Columbia Agriculture Park seeks to make healthier community

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COLUMBIA – One organization is asking the public to help raise funds for an agriculture park.

The agriculture park master plan features a permanent farmers market shelter, outdoor classrooms, an urban farm and multi-purpose building.

"We're transitioning from our silent phase to our public phase," said Adam Saunders, campaign director.

The agriculture park will be located at Clary-Shy Park, which is next to the Activity and Recreation Center in central Columbia.

The campaign group, “Friends of the Farm,” recently surpassed its first fund raising goal of $1,650,000. The campaign has raised $1,707,142.

Phase one includes the construction of 98 vendor stalls, parking spaces and plantings for a pedestrian plaza and outdoor classroom.

Saunders said the outdoor classroom will be used to educate people about eating healthy.

Food produced in the new urban garden will be distributed to those who need it through the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri.

Food Bank Executive Director Lindsay Young Lopez said the relationship between the food bank and the Columbia Farmers Market is critical. She said the vendors donated 5,000 pounds of food in 2016.

"We hear from so many clients that say, 'we simply cannot afford access to fresh fruits and vegetables," Lopez said.

She said the new site will have a significant impact on local families facing food insecurity.

"This garden will produce more than 50,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables," Lopez said.

The agriculture park campaign also aims to grow Boone County's economy. The new park will provide a venue for farmers year-round.

According to the campaign's website, all farmers market producers must hail from within a 50-mile radius of Columbia.

The group plans to begin construction this fall. Saunders said the project should be completed in three to four years.