“The Quad and PPCF will spend the next year examining the viability of various operating strategies to enhance Venetucci Farm as a long-term community asset,” a release issued by the foundation said.
The Quad, a joint initiative of Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College, UCCS, and supported by the U.S. Air Force Academy, will commence the project in June with two research teams of three to five students each. Additional students will join the project in the fall, at the start of the next academic year. The Quad, which was created partly to keep more local graduates in Colorado Springs, focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship, and challenges participants to solve problems.
“The community foundation is stimulated by looking at complex projects and working toward solutions,” said Gary Butterworth, foundation CEO. “In this case, we’re talking about Venetucci Farm — the water contamination, its long-term sustainability and its role in the community. We’ll look at stewarding the Venetucci legacy and having conversations about a number of ideas of what could occur there.”
The farm has had a rough row to hoe since 2016, including the contamination of its water supply from Air Force firefighting foam, and layoffs.
In May 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory lowering the level of perfluorinated compounds considered safe for human consumption. Venetucci tested its groundwater and found PFC contamination above the EPA’s safe limit. That prompted PPCF, the farm’s trustee, to suspend produce sales mid-season.
In addition, farm managers Susan Gordon and Patrick Hamilton were laid off in December.
“We, as an organization, are sifting through possibilities,” Butterworth said. “We looked to The Quad, which does this kind of work — and it actually has the capacity to help brainstorm solutions.”
Butterworth said “the multiplier effect” is enabling students to try and solve real-world problems.
“They’ll be able to go out on the farm and look, touch, taste, explore and evaluate,” he said. “They’re going to look at similarly positioned assets throughout the country and the state. They’ll look at this from a business perspective and a public sector perspective — and as a nonprofit operation.”
According to a news release issued by PPCF, The Quad will engage stakeholders associated with the farm, draw on expertise from other communities and “apply rigorous analysis to understand the most viable and impactful uses for the farm.”
The envisioned outcome, according to the release, will support a request for proposals from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which will solicit community organizations to propose operational plans for the farm.
“We are truly thrilled to join the effort to help create a path towards long-term sustainability of our city’s beloved Venetucci Farm while assisting PPCF to identify right fit(s) for the RFP process,” Jacob Eichengreen, executive director of the Quad Innovation Partnership, said in the release.
In a 2017 Business Journal interview, Eichengreen said part of The Quad’s mission is making sure those about to graduate or those who recently graduated are “market-ready.” The program’s structure allows it to be agile, he said, adding it leverages the collective expertise of the faculty at each involved institution.
Eichengreen said he’s heard comparisons to business incubators or accelerators around the country, but few have access to such a variety of expertise in higher education, and the point of The Quad isn’t necessarily to create a company that will be sold one day.
Student participants have already been selected for the summer portion of the project. Applications for the fall team will open in late August.
Find out more about The Quad at quadcos.org and more about the PPCF at ppcf.org.