Rainfall postpones new ag park opening, but weekday markets start soon

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Spring storms have delayed the opening of the Columbia agriculture park project at Clary-Shy Community Park for the third time this year. The anticipated opening is now early June.

Despite the delays, the park will still launch Tuesday and Thursday market hours in the new location at Clary-Shy Community Park, on the far eastern slab of the MU Health Care pavilion. Those hours will begin this coming Tuesday and Thursday and continue through October.

The four-way collaboration of Columbia Parks and Recreation, the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, Columbia Farmers Market and Sustainable Farms and Communities is called Friends of the Farm.

Their goal for the project is to increase access to fresh, locally grown food; provide education; support farmers; and strengthen the community’s connection to agriculture.

“A month after we open, people will forget about the winter weather,” said Columbia Parks and Recreation director Mike Griggs, who handled the management of the park’s construction. “They’ll look back and see what a great facility it is.”

Delayed, not disheartened

The idea for a collaborative venture was first discussed in 2015, and construction began in July 2018. The initial grand opening was scheduled for March 26.

Adam Saunders, Build This Town campaign director and CCUA development director, said while it remains weather-dependent, the coalition hopes to open the middle section of the pavilion for the farmers market either by June 1 or 8.

“(Among a handful of other things), what’s remaining is mainly around the MU Health Care pavilion; getting the roof on, insulation in and the wiring finished,” Saunders said.

Weather also delayed pouring the concrete sidewalks. While freezing temperatures made it impossible, rainfall dilutes the concrete mixture and wind causes the slabs to dry unevenly.

Griggs said although weather delays caused frustration, the building process has otherwise gone smoothly.

“I think we can commend our contractor, GBH,” Griggs said. “Whenever there was a good day, a crew would be out trying to catch up. These guys didn’t dally.”

Delays on projects that rely on winter construction are inevitable, Griggs said, and it’s not unusual for crews to lose 30 to 40 working days.

“Bottom line is we want to do it right and open when it’s safe and looking good,” he said.

Meanwhile, Parkade Center and paved space behind the mall have functioned as the temporary location for the Saturday farmers market.

For Corrina Smith, Columbia Farmers Market executive director, partnering with Parkade has been a positive experience.

“They’re amazing to work with and super flexible,” Smith said. “It’s difficult to find a location to fit our large footprint. We can only work within a bare-bones nonprofit budget.”

While spreading the word about the change to Parkade was initially a challenge, Smith found a silver lining.

“We expanded our customers to people who may have not come before,” Smith said. “We hope they follow us back (to the Clary-Shy Park location).”

Learning, growing and sharing

Smith, Griggs and Saunders agree that capital campaign projects such as the agriculture park are worth the wait because of the greater purpose they serve in the community.

The entire project is designed to unfold in two phases, tentatively finished by the end of 2021. Phase 1 — in its completion, by the end of the year— will offer a year-round, covered pavilion for vendor stalls, a one-room schoolhouse, a teaching garden, a planting area for the food pantry, a veggie wash station, a storage barn, a playground and a greenhouse and a concrete walking trail throughout the whole site.

The Columbia Farmers Market and the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture will work together to deliver programming and on-site activities about growing, accessing and cooking food.

CCUA’s established school programs, gardening workshops at the Saturday market and free, three-year home gardening mentor program for low-income people will move to the park, all by 2020.

The organization will also continue growing produce for the food pantry, with a goal of increasing their annual donation from 16,000 to 50,000 pounds of nutrient-dense greens and in-demand vegetables.

Saunders, naturally, compared the project to “a big onion.”

“As we peel back the layers, we see they intersect in interesting ways,” he said.

The farmers market began selling from the site back in 1980, when the land was the Boone County Fairgrounds, Saunders explained.

“This site has a history of ag education,” Saunders said. “It’s very cool to see agriculture return to this site.”

Now the space will serve as both the farmers market location and a place that will work to reinforce the importance of the community supporting and learning about farming.

Not only will the park provide opportunities for community members, it will also build the economic health of farming communities, Saunders said. He sees it as an economic loop that reverses the typical money flow of food purchases, sending money from the city to rural areas.

When a marketgoer buys produce from a local farmer, the money goes back to small towns and supports those farmers.

Next steps and a new weekday market

The project, financed through public and private funds, has 588 donors who have collectively raised $4.1 million. Saunders said the amount will carry the project through its first phase.

The second phase will complete the east and west side of the pavilion, making space for 98 vendor stalls. It will also include a 10,000-square-foot building that would function as an event space, a commercial teaching kitchen and resource center.

He estimated the second phase will need at least an additional $4 million for completion.

“Access to a kitchen and better teaching facilities and a shaded pavilion really opens up the door for new collaborations,” Saunders said.

For Smith and the Columbia Farmers Market, the project and working alongside Columbia Parks and Recreation and the other organizations has turned a vision into reality.

“Our organization has been trying to build a building for a very long time,” Smith said. “It’s been a lot of fun and an exciting challenge and process. Great relationships have come out of it.”

Saunders and Griggs share Smith’s enthusiasm as the opening date nears, and although the space won’t be fully functioning, the weekday market will offer a taste of what’s to come.

The market will begin Tuesday, May 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursday, May 23, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. For now, it will be located on the easternmost slab of the MU Health Care pavilion.

“They’re both new markets that we haven’t offered before,” Smith said. “It’s also really exciting because we finally get to use the park, even if we’re not under the roof.”

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed

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