‘Cottage food’ law splits small-time growers
Marvin Graham and Brent Bush had tents opposite each other at the Union Street Farmer’s Market, they are also on opposite sides of a debate….
Published: Saturday, December 31, 2011 at 9:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 31, 2011 at 9:55 p.m.
Marvin Graham and Brent Bush had tents practically opposite each other at the Union Street Farmer’s Market one recent evening, and they are on opposite sides of a debate of a new state law that allows people to sell certain kinds of foods they make at home.
Bush was selling Bhima burgers — a new-fangled veggie burger made of split peas, nutritional yeast, oats, water, oil and spices.
Bush forms them at home and began selling them in October after Florida’s new “cottage food” legislation took effect.
“I’m glad for the legislation because people like me can sell different and new foods now,” said Bush, who also sells sprouts and gives his products names found in religious texts. “I want to start selling Essene bread made from sprouts.”
Graham has a different take on the law.
He built a commercial, inspected kitchen to make jam, jelly, pickles and relish — the type of kitchen required before the cottage food bill.
“It’s a health issue — cottage food people have no liability or repercussion for what they are doing,” Graham said. “We have a certified kitchen with a separate building, bathroom and septic tank. We spent over $20,000 on it.”
But Graham may be in a minority. Advocates including future restaurateurs, beekeepers and farmers say the law enables them to earn more money and experiment with different foods.
A cottage food is defined as a product that is not potentially hazardous and is made in the primary home of the person selling it.
Items that can be sold include bread, cake, honey, cookies, candy, jam, jelly and fruit pies.
Items that cannot be sold include meat and fruit and vegetable products that can become contaminated by toxins or microbes.
Also forbidden for sale are pickled products.
Gross sales cannot exceed $15,000 under the law.
Now that homemade cottage foods are legal, they are starting to show up at farmers markets and other locations.
“These are not the foods that you are primarily going to find botulism in or salmonella,” said Columbia County Extension Agent Jenny Jump, who has given a workshop on cottage foods. “This allows the average person or small farmer who is looking for value-added products to create something in the home and sell, which they had not been able to do.”
For instance, a farmer who cannot sell all of his zucchini can now make and sell zucchini bread with the leftovers — earning money and cutting his losses.
Food makers must be careful to abide by the law, Jump said. For instance, using cream cheese in a frosting is not allowed because it creates the possibility for bacterial growth.
Jump said the law reflects a back-to-basics approach by many consumers who want to know who made their food and seek out local food.
Val Leitner, president of Blue Oven Kitchens Inc., which fosters a whole-system approach to the sustainable growth of the region’s food economy, said the legislation also allows people who may want to cook or bake professionally to learn the business in a small way without having to rent a restaurant’s kitchen.
“It’s really good for beginning food entrepreneurs,” she said. “It gives them a chance to get their act together, to get their recipes together. It gives you a chance to figure everything out and make connections and network.”
Among the advocates for the legislation were hobbyist beekeepers, including Chappie McChesney, who has started bee clubs in Alachua and several neighboring counties.
McChesney said beekeepers have problems with the labeling requirements under the bill — the wording and font size is too big to easily fit on honey-bear bottles.
But otherwise, McChesney said, beekeepers are pleased to be able to sell small batches of the sweet stuff.
“I worked very hard, along with a lot of other people, to get that passed. It’s a good thing, absolutely,” McChesney said.
“More people are selling their honey now. I don’t know any beekeeper with one or two hives who would want to spend $30,000 to build a certified kitchen.”