend sales and distribution of our products while we gather additional information and data,” Butterworth said.
According to a PPCF news release, the foundation will continue to work with officials in Widefield, Security, Fountain, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the El Paso County Public Health Department as these agencies and municipalities gather additional data.