Our new Opportunity Fund program only launched this past February, but we’re already proud to share the first approved proposal, “Missouri’s First Agricultural Park.” This is an exciting project, and we’re eager to share it with you. It provides an example of an ideal Opportunity Fund project and gives us insight into the power of partnership and innovation.
For those not familiar, our Opportunity Fund offers groups the chance to submit innovative ideas and approaches that provide solutions for problems affecting the health and well-being of individuals and communities most in need. We’re searching for a wide-range of ideas, big and small, fully formed or still under development. Our goal is to work together and help cultivate ideas that communities bring forward to address their most pressing health issues.
For this first project, we’re partnering with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture (CCUA) in central Missouri’s Boone County, but they are just one player in a larger consortium working to make the agriculture park a reality. The group plans to create, operate, and develop programming for the park, which will be built adjacent to the city of Columbia’s Activities and Recreation Center. This is a central location for an economically diverse area of the region. The goals of the agriculture park include making healthy, local foods easier to access and more affordable; educating Columbians about cooking and gardening, leading to greater consumption of fruits and vegetables; and creating a space where the community can spend more time outside for physical activity.
Foundation Program Officer Terry Plain had worked with the CCUA on a previous grant. “When I was in town on unrelated work I’d let them know and they would share what other projects they were working on,” said Terry. The CCUA even applied for a grant related to the agriculture park before the Opportunity Fund had begun, but its focus was different and was not yet the right fit for the Foundation. However, their relationship with Terry continued. “I got the impression that they were moving forward with the agriculture park project whether it was with our support or not, and I could see them growing their capacity to get it done.” They backed up their work with solid data about the needs of their community and related health issues.
Eventually the CCUA submitted an Opportunity Fund proposal for the park consisting of activities related to community assessment, outreach and evaluation, onsite education and training, and food production. “Our support is going to help leverage how this facility will be of the best benefit to the community that it serves,” explained Terry.
Once in full operation, the park will engage more than an estimated 100,000 city and surrounding county residents annually. The Columbia Food Pantry currently grows 10,000 pounds of produce a year, but with the help of the park, in a four-year period they expect that number to increase to 50,000 pounds.
Plain summed up her excitement for the project by stating, “They’ve really come at this project very strategically. It’s beyond ‘if you build it they will come.’ They’re connecting with community residents to make this the best facility possible, which gives them a different level of authenticity. Not only that, they have the data to back up what the residents need. Combine all that with a varied group of partners, each of which is playing a part in making the park a success, I found it really impressive.”