Problem is, I am in a very small town in the middle of nowhere. I have checked craigs list, and there is nothing near me, nor is what Ive found within my budget. I would like to make functional pieces that I could use in my kitchen, just unsure of the "safety" from different firing methods.
If you want to make functional work, I don't think you want to raku fire. Raku work is not watertight and many of the glazes are not food safe. A raku kiln is not designed to achieve mid-range stoneware temperatures in an efficient manner, if at all.
After accounting for what you need to construct your work, your kiln is the single most important part of your studio. You need something reliable and easy to learn how to fire to begin. There is no bigger heartache in the studio than to open a ruined kiln load of work. Your kiln is not the item you want to scrimp on.
Your best bet to get started is an electric kiln (for most homes that would be a 240volt single phase, but BE SURE you know what you need to buy). I think the average kiln for a home hobbyist has about a 7 cubic foot chamber. It could be as little as 3 cubic feet. Also look at the actual inside dimensions of the kiln. The larger kiln will give you more options for size and shape of work in the long run, but it will take longer to fill with work. I recommend that you look at L&L and Skutt kilns. Use their technicians to ask questions! All kinds of questions! Where you will put the kiln, how the size/location of the space may affect your kiln and your firings and adjacent areas with fumes/heat, whether to use an outlet or to hard wire, how easy/difficult it is to make repairs when needed (such as replacing elements, switches, etc.), and so on. Ask them what they would ask if they were you!
If you can afford it, buy a new kiln or a used one that has been refurbished by someone experienced in that kind of work. If your kiln location is suitable, buy a kiln with an electronic controller which will make firing easier. If you buy a used kiln that has not been evaluated by someone knowledgeable, you may end up having to spend hundreds of dollars replacing elements, electrical components, etc. Don't buy a kiln that will be shipped by someone who doesn't do it on a regular basis...damage WILL occur if the kiln is not shipped/transported properly.
I'd also recommend that you begin with mid-range stoneware (cone 5 - cone 6), initially buying one bag each of 3 or 4 different clay bodies to find one you like. Note: if you buy a clay that is rated for a firing range that goes from cone 6 - cone 10, it may a little more porous than you would like at cone 5-6.
You will much more quickly burn up your elements/electrical components if you fire to cone 10 in an electric kiln, unless you buy a production quality kiln with 3" walls (more money). Some other kilns are rated to cone 10, but they just don't hold up in the long run if fired to cone 10. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the 3" walls are not worth the extra money, even if you are only firing to cone 5-6, but they are not necessary. Note: the same applies to a kiln that is rated at cone 6 AND consistently fired to cone 6; going to the top of a kiln's firing range will wear out the electrical components more quickly.
One reason I suggest mid-range is the plethora of commercially available glazes rated for food safety that you can buy in this firing range, both in pre-mixed liquids and in dry powdered form to make up your own glaze buckets. While it is more expensive to purchase glaze this way than it is to make your own glaze from raw chemicals, it also starts you in a more predictable and easily accessible place. But there is no magic bullet. Learning to use any glaze properly takes practice.
Once you've started making and firing your work, you can begin to experiment with finding/testing glaze recipes. Spend a little more per pound and buy smaller quantities of chemicals until you find recipes you like so you don't end up with a lot of unwanted material that you must store or properly dispose of. As you move forward, you can decide whether you want to transition to gas firing which is an entirely different adventure!
What I've said here is basically echoing what Pres said about taking the simplest route possible, just a little fleshed out. I also would have recommended some refresher courses if they were available to you. It might be worth it to contact the 300 mile away facility to see if they would take time to show you around their studio and give you some time for questions and advice in person sometime when you can coordinate the trip. They may also know of some potters who live closer to you and might serve as a resource for questions and advice. Clay people are generally pretty giving.
I've been working in clay for more than 30 years, and it's still a thrill. Good luck on the journey!