The proposed permanent farmers market and Missouri’s first agricultural park on West Ash Street in Central Columbia gained its largest funding grant to date this week.
The Columbia City Council on Monday accepted a $700,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health toward construction and programming costs at the Clary-Shy Agricultural Park. The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department will collect the money over four years, according to a staff memo from the council.
Clary-Shy Park is adjacent to the Activity and Recreation Center at Clinkscales Road and Ash Street; it hosts the Saturday morning farmers market. According to buildthistown.org, the fundraising website, the new agriculture park will include a permanent farmers market pavilion, an urban farm, an outdoor nature playground and office and multipurpose buildings.
Terry Plain, program officer for the health foundation, said the grant will help pay for construction of the park — which will build a permanent shelter for the farmers market — as well as a community food assessment, staff salaries, outreach programs and building partnerships among stakeholders.
Plain said she saw the agreement as a culmination of a relationship between the health foundation and the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. The agreement is the first approved proposal through the foundation’s Opportunity Fund, a fund intended to improve the overall health of communities.
“We look to have engaging opportunities with organizations based on where they see the high priority for their community,” Plain said.
In July, a funding request for $250,000 toward construction of the park was denied by the Convention and Visitors Advisory Board after members doubted its appeal to tourists.
Plain compared the agriculture park to the Saint Louis Science Center in terms of how it will educate the community and engage residents.
Adam Saunders, campaign director for the park, said the project has raised more than $2.5 million for construction since fundraising began in November. Saunders said initial construction should begin sometime over the winter. The total fundraising goal is between $6.5 million and $7.5 million.
“It’s a multiphase project that will be implemented as money becomes available over the coming years,” he said.
Saunders said the second phase of the project focuses on the farmers market building and outdoor classroom, and the third phase will include the urban farm and education programs.
Plain said the community food assessment included in the grant agreement will help the foundations involved gain information on how different groups, such as schools and businesses, will be able to interact within the agricultural park.
“The community food assessment is one of the first things they’ll be doing as part of the grant agreement,” Billy Polansky, executive director of the urban agriculture center, said. “What we’re going to look at are the community conditions and needs surrounding access to healthy foods.”
Polansky said the organizations involved will work with a consultant to form an advisory committee to reach out to residents for the assessment.
“It’s more of a broader study, looking at communitywide issues,” he said. “Many organizations can use the results of the study, but specifically we’re going to be looking at it in the context of the agriculture park to meet the needs of the community.”
Polansky said the park also will provide different incentives, such as gift cards, to people who participate in the assessment.
Once the agriculture park is completed, it will offer a wide variety of activities and programs.
“There are going to be components of the agriculture park that will engage demonstration gardens, in- and outdoor teaching,” Plain said. “There could be summer programming and also regular school engagements.”
Polansky said the growing disconnect between residents and agriculture plays a role in some major health problems, such as obesity.
“If we can have a fun, interactive place where people can connect with agriculture, learn more about their food, learn how to grow food, meet farmers and shop for fresh, local products,” he said, “then it’s really going to be a destination for people to connect with their food, and it’s right in the middle of town so a lot of people will be able to access this site.”