The Walton Family Foundation, headed by the same Walton family of the Walmart empire, has announced plans for a $31 million food market to boost local agriculture in the Springdale region of northwest Arkansas. The Market Center of the Ozarks will break ground in the summer of 2022, with a 2024 completion goal.
Market Center of the Ozarks aims to support the agricultural industry throughout Arkansas and create a hub where farmers can connect with resources and the community. Additionally, the hope is to increase access to fresh, local, farm-grown foods for consumers.
“Despite Northwest Arkansas’ growth, there are families who continue to lack adequate access to fresh food,” said Amanda Echegoyen, COO of Community Clinic. “This facility will improve access to affordable, locally grown fruits and vegetables to ensure under-resourced communities can benefit from a healthy diet.”
Beyond the regular buying and selling of local goods, the Market Center of the Ozarks will offer resources for farmers and the community. It will feature commercial kitchens for food preparation and community spaces for learning about agriculture, food, and cooking.
The development of the facility aligns with Northwest Arkansas Food Systems initiatives to improve access to local foods. “Market Center of the Ozarks is another bold step to position Northwest Arkansas as a national model for locally grown food,” said Tom Walton. “This innovation and community hub will offer farmers and entrepreneurs the support they need to get healthy food on tables across the region.”
The 45,000-square-foot project, being built by Patterhn Ives, a St. Louis-based architecture firm, will also provide space for farmers to process crops. Facilities will include washrooms, cold and dry storage, loading docks and office spaces. In addition to selling produce inside the market, there will be an opportunity to connect with community programs like school lunches and hospital food services.
“This food hub is great news for the region and for small-scale local farmers like myself,” said Andrew Schwerin, owner of Sycamore Bend Farm. “The resources it will offer will help us deliver our organic produce to more people in Northwest Arkansas and provide a gathering place for producers to connect with buyers.”
While hopes are high for the project, the Waltons and their Walmart empire have been connected to greenwashing in the past. For example, publications such as Grist reported on the Walmart-backed Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) failing to mention funding received by the company. An EDF news release sourced solely by Walmart, EDF and invested parties resulted in suspicions about the authenticity of the group’s renewable energy claims.
Despite this, a community marketplace that connects local farmers with local consumers seems like a win for the economy and health of the region. Especially with community buy-in, Market Center of the Ozarks could thrive.
Images via Walton Family Foundation