Columbia sets sights on developing agriculture park

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COLUMBIA – A new type of park could come to Columbia in the near future.

The Columbia City Council will hold a public hearing and vote on the first phase of improvements for Clary-Shy Community Park on Monday evening. Improvements would include a pavilion for the Columbia Farmers Market, an urban garden and an outdoor classroom that would transform Clary-Shy into an agriculture park.

The proposal is a collaborative effort between Columbia Parks and Recreation, Sustainable Farms and Communities, Columbia Farmers Market and the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.

Park services manager Gabe Huffington said the partnership sparked the idea for an agriculture park, which they worked on for over a year.

“It was kind of a natural fit in terms of what was there, the history of that in terms of being the Boone County Fairgrounds at one time,” Huffington said. “It’s always had that agriculture theme, and so we are just going to work on kind of bringing that back in terms of what we put in the park.”

The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture would assist the city in running the urban garden and growing fruits and vegetables year-round.

“All the food that’s grown there is going to be donated to local food pantries, and so as we’re teaching people how to grow food, we’re also going to be helping other people in our community,” executive director Billy Polansky said.

Polansky said the central location of the park and its existing amenities in the Columbia Farmers Market and the Activity and Recreation Center will help draw people to this new concept. 

“It’s going to bring in people for many different reasons and just sort of reinforce those healthy eating habits and active lifestyle and local foods, supporting local agriculture,” Polansky said.

The farmers market pavilion will stretch half of the vacant lot it currently occupies, eventually stretching the full length after all phases of construction are complete. The city will look to utilize the structure when it is not utilized by the farmers market.

“Through the first phase, our hope is that when people come to the market, or they visit Clary-Shy Community Park, they’ll really start to get a feel for what our long-term goal is in terms of the size of our facility,” Huffington said.

The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture has around $665,000 in pledges to be distributed over 10 years, most weighted in the first two years of construction. The pledges will pay off the nearly $575,000 the city will use from its designated loan fund on the project.

The Curators of the University of Missouri pledged $495,000 on behalf of MU Health Care to sponsor the planned pavilion.

Columbia Parks and Recreation received a $400,000 Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service, which the department will request from the city council at a later date.

If approved, construction will start in spring 2018 with an estimated completion date of fall 2019.