The Darr Family Foundation is somewhat unique to the field of family philanthropy. The founder, William (Bill) H. Darr, is still living, but not a board member. Similarly, the executive director is non-family.
Honoring a living founder
Bill Darr grew up on a small farm in Ellington, Missouri. He pioneered a food dehydration technique for underutilized chicken and egg products. Over 40 years, Bill built four food ingredient technology companies with a global footprint. The family sold all corporate entities in 2019.
Bill feels every child should have the opportunity to receive an education. He credits a lot of his success to Missouri State University. As a student, a professor took an interest in Bill, and offered him his first job. Bill funded many organizations in this realm, most notably the William H. Darr College of Agriculture at Missouri State University.
The Darr Family Foundation was started in 2002 to continue Bill’s legacy of giving. Its mission is to empower at-risk youth to overcome barriers to opportunity through open grant cycles, as well as larger targeted initiatives. The foundation operates from a $16 million endowment, and funding typically aligns with “red-flags” that are identified through a community-wide assessment.
Aligning mission and passion
In Springfield, Missouri, the foundation’s hometown, the public school system has an array of innovative programming throughout the district. This includes several magnet schools where Missouri State Curriculum Standards are taught through STEM, health sciences, performing arts and conservation science.
Yet, one area was missing—agriculture!
Soon, the idea of an ag-science school caught on. The project seemed perfectly aligned with the foundation’s mission and Bills passion, while honoring his legacy.
Collaborating for impact
We reached out to Springfield Public Schools, Missouri State University, and other collaborative partners. Together, we explored the feasibility, discussed critical issues in local agriculture, and developed a shared mission of what we hoped to accomplish with this project.
Consequently, we decided the school would focus on positively impacting local food systems and workforce development opportunities.
In 2019, the foundation’s endowment made a gift to Missouri State University to build the AgAcademy at the William H. Darr College of Agriculture. We broke ground in 2020, and the school will open its doors to 120 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in February 2022.
Bill’s grandson is the architect. His beautiful design is a testament to the history of farming in America. It’s also a monument to his grandpa’s life and legacy. Along with traditional classrooms, AgAcademy will have an outdoor classroom, state-of-the-art greenhouse and test kitchen. Eventually, it will also house small livestock.
In addition, Springfield Public Schools developed district-wide agriculture educational offerings that run in tandem with the AgAcademy. These include a Farm to School program, educational tracks for high school students, and summer school programming. AgAcademy students will also have access to the William H. Darr College of Agriculture site.
AgAcademy’s possibilities are endless. Bill’s granddaughter recently said,
“As my grandfather learned, the field of agriculture far surpasses the family farm. We hope that someday, the graduates from this magnet school will use the agricultural education they received as the catalyst for addressing things like global food insecurity. Because to us, that is the promise of agriculture.”
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About the Author
Heather Zoromski is executive director of the Darr Family Foundation. A life-long resident of southwest Missouri, Heather has 18 years of experience in non-profit administration, grant-writing and grant-making.