Humboldt’s Our Market receives $100,000; Erie Locker $75,000

GREG LOWER

State assistance from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will help a Neosho County meat processor and relieve a “food desert” in Humboldt.

Erie Locker will receive $75,000 in grant funding announced Wednesday through the Kansas Securing Local Food Systems program. The state awarded $9 million in grants to 183 recipients last week, including Erie Locker and five recipients in Allen County.

Plans for Erie Locker include the purchase of a new band saw, splitting saw, retail case, patty machine, two hot water tanks, new units for the holding cooler, and repair to walls on the slaughter floor. These purchases would increase its efficiencies and productivity.

Erie Locker also received a COVID-relief Community Development Block Grant of up to $30,000 through the Neosho County Commission.

Small mom-and-pop butcher shops like Erie Locker have been overwhelmed with business since the pandemic as larger processors had to quarantine and ranchers turned away from feed lots. Some small processors are having to turn away business to process deer meat because they are booked.

The grants include $100,000 for Our Market in Humboldt. Moran Locker and Mildred Store in Moran will receive $100,000 and $45,000 respectively, and Bolling’s Meatery and Eatery and Humanity House Foundation, both in Iola, also will receive grant funding.

Our Market, also known as Welch Market LLC, plans to purchase meat and produce coolers, a meat band saw, carcass rail trolleys, coolers, checkout terminals, prep tables, and a carcass hoist to create a meat processing entity within a grocery store. Owners will also renovate the building, including installation of walls to form a new carcass room, slaughter room, freezer and quick cool room. The new freezer will be double in size to meet both the butchering and grocery needs of the store. The meat cutting room will be expanded to serve large amounts of custom butchering with new electrical conversions and plumbing. The business will also develop online ordering and curbside pickup as part of the operation plan.

Humboldt has been without a fresh meat and produce retailer and has been designated a “food desert” since the closure of Moon’s Market in early 2019.

“It’s getting really old,” Humboldt City Administrator Cole Herder said.

He said summer farmers markets and dollar retail stores have a limited supply, and people who were forced to shop out of town risked bringing and spreading the virus in the county.

As administrator, Herder’s position in economic development led the city to assist with the situation, but he said most of the work has been carried by the Welch family. Herder said some renovation and demolition of the old Moon’s Market and fundraising began before the pandemic.

Retail floor space at the former Moon’s store will be reduced by 20 to 30 percent and the grocery will be completely separate from the meat processing. Herder said many stores cut meat from wholesalers, but Our Market will be able to process from a live animal, cutting out the middle man.

That eases the demand on meat processors within a 50-mile radius, including Erie, which are booked up to a year in advance.

“You almost have to reserve slots for animals that are not even born yet,” Herder said.

Scott Welch said they plan to begin processing deer, beef and pork in November and open the grocery store in December.

“There’s people in Kansas closely watching this,” Herder said.

Country Junction in Toronto will also receive $35,000 and Woodson County Prime Meats Processing in Yates Center will receive $100,000.

The Securing Local Food Systems grant is made possible through the second-round of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security funding and approved by the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas Task Force. The grants cover capacity-related improvements made since March 1 through Dec. 30 and range from $2,500 to $100,000.

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