New Laws Open The Market for Homemade Foods
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In addition to the health concerns, cottage food bills have created a bit of controversy among small-scale food producers. Some argue that home-based producers, who have less overhead, could place extra stress on fledgling business owners who have followed the letter of the law and taken on the costs and risks of starting their own kitchen.
Others welcome the competition, opportunity, and diversity that this proposed legislation could bring to the world of small-scale food production. "I'm delighted by it," says June Taylor, who started making artisan preserves in her home kitchen before launching her business in 1990. "The more people can vote with their dollars in a smaller-scale system, the more we don't have to acquiesce to the industrial system, and we can create an alternative way of doing business, feeding ourselves, and challenging that system."
Santa Cruz-based sauerkraut maker Kathryn Lukas, who launched Farmhouse Culture in 2008, agrees. "I think it's long overdue. The fewer barriers to entry into farmers markets, the better for the consumer. I would love the diversity it would spawn. You're going to see a real flourish of creativity and interesting new recipes. It's a win-win for the consumer who's brave enough to trust the relationship that he or she develops with the food artisan."
While enthusiastic about the possibilities, Lukas also emphasizes the need for clear safety regulations. "Not everyone coming into the food business knows the basics about sanitation," said Lukas. She recommends that food handler certification, such as ServSafe, be a requirement for all home-based food businesses. (The Golden Gate Restaurant Association in collaboration with the Small Business Association offers free training for food safety certification.)
While the current bill language does not place a limit on the volume or income of a cottage food operation, the SELC believes that the logistical constraints of doing business out of a home kitchen will be the self-regulating factor. "The very nature of cottage food operations is that they're very small-scale and neighborhood-based," said Oatfield. "With the enthusiasm for local foods and homemade foods, I think consumers really want to be able to access this food."
Brie Mazurek is the Online Education Manager at the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) , which operates the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. She is also a consultant for Nourish, a nonprofit educational initiative designed to engage people in the story of our food.