A $31 million food hub project funded by the Walton Family Foundation is in the works for downtown Springdale.
The Market Center of the Ozarks, designed to bring together farmers, food entrepreneurs and residents of Northwest Arkansas, will be about 45,000-square feet and will include room for processing, commercial kitchens and community spaces for learning.
Startup costs and other barriers of entry have made it difficult for small-farm farmers and ranchers to bring products to market.
One of the goals of the project is to support local farmers in order to increase accessibility to healthy food in the region. Farmers will be able to prepare their harvests for wholesale distribution to local businesses, school lunchrooms and other food providers, said Karin Endy, a consultant of the Walton Family Foundation on the project. Kitchens for chefs and entrepreneurs to work on techniques and recipes, and gathering spaces for community members to learn about food are also in the works.
"Market Center of the Ozarks is another bold step to position Northwest Arkansas as a national model for locally grown food," Tom Walton said in a written statement. "This innovation and community hub will offer farmers and entrepreneurs the support they need to get healthy food on tables across the region."
The hub is expected to have washrooms for produce, cold and dry storage, loading docks, office space, certified commercial kitchens, community spaces, and facilities for processing when completed.
Architecture firm Patterhn Ives, based in St. Louis, is overseeing the building's design and construction is expected to begin in June with an early 2024 completion date.
A number of projects served as inspiration for the building. Endy said places like Commonwealth Kitchen in Dorchester, Mass., Hot Bread Kitchen in Harlem, N.Y., or Union Kitchen in Washington D.C., all played important roles in their communities and the Walton Family Foundation wanted to bring something similar to Northwest Arkansas.
"We look at this as complimentary to a farmers' market," she said. "Whereas they are direct to consumer places, this is a space aimed more at business and wholesale. We don't want to compete with our vibrant farmers' markets."
The Springdale Planning Commission unanimously endorsed plans for the project on Wednesday. The city council is scheduled to consider the project's approval on March 29.
The location is slated for 713 E. Meadow Ave., west of the Springdale Municipal Airport and is accessible to the Jones Center and Razorback Regional Greenway trail.