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VOL. 132 | NO. 177 | Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Agricenter’s Sunflower Trail Makes Official Debut

By Michael Waddell

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More than 30 years after its conception, the Agricenter Sunflower Trail finally enjoyed a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, Sept. 5, on the grounds of Agricenter International. Work started on both ends of the Greenprint-certified trail, which was one of the first in Shelby County, back in the mid-1980s.

“It’s been a little bit of saga. The county started work on both sides of our campus, but funding was redirected to other projects and the last mile was never completed,” said Agricenter International president John Butler. “We’re certainly glad to have pedestrians and bikers able to use this trail that connects the Greenway to the Greenline via our solar farm and Farmer’s Market. We think it’s an amazing addition to the campus.”

The trail also ties together other parts of the Agricenter's large property, such as the pick-your-own strawberry patch and fields of cotton, corn, soybeans and other commodities, as well as sunflowers on both ends. More importantly, it offers better walking and biking access to the Agricenter Farmer’s Market for fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Sunflower Trail is a Greenprint-certified project and part of the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan, a 25-year vision running until 2040 that outlines connected communities, physical and social environments that are sustainable for future generations, and access to economic, social and natural opportunities.

“When we completed the Greenprint plan at the end of 2014, one of things we wanted to do was keep in the public eye all of the work and all of the value of the Greenprint from a regional perspective and the individual projects that made up what is such a comprehensive plan for green space,” said John Zeanah, deputy director of the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development, explaining the Greenprint certification program.

Participating groups were encouraged to consider how their projects would address the network of trails and broader benefits like improved health outcomes, economic development, transportation and connecting communities.

The Greenprint plan extends through all of Shelby County as well as portions of Fayette County, Tennessee; DeSoto County, Mississippi; and Crittenden County, Arkansas.

“There are a lot of play space projects that contribute to the overall whole that are important for us to show success early on,” Zeanah said. “We’ve seen a lot more activity in the short term here in Shelby County because there were so many organizations like the Agricenter, the Shelby Farms Conservancy and the Wolf River Conservancy that were already in the process of working on different projects.”

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, County Commissioner Heidi Shafer and other prominent members of the business development community came out for the trail-opening celebration. Last year the Agricenter received a $100,000 Shelby County Commission Community Enhancement Grant to complete work on the trailway and other areas of the campus.

“As we’re trying to get people more into the outdoors and into being healthier, connectivity is so important so they can get on their bikes or walk with their kids or their dogs and just enjoy God’s beautiful Earth,” said Shafer. “This was a piece that was disconnected for a long time, so it seemed like a next logical step to get it completed.”

Shafer also cited the connectivity to fresh food, which she said tastes better and contains more nutrients the closer one buys it to where it is picked.

“I love to be able to link people to fresh farm-raised food as much as possible, even in the middle of a big city like Memphis,” she said.

Shafer plans to earmark an additional $50,000 for steps to the Agricenter’s ShowPlace Arena.

“We’re going to build steps up the hill to the arena, which they are really redoing, so it that it can be another attractor for people here. Right now, folks are walking up a slippery hill, and it’s a little bit of a hazard,” she said.

More work is still to come to fully complete the trailway, including the installation of educational signage along the trail so visitors can learn more about the farm, the crops, agriculture, the solar farm, bees and pollination, and other areas of the Agricenter – which is the world’s largest urban agricultural research and education facility, with 600 of its 1,000-plus acres dedicated for research.

The Agricenter is in the process of completing a nine-month strategic plan, and the additional work on the trail is likely to be done by the middle of next year.

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