The annual voyage to the pumpkin patch is a favorite field trip for many students in Colorado Springs. One such trip is made possible through the generosity of Nick and Bambi Venetucci, who have provided free pumpkins to local children for over 50 years. Since 2006, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation has managed that opportunity to preserve the Venetucci legacy. This year, due to COVID-19, students were unable to travel to Venetucci Farms for its annual pumpkin patch event, so the pumpkin patch had to come to them. On Oct. 23, kindergarteners at Centennial Elementary School received a science lesson and a free pumpkin thanks to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, the Catamount Institute and Venetucci Farms.

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Students select their pumpkins at Centennial Elementary School.

“We’re super pleased to collaborate and get a donation from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation,” said Kelly Lane, assistant principal at Centennial Elementary School. “The Catamount Institute is here doing a science lesson for kindergarteners, and Venetucci Farms also provided the pumpkins to our kindergarten class and brought the pumpkin patch to Centennial. Typically, in prior years, we’ve been able to go to the pumpkin patch, but unfortunately due to the pandemic this year we were unable to travel to the pumpkin patch. This year these wonderful partners and this amazing donation made it possible for our school to still give the kindergarteners a pumpkin patch experience outside of school today. The students got a science lesson from the Catamount Institute, and then a story read to them about a pumpkin patch, and then they got to come out and pick their very own pumpkin.”

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Kelly Lane, assistant principal of Centennial Elementary School.

Not only is the event fun for the children, but the Catamount Institute provides a standards-based science lesson. “With the science lesson we talked about ‘What are the parts of a plant?’” explained Beth Austin, the school programs director for the Catamount Institute. “This is part of the standards of science for kindergarten education, so they learned that a plant has a flower, a stem, leaves, and roots, and then what a plant needs to grow. It needs sun, water, soil and air. We had a little lesson where we dressed up a child as a plant and then we sang a song and read a story.”

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Students wait with their pumpkins. Nick Venetucci's rule was that "each kid must carry their own pumpkin."

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A Centennial Elementary School student dressed as a plant during the Catamount Institute's science lesson.

More than 1,200 pumpkins will be given to kindergarteners throughout the Pikes Peak region. The pumpkins were provided courtesy of Milberger Farms in Pueblo. “We want the kids to understand the whole cycle of what plants are about,” said Austin. “We want to continue that tradition from Nick and Bambi Venetucci.”

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.