Downtown Springdale food hub will support farmers, entrepreneurs

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 2,108 views 

Two years ago, the Walton Family Foundation in Bentonville launched the Northwest Arkansas Food Systems initiative to strengthen the region’s capacity to grow food for its residents.

On Wednesday (March 2), the foundation unveiled details of a new resource to support the project.

Market Center of the Ozarks, a food hub in downtown Springdale, will offer resources to farmers, food entrepreneurs and Northwest Arkansas residents. According to a news release, the 45,000-square-foot facility will offer crop aggregation capabilities, commercial kitchens and community spaces for learning.

Luis Gonzalez, a foundation spokesman, said the building will be built at 713 E. Meadow Ave. A charitable limited liability company associated with the foundation owns the property.

The foundation valued the project at $31 million. Arkansas-based CDI Contractors will be the general contractor. Patterhn Ives, a St. Louis-based architecture firm, will oversee the building’s design. Construction is expected to begin in June 2022, with an early 2024 completion date.

“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 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 Walton Family Foundation was created in 1987 and is led by the family of Walmart Inc. founders Sam and Helen Walton.  Tom Walton, one of their grandsons, is committee chair for the foundation’s Home Region program.

Gonzalez said the facility will be a resource for food entrepreneurs by offering a space to incubate new businesses, each with the unique potential to generate new jobs.

According to the release, Market Center of the Ozarks will offer farmers areas to aggregate and process crops for wholesale. Washrooms, cold and dry storage, loading docks and office space will also be available. The facility will include resources for value-added processing to help farmers maximize their crops with offerings like fresh-cut and frozen produce for school lunches and hospital food service.

“This food hub is great news for the region and for small-scale local farmers like myself,” Andrew Schwerin, owner of Sycamore Bend Farm in Eureka Springs, said in the release. “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.”