Act legalizes cottage chefs

Local Foods, Local Jobs Act allows for sales of food from home kitchens

Jason Griffith, Erin Dreistadt and daughter Zinnia
Elizabeth Miller | Boulder Weekly

Farmers have a new revenue stream to tap into this year, and as a result, their customers will have some things to look forward to as well, like homemade jams, baked goods, dehydrated soup mixes and fruit butters.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed the “Local Foods, Local Jobs Act” into law, exempting small food producers who sell directly to their customers from having to use commercial kitchens and paying for health department inspections. This cottage food bill is expected to help farmers even out their sales, by making it possible to produce goods with a longer shelf life that can be sold long after frost has nipped off the rest of the harvest. It will allow farmers to create and nurture new businesses through the winter months.

“It’s such an exciting opportunity and we’ve been working for two years on this bill that will allow for local growers and bakers to prepare a certain range of value-added products to be prepared in their home kitchens without special licenses or commercial kitchen certification,” says Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass), Colorado Senate sponsor for the bill. These products must be clearly labeled as coming from a home kitchen, and sold only at farm stands, farmers’ markets and through community supported agriculture programs — directly by the producer, to the consumer. Production is capped to small producers who sell less than $5,000 worth of products each year, a limit designed to keep these businesses from running in direct competition to local businesses on main street.

“These are more incubator, entry level opportunities that someone can try a product in the marketplace and hopefully they’ll be so successful they’ll be selling it by the pallet and build a commercial kitchen and we’ll have new products on Main Street,” Schwartz says. The bill came out of conversations she had with hundreds of growers in the 11 counties she represents, says the senator.

“These year-round sales will help provide year-round income for these farmers and producers and help support them and make their businesses more viable,” she says. Access to commercial kitchens eats up too much time and money to make those viable choices for small farmers.

Home kitchen food preparers will still need to take courses on safe food handling and processing, which are available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Colorado State University, the health department and online by some of the 28 other states with similar cottage food laws.

“It’s pretty exciting for us to have this new opportunity and hopefully these individuals will make the most amazing raspberry jam,” Schwartz says.

Ghedda Gayou, owner of Frog Star Farm, says that although she’ll be keeping an eye on the liability issues — farmers are not exempt from liability in the instance of a food borne illness outbreak and the local foods act suggests getting liability insurance — the option has some appeal.

“I could definitely see it helping a lot,” she says. “We are a small grower, so we have to be very careful about everything that we produce and sell, so if we could potentially repurpose produce that doesn’t get sold at market to something that’s more stable and has a little longer shelf life … then that could be very helpful for our business.”

If a prepared product became more popular, she says, it could become a new branch of the Frog Star Farm business. It’s also a way for the farms to cut down on waste.

At Ollin Farms, owner Mark Guttridge says they’ve been experimenting with value-added products, but the idea of renting a large commercial kitchen was always a drawback. They’ll be looking to create some dehydrated products, including soup mixes, to make use of produce and extend their selling season into winter with something more than carrots and potatoes.

“It’ll diversify, which is the name of the game for farmers these days,” Guttridge says. “It’s a real challenge to make a living farming, so any way you can diversify will be a plus.”

The food safety course aspect should also increase food safety by legalizing the people who are currently making things under the radar and encouraging them to get training to produce food safely.

“I think we’re actually going to have more access to a more stable, healthy food distribution system,” says Guttridge.