Columbia Farmers Market scores grant for specialty crop promotion, education

The Columbia Farmers Market and the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture will have the funding they need to continue educating children about the importance of vegetables after receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The farmers market will receive $50,000 over two years to fund educational and promotional efforts designed to increase interest in specialty crops grown in Missouri.

“What we are doing within the grant is providing education for children every Saturday about specialty crops and then promoting specialty crops activities at the agricultural park,” said Corrina Smith, Columbia Farmers Market executive director.

The agricultural park is in the works.

Specialty crops are those not considered cash crops like corn and soybeans. They include common fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, but also those that are less typical, such as persimmons.

The farmers market has received this grant award twice in the past. One award established a space to host activities within the farmers market. Another funded activities for children and helped subsidize children’s purchases of specialty crops from the farmers market.

The farmers market organizes the children’s activities in conjunction with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.

“We partner with the farmers market on a number of projects, the biggest one is the agricultural park we are building over there right now,” said Billy Polansky, executive director for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. “We already do education with kids and adults surrounding gardening and fruits and vegetables, so for them to work with us to do programming at the farmers market, it is just a natural partnership.”

Urban agriculture staff oversee the children’s activities, which are generally designed to familiarize kids with fruits and vegetables.

“We have some plant seeds out and the vegetables, and we do an activity where we have the kids match the seed to the vegetable,” Polansky said. “We also have the kids plan their own garden.”

The new grant will fund the culmination of the existing initiatives by expanding the educational program and devoting additional resources for marketing.

Half the funding will go towards advertising, including billboard and radio ads, social media listings and a new website calendar.

The other half will be directed toward logistics and staffing costs associated with operating the educational program.

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