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Partners Lining up Behind South Columbus Fresh Food Campus Idea

Brent Warren Brent Warren Partners Lining up Behind South Columbus Fresh Food Campus IdeaAll renderings/visuals via Neighborhood Design Center.
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A new production facility for Luna Burger, a hydroponic farm made out of shipping containers, and an edible forest are just three of the concepts being floated by Bob Leighty and a wide range of potential partners hoping to revitalize the southern end of Parsons Avenue.

What started out as a proposal to build a greenhouse and market in a single building has evolved into an even more wide-ranging concept encompassing three empty parcels; one that sits just north of the John R. Maloney Health Center on Parsons, another to the west of that building (behind its parking lot), and the third across Parsons, just north of Mae’s Produce on Marion Road.

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Leighty, who heads the Parsons Avenue Merchants Association (PAMA), received a city council grant last summer to pay for a feasibility study looking at the market and greenhouse idea. That study is now finished, and the process of completing it has led to new ideas, as well as new opportunities to partner with existing businesses.

“This is not funded,” cautioned Leighty, “but the people I’m talking to are creative people who have resources… the feasibility document is a way to demonstrate a vision of what we feel can be done.”

Luna Burger is one of many businesses, government entities and nonprofit organizations that have written letters of support for the project. The letters, while not firm commitments by any stretch, show the breadth of interest in the many ideas coming together.

“I’m going to work with all of these people who provided letters, and anyone else who comes to the table,” said Leighty. “Worst case, we have a discussion about the best use of those three properties, which would be really positive because right now, nothing’s happening.”

The Luna Burger letter, signed by co-owners Barbie and Megan Luna, said that the business’s “current plan is to relocate our production kitchen to a new and expanded facility in the South Columbus Fresh Food Campus.”

The Luna facility would anchor a new building on the Parsons parcel, which could also potentially house a for-rent commercial kitchen, office space, and a small retail store.

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Folsom and Pine Farm has expressed interest in partnering with the Franklin Park Conservatory to plant and run an edible forest on the parcel behind the health center. Edible forests typically feature a wide assortment of fruit and nut trees, berry shrubs and lots of smaller edible perennials – they can be used as an educational tool but are also designed to provide a source of healthy local food that goes far beyond the typical tomato and pepper plants (Seattle and Iowa City have both pursued edible forest projects).

As for the Marion Road complex, the vision is for multiple shipping containers growing vegetables, seedlings and berries, all utilizing the latest in hydroponic technology. That portion of the project is designed to complement Mae’s produce, a small farm stand which has been selling fresh fruits and vegetables on the south side for over 38 years.

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Leighty said that the next steps for the plan include continuing discussion with the City of Columbus (owner of two of the three parcels), OSU Extension, the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the Finance Fund, Local Matters, and other partners to to keep up the momentum and explore potential sources of funding.

“The question is, how can you leverage public-private investment?” said Leighty. “There’s been a lot of that type of investment in the neighborhood’s housing – and for good reason, we need quality housing – but we haven’t seen the same thing on the economic development side…we have to think about what’s going to drive the development of those three big pieces of property,”

More information on the South Columbus Fresh Food Campus can be found at www.allthingssouth.org.

All renderings/visuals via Neighborhood Design Center.

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