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STEP group's shared kitchen to open soon

Stimulating Economic Progress (STEP), a central Minnesota nonprofit organization, has achieved its goal of fundraising to finance construction and operation of the Prairie Rivers certified shared kitchen located in the former JC Penney building in Wadena.

More than a year ago, David and Mary Bernauer of Chicago pledged $50,000 as seed money to develop this kitchen. Bernauer's father had been general manager of the JC Penney store in Wadena for many years.

In June, the Community Action Council of Wadena/Ottertail agreed to make a grant of $25,000 from economic stimulus funds for program development of the Prairie Rivers certified shared kitchen.

On Aug. 3, the Bremer Foundation approved a grant of $40,000 for equipment and remodeling. The Wadena Development Authority has also approved a loan extension of $10,000.

"Now we will immediately begin construction with the expectation that the kitchen will be ready for grower use by October," said David Evert, executive director of STEP. When asked to describe the kitchen, Evert said, "This kitchen is to be available for rent on an hourly basis to growers and area food entrepreneurs. The kitchen will allow users from as far away as 50 or 60 miles to increase their incomes and hopefully expand usage of locally grown foods."

Evert also explained his plan for a members' marketing group.

"Along with this kitchen, STEP will create a membership marketing group where users of large quantities of foods, entrepreneurs and growers can work together to plan local crops, process, package and store local foods for delayed use and build a coordinated and integrated system of growth and use of local foods."

These efforts are designed to meet three goals, Evert said.

"First, we hope to double the disposable income of small growers and food entrepreneurs in the region making them a stronger part of the local economy. Second, resorts, restaurants and institutions will be offered the opportunity to use more locally grown organic healthy foods giving them a marketing advantage over others. Third, many food entrepreneurs will be helped to create their own small businesses, thereby creating new full- or part-time jobs."

Once the kitchen is open and operating, STEP will begin creating a new small business incubator to encourage dozens of entrepreneurs to start new enterprises in the countryside and in small communities throughout this region. This incubator will work with a network of education, financial and business leadership resources in all communities within a 100-mile radius of Wadena to create active circles of support for entrepreneurs throughout the region.