Abundant Sunshine

Early last week, staff in the offices of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture had been compulsively checking Saturday’s weather. Long-range forecasts showed sunshine, we were probably in the clear for our campaign launch to build Missouri’s first Agriculture Park. Mid-week we found the weather descriptor that every outdoor event organizer dreams about: “Abundant Sunshine”. Considering the prior Saturday had abundant rain and wind, it was refreshing to see that the launch of our capital campaign would be met with the ambiance we had hoped for.

The future Agriculture Park will be at Columbia’s Clary-Shy Park. Currently Clary-Shy Park is home the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC), the Columbia Farmers Market which meets in the parking lot, and 10 acres of grass which host lacrosse practices and pickup soccer games in the evenings. On Saturday mornings the outdoor spaces at this park come alive: local farmers set up their tents, musicians sing their songs, and the people of mid-Missouri come to purchase nutritious food for their families. In the midst of this four hours of market excitement, neighbors talk to neighbors, children taste fresh cherry tomatoes, and farmers swap stories. And for now that is it, at noon on Saturday, the farmers pack up, the customers go home, the outdoor spaces at park are quiet again.

This campaign to build an Agriculture Park at Clary-Shy Park includes four organizations—Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, Columbia Farmers Market, Sustainable Farms and Communities, and Columbia Parks and Recreation—who call themselves Friends of the Farm. The Agriculture Park will provide the community with an urban farm, covered farmers’ market, community plaza, outdoor classroom, demonstration gardens, recreation trails, a sports practice field, commercial kitchen, barn, greenhouse and offices. These park features are tools that will improve life in central Missouri. The Friends of the Farm partners will engage the community at this public park to make healthy local foods easier to access, to make it possible for more people eat more fruits and vegetables, and to encourage spending time outside and engaging in physical activity with other members of the community.

At Saturday’s campaign launch the thousands of people in attendance were able to see into the future. Most Saturdays the 10 acres of grass at Clary-Shy Park goes unused. This week, families came together in the future community plaza sitting on benches, eating their breakfast at picnic tables, and admiring temporary demonstration gardens. Cones, flags and signs marked where future buildings, gardens, and sidewalks would be and people were drawn into the park. Saturday’s mock features attracted parents to explore the future park while their kids ran and played in the sunshine. If the mock park was exciting for Saturday’s visitors, then I can only imagine how will a real orchard, a real vegetable farm, real recreation trails, permanent benches and picnic space will transform this space.

Saturday, Friends of the Farm announced that $1.7 million has already been raised for the project, which should cost around $5 million in total. This success and forward momentum can largely be attributed to the park’s diverse community impacts. The speakers who spoke on Saturday represented many interests from our community. They discussed rejuvenating rural communities in mid-Missouri, providing fresh food to struggling families, giving children the opportunity to connect with nature and agriculture, improved health, and building community.

This project will improve an underutilized park to encourage more people to use it, it will drive economic development, it will improve health outcomes for the next generation, and it will connect children to the land. At the campaign launch, all of this came together. You could see children and adults frolicking in the sunshine, shopping for fresh food, and building community. In the architect’s 3D “flyover” you could see the orchards, gardens, soccer players, joggers, picnickers and farmers market shoppers. On Saturday, I heard this diversity of speakers come together and talk about how this project would impact different parts of the community. As one of the project’s organizers, I have thought of this park every day for the last two years. In my head I’ve see the features the park will provide to this community and the people impacted by the food and education that comes from the site. Then on Saturday, it was all there, I could see all of those dreams coming true. This dream hasn’t ever been so real. No doubt, there is much more work to be done, and money to be raised, but this tremendous momentum and the ultimate success of this project rest in the fact that the park is for everyone, it will serve the entire mid-Missouri community. This project’s strength lies in the fact that everyone eats and everyone is invited to be a part of this new park.

Last week’s campaign launch represented the future. The park will be a vibrant community space where people can come together to celebrate abundance of food, community, health, and of course sunshine.

-Billy Polansky

Billy Polansky