A Seed of Thought Leads to a Sprout of Innovation
In 1992 after 12 years of holding the Farmers Market on the Old Fairgrounds under a wood framed pavilion, the Market was forced to relocate to a noisy and very hot, asphalt parking lot behind Parkade Plaza 100 feet from I-70 Hwy. Immediately it was evident that we were facing some very new challenges since it was not yet the era of pop-up tents and so many growers were scrambling for protection with patio umbrellas and other makeshift shelters in attempts to protect themselves and their produce from the summer hear and rain. Another problem was that our customers were having great difficulty in finding us since they had been so accustomed to having us at the original location for 12 years. Many of us saw the future for the Market and it looked as if we were destined to move from parking lot to parking lot totally dependent on the graciousness of the landlord and totally exposed to the elements of nature with our primitive tents and no protection for our customers.
We did have some support in our city council in the person of Rex Campbell, a rural sociology professor at the University of Missouri. Within two years the City of Columbia was able to work out a deal with the new owners of the Old Fairgrounds and purchase the property. The primary reason for the city purchasing the property was to move towards building a new Activities and Recreational Center on 6 of the 20 acres that composed the site. With Mr. Campbell as our advocate and a large supportive community turnout at the council chamber meeting, the Market was allowed to return to the Old Fairground site but minus any protective structure other than our own individual tents/shelters. This was a huge step for the Market in that we felt we now at least had the opportunity to have a permanent location/site for the Market and we would no longer be parking lot jumping. We then found ourselves starting to dream of building another structure that could both protect the growers and the customers on Market days but the question was, How!
For the next few years the Market enjoyed its newfound permanence on the city property and the Market began to grow in vendor attendance and customer participation. The Market began to include special events and music on many Saturday market days. Attendance flowered on those sunny, warm and luscious spring and summer days. Problem was however, that there was that occasional spring or summer thunderstorm that lasted the entire morning and which more than once created a small stream flowing down the center isle of the Market. The result was that sales plummeted to only 20% of a regular day and this was not good if you had, as most vendors did, all perishable produce on your table that day. In 1997 this happened more than once and for many growers it meant the loss of thousands of dollars of lost sales just for the day.
It was at this point that a small group of concerned growers realized, or I should say, became enlightened, to the fact that you can’t control the weather and if you want to ensure that the customers will come to the Market every week then you must have protection/shelter for them. Along with this enlightened moment came another epiphany; the Market and growers were good at growing and selling their product but not the group to raise money and construct a pavilion. Another organization needed to be formed to focus on this major project and to work with the community on the design and other uses of such a facility. The group of 6-8 met a number of times to discuss ideas and the reality of the task and decided to name the organization “Sustainable Farms & Communities”. The group agreed that the Market was essential not only for sustaining the livelihoods of farmers/producers but also in bringing the Columbia and adjacent small towns together and creating a sense of community. A facility was needed to bring stability and a permanent physical location to this cause for future generations.
SF&C came into being in 1998. At that time the focus was on constructing a pavilion for the Farmers Market that would protect vendors and customers and continue to serve the community for the next 100 years at this location. As time has passed the SF&C board of directors have seen other opportunities and ideas emerge that are now part of a larger mission. SF&C now sees itself as a central player in creating a sustainable, safe and healthy local food system. To that end we are concerned with serving everyone in our community and region through education and partnerships with other groups with similarly related missions and visions. Today we are not only actively fundraising for the Farmers Market Pavilion and Education Center but are, with community partnerships, creating programs that can reach the underserved in our community thereby building a healthy and sustainable future.