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Rural Grocery Initiative

Morland Community Foundation aims to open community kitchen

The small northwestern Kansas town of Morland lost its grocery store in 2006 when no private buyer could be found. The residents wanted to preserve this historic landmark, which had been continuously operating since 1915. It took a few years and considerable fundraising, but the store is now open for business. After the Morland Mercantile is established, the Morland Community Foundation will focus on another project: a community kitchen. There, residents of Morland will be able to make “homemade” products to sell in their grocery store, the Morland Mercantile.

The plan for the kitchen includes ovens and utensils, along with sourcing some ingredients at the grocery store. Funding could take six to seven years, but the residents are hopeful the success with the grocery store could bring more attention and support to development projects such as the community kitchen.

The idea for a commercial kitchen had grown along with the Mercantile. People in the town had been making food to sell out of their homes, which is illegal without a license. A community-owned commercial kitchen provides a licensed production facility with minimal cost to individual producers. The kitchen t also increases the availability of non-processed foods in a town that until recently was a food desert, with no grocery stores within ten miles.

“We want to support the local economy with job creation and the products from the kitchen,” said Faye Minium, President of the Foundation.

One of the jobs will go to Marilyn Rowlison, who be overseeing the grocery store’s companion project. Rowlison, a retired extension agent and a home economics teacher, plans to spend her time supervising the use of the kitchen. She is a talented producer of preserves and jams and has often been asked to share her knowledge with the community. While she has noticed the rise in online retailing of homemade preserves, Rowlison reminds her community about the risks they take buying from an unfamiliar and possibly unregulated place – especially since some produce can travel 1,500 – 2,000 miles to its destination.

“We want to help our community and help our store. We want them to buy their products and make their own products [to sell] at our store,” said Rowlison.

The residents are already expressing interest in canning and cake decorating classes. She plans to teach small group sessions with the help of K-State Extension agents when the kitchen opens. Prairie Junction Café may donate excess egg whites for making angel food cakes. Others may donate a bag of flour or sugar when the need arises. Rowlison herself even donated her old appliances for use in the community kitchen, adding a range, microwave, and refrigerator. Members of the community made donations of cabinets and cooking utensils.

There are a few regulatory details to sort out before the kitchen can open. The residents are asking about traditional foods like bierocks, an Eastern European meat pastry, tacos; and pasta dishes, but the rules for use of meat in community spaces are vague. Rowlison does not want meat used in the kitchen until required federal and state departments can officially approve it. A commercial dishwasher is also required by law.

“I don’t think we can dream big enough. We just need to dream as far as we can because people want to learn these things. That’s what this is all about. It’s hands-on… for a small community, it does wonders,” said Rowlison.

Eventually, the community kitchen wants to provide a place for people also to do their personal canning and preservation for holidays and teach classes of their own.