COLUMBIA — Three nonprofits are seeking financial assistance and guidance from the city of Columbia about the long-standing idea of permanent housing for the Columbia Farmers' Market and a place to focus on community agriculture.

A new partnership pursing the estimated $1.5 million project includes the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, which hopes to relocate its farm and education center to Clary-Shy Park adjacent to the Activity and Recreation Center.

The farmers market currently uses a small strip of the park; making food the focus of the remainder of the land would allow the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture to expand its three small gardens at 2017 Smith St. to a maximum of six acres.

The proposed 4,000 square-foot structure would provide a building with covered stalls for Columbia Farmers' Market vendors.

The tentative plan calls for a multi-purpose building with a kitchen, restrooms, storage space and open sides with pull-down coverings for market vendors. Parks Director Mike Griggs said the building could be used for other purposes unrelated to farming and agriculture.

"I've done a lot of searching online for other models, but you don't find anything with the design we have in mind that includes the demonstration gardens, the educational programs and a permanent structure that will house community and farmers market activities," said Kenneth Pigg of Sustainable Farms and Communities. "So I'm anticipating if we get this done it could become a major attraction in Columbia." 

Adam Saunders of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture said the new building would allow his nonprofit to expand its farm operation and provide more educational programs for the public, which the center has done for about six years.

The project would be funded through a combination of local, state and federal grants, and the nonprofits have their eyes on a federal grant from the Department of Agriculture, Pigg said.

Representatives of Sustainable Farms and Communities, the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture and Columbia Farmers' Market met June 19 with the city Parks and Recreation Commission to discuss the project.

In 2009, Sustainable Farms and Communities had its idea for a permanent farmers market approved by the Columbia Parks and Recreation Commission, but it was set aside because of a lack of funding.

The nonprofits are also hoping for the grants to be matched through other city funding, along with a fundraising campaign next spring, Pigg said.

A list of potential projects from an extension of the one-eighth cent sale tax for parks, which will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, includes $400,000 for Clary-Shy Park.

Griggs said how that money will be spent hasn't been finalized. There are other needs at the site, he said, including heating and air conditioning upgrades for the Activity and Recreation Center and expanding the center's fitness area.

The project list for the $400,000 will be finalized through public meetings, and parks and recreation will then determine the master plan and project priorities for the site, Griggs said.

Pigg said the partnership needs the $400,000 to provide funds to match potential future grants.

Since the proposed building would be on public land, the city of Columbia would retain ownership and responsibility for maintenance while leasing the property to the nonprofits.

The nonprofits plan to meet again with the Parks and Recreation Commission in August and submit a specification sheet for how the property might be used, Pigg said.

When a site plan is completed, Pigg said, the nonprofits will raise money and hire an architect to lay out the three-dimensional plan and a cost estimate that can be taken to the commission in late October or early November.

"This time we've come at it from a different direction with a little broader collaboration in partnership," Pigg said. "We think that we have a better plan that will be much more affordable and much more acceptable in the community."

Location of possible permanent farmers market and urban farm

The Columbia Farmers’ Market has teamed up with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture and Sustainable Farms and Communities to push for an enclosed structure for the farmers market and to propose the extra land at Clary-Shy Community Park be used as an urban  farm.

Supervising editor is John Schneller

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