Prairie Five lining up funds, plans for food hub in Montevideo, Minnesota


— Prairie Five Community Action is looking to develop a food hub to hold its central food shelf and a commercial kitchen that prepares home-delivered and congregate meals for residents.

Prairie Five has been able to line up roughly $486,000 in grant funds toward that goal, and has been working with a local manufactured home builder on a possible building for the hub, representatives of the private, nonprofit organization told the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 7.

Prairie Five serves clients in Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties with programs ranging from child care and aging care to transportation and energy assistance, food assistance and more.

A food hub would allow Prairie Five to improve its services to those assisted by the food shelf, as well as help meet the growing need for those services, according to Ted Nelson, associate director; Erick Hedman, nutrition program; and Laura Milbrandt, housing program.

Nelson, Hedman and Milbrandt are working as a team within the organization to pursue a food hub, according to Deb Larson, director of Prairie Five.

The development of a food hub could also

shape the direction Chippewa County takes as its seeks new office space

for its Family Services Department. Currently, the Family Services offices — as well as the Prairie Five food shelf, commercial kitchen and its offices for transit and other service programs — are located in the former Montevideo hospital building, referred to as the Community Services Building, located on the 700 block of North Seventh Street in Montevideo.

The county is looking to move its Family Services operations out of the building due to its age and the high costs associated with the building's upkeep and remodeling for continued use.

Prairie Five is also looking for new office space as a result and, if possible, would like to keep its offices in a building housing Family Services due to the benefits of assisting clients who receive services from both entities, according to Nelson.

Prairie Five is focusing its efforts first on relocating the food shelf and commercial kitchen. Relocating a commercial kitchen is more challenging than finding office space, and the current food shelf does not serve clients as well as desired, according to Nelson.

He said clients must come to a single entry point to receive food items. There is not the space to allow clients to select food items from shelves to meet their needs.

To date, Prairie Five has lined up $50,000 in support from Second Harvest Heartland, $350,000 from PrimeWest, and $86,000 from Chippewa County in PrimeWest funds toward a new food hub.

It has also worked with a team from TSP Architects and learned it would cost anywhere from $1.3 million to $1.75 million to erect a steel structure to hold the food shelf and commercial kitchen operations.

The Prairie Five team has also worked with Friendship Homes in Montevideo on the possibility of assembling a commercial structure. Early estimates indicate that a 5,000-square-foot facility could be developed at costs in the range of $500,000 to $700,000. The plans include all of the electrical and heating and ventilation and fire safety infrastructure associated with a commercial kitchen and food shelf, according to discussions with the commissioners.

No site has been identified at this point, but there are available locations in Montevideo, the team members said. Nelson said they would be meeting with the city of Montevideo about possible support and site selection.

The use of the food shelf has continued to rise. Hedman told the commissioners that it served 222 households in October, as compared to 150 households in March of 2022. Nearly 30% of the households served by the food shelf are comprised of persons age 65 and older.

Seventy percent of the clients served by the Prairie Five nutrition programs are age 70 and over in Montevideo, they told the commissioners. Overall, 80% of those served by the nutrition program participants in Chippewa County fall under the federal poverty guidelines.

Following the meeting with the Prairie Five representatives, the commissioners continued discussions on whether or not to pursue the purchase and development of the former MinnWest Bank building in downtown Montevideo as a new office location for Family Services.

A study by Klein McCarthy Architects provided estimates ranging from $3,622,833 to $6,404,487 for remodeling the building for the new use, depending whether a partial or full redevelopment is pursued.