The Burns City Council approved the use of the former Redbrick Café building and adjacent land on Oct. 9.
Marion County Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman presented a plan for a healthy foods center with a certified kitchen, a community garden, one-day a week food pantry, and an art and learning center in Burns.
“There’s no end to what we can have there,” Burns Economic Development Committee President Sandy Heyman said.
Theoretically, the community garden would provide fruit and vegetables to cooking classes. The leftovers may be used in the food pantry, Huffman said.
The plan hinges on three grants. The largest would come from the Kansas Department of Agriculture and it would payfor a part-time kitchen manager and the cost of new equipment.
Heyman was the former owner of the Redbrick Café and said the most expensive item — a hood for the cooking equipment — is available. However, there is still a need for appliances and plumbing work.
Huffman is applying for a grant from Kansas State University for the community garden. That grant is due Jan. 13. It would fund a rainwater catching system to water the garden and seeds and fertilizer. Huffman met with the Burns PRIDE committee, who would be instrumental in cultivating and maintaining a garden.
There is also a South Central Kansas Economic Development District grant worth $2,500 that Huffman is planning to use to start a blog and newsletter to publicize classes at the healthy food and art and learning center.
Huffman said that there are funds available for a food pantry and art and music center but was not specific in describing where those funds would come from.
Heyman expressed complete confidence that they would obtain the grants with as much funding as possible.
“It’s going to happen,” Heyman said.
If there was one person who could serve as an inspiration for the project, it would be Heyman. Heyman is an accomplished quilter and wheat weaver. Other interests include cooking and painting. She was excited at the prospect of teaching beginning sewing courses at the art and learning center.
The classes at both centers would need volunteer teachers. Huffman said that each class would cost students a fee but that the fee would go back to paying the city for utilities for the building. Cindy Ward has expressed interest in putting together a high tunnel for the garden. Heyman has talked to Karen Woodward about teaching cooking classes using herbs.
The main reason Burns was chosen to be the site of the healthy foods and learning centers is that it has a wealth of volunteers, Huffman said.
PRIDE president Mary Glenn said residents’ repeat volunteerism gained momentum from the five-month construction of a community center in 2003. It was built six months ahead of schedule.
Volunteers like Heyman also realize the potential economic impact this project could have on Burns. Horton has a similar center that draws people for an hour-long drive north from Topeka to take classes, Huffman said. Huffman, who is planning to market the centers in Marion, Harvey, Butler, Lyons, and Sedgwick County, thought it would be reasonable to attract students for a 20-minute drive from El Dorado.
Once those people have cooked with organic produce from the garden in the certified kitchen or quilted in the art and learning center, they may have time to spend in town.
“All you can do it promote and let people take away what they will,” Heyman said.
Huffman has thought even further ahead. A few local cooks have discussed branching out from farmer’s markets and producing products like jams, jellies, and salsas on a larger scale. For items like salsa, Huffman said state law requires a certified kitchen.
She hopes the kitchen can serve as an incubator for small businesses in Marion County. There is also the possibility that students could be inspired from a class and start a business, Huffman said.