Campaign for outdoor farmers market pavilion faces low funding

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 | 7:49 p.m. CST; updated 4:13 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 20, 2011

*An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect amount paid to Casey Corbin, former executive director of Sustainable Farms and Communities. Between 2008 and 2011, Corbin was paid $118,635, according to Kenneth Pigg, the organization's treasurer. He said the IRS 990 forms filed by the organization, the source of original salary information, were incorrect and will be amended.
**The pavilion project only had the approval of the city Parks and Recreation Commission.

COLUMBIA — A campaign that raised $150,000 in cash to build an outdoor pavilion for the Columbia Farmers' Market has seen funds dwindle to $10,000 or $12,000, after an unsuccessful attempt to secure federal stimulus money.

Fundraising for the proposed $2.5 million outdoor pavilion — which would be located on city property behind the Activity and Recreation Center and would feature both covered and open-air stalls, bathrooms, a meeting room and a kitchen — was headed up by Sustainable Farms and Communities. The group was created in 1998 to design and raise money for a pavilion.

Sustainable Farms and Communities launched its public campaign in July 2008. Amid a change of leadership and communication difficulties, however, the future of the campaign is unclear.

Though Sustainable Farms and Communities raised $150,000 in cash and had another $150,000 pledged as of 2009, most of the cash on hand is gone, and some of the pledges are contingent upon construction, said Kenneth Pigg, Sustainable Farms and Communities treasurer and MU emeritus professor. The money was spent on architectural and construction drawings and an executive director's salary.

Pigg said the pavilion was designed by an architect from Asheville, N.C., in 2008 or 2009. About $75,000 to $80,000 of the $150,000 in cash was spent on drawings of structure.

Plans for the outdoor pavilion date to the 1990s. The Missourian reported that Sustainable Farms and Communities worked with an architect in 2000 to create plans for the permanent structure.

The remaining donations paid the salary of former Executive Director Casey Corbin, who was hired in December 2008to oversee fundraising, Pigg said. Between 2008 and 2011, Corbin was paid a total of $118,635.*

Under Corbin's direction, Sustainable Farms and Communities had hoped to get federal stimulus money in 2009 to build the pavilion, but the federal government awarded none, Pigg said.

Corbin worked through 2010 before stepping down. Former chair and treasurer Dan Kuebler, who had been with Sustainable Farms and Communities since 1998 and helped raise the $300,000, retired in August 2011.

"I think Dan kind of got burned out by that process," Pigg said.

Kuebler said he couldn't speak with the Missourian because he's retired from the board.

Next steps of the project

Now, Sustainable Farms and Communities might revisit the plans with the farmers market board to see whether the project could be modified or built in phases to cut costs, Pigg said.

The farmers market board already approved plans for the $2.5 million structure, Pigg said. The city Parks and Recreation Commission also approved the pavilion project.**

Sustainable Farms and Communities will lose the $50,000 that Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau pledged for construction if the project doesn't break ground by May 1, 2013, said Amy Schneider, acting director of the bureau.

The Parks and Recreation Department was involved in early conversations about the outdoor pavilion, too. Mike Griggs, park services manager, said he wants to move forward with plans for the site, whether it ends up being the full $2.5 million structure or a less expensive covered shelter he said would cost about $100,000.

Farmers' thoughts about the pavilion

Don Mayse, owner of Show Me Farms, said his criteria for the pavilion are that it has restrooms, a hand-washing facility, electricity and adequate parking.

"We need a conservative shelter," he said. "When we go to extremes, we end up spending more than we need to."

The Missourian attempted to contact 20 vendors, several of whom said they had feelings about the pavilion but didn't want to talk about it. The buzz among other vendors from the farmers market was that the money Sustainable Farms and Communities had raised was gone, the project was taking too long and that the structure shouldn't be so elaborate.

Pigg said he'd heard about these comments, and that some of the confusion had to do with difficulties in communication between the Sustainable Farms and Communities Board and the farmers market board.

"I think part of it was, we have new boards in place from 2008-2009, so people that are on the boards now were not there when the plans were initially approved," he said.

The future of the project

Pigg said he thinks the pavilion will be built, but the economic climate presents difficulties. He said Sustainable Farms and Communities is still raising money for the pavilion, but not in an "intensive" way, and fundraising efforts are focused on the organization's other educational programs.

Mark Mahnken, president of the farmers market, said he thinks the missing link is involvement from the farmers.

Market vendors have created a separate foundation that raises money for the outdoor pavilion. The group recently hosted a winter gala and raised about $4,000 or $5,000, Mahnken said.

"That is an ongoing project," Mahnken said. "We're just really getting our fundraising kicked into high gear."

Deanna Crocker, who owns Crocker Farms Pork with her husband, said the change in leadership might relieve vendors' frustrations with the pavilion.

"The people at the market are glad that they're kind of taking back control and working toward raising the money rather than hiring someone from outside," she said. "They weren't happy with the way things were going last year."

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Stephie Yoakum November 9, 2011 | 1:30 a.m.

So shameful that enough money to make a modest structure was squandered on drawings and salary for someone who accomplished less than what they even were paid. Additionally, anyone who pays $80,000 for drawings for a few million dollar one-level structure and a 5th graders' display of them using Strauss' opus should reconsider their ability to handle money. Also, we apparently do not need a $2.5m structure if even vendors are willing to settle on a $100,000 structure for a modest but actual start on some sort of permanent covering.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 9, 2011 | 9:24 a.m.

Why don't the Mennonites in Clark and Versailles, MO have these problems with their vending facilities?

Financed by selling shares in their facilities is the way they did it, I think. To my knowledge, gov't support wasn't required or wanted. Self-sufficiency is a good thing, don'tcha think?

Of course, they didn't require a Cadillac-version, but I find their facilities are quite suitable and functional.

Food's good, too. Especially the ice cream/pie combination.

And the produce is absolutely amazing. Except for a few tomato plants I keep for pickin' and eatin', I was able to close my garden (and save money) because of what I could buy at their auctions.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders November 9, 2011 | 2:55 p.m.

There is nothing "sustainable" about a $2.5M pavilion.

Michael, I bet those Mennonites didn't have any Executive Directors to leech off of their productivity, either.

(Report Comment)

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