“Homemade” redefined

Felicia HillIt’s nothing new for the home-farming set: Process some jam, bake a cake or batch of cupcakes and whip up some fruit butter. But until recently, if that food was cooked in a home kitchen, no matter how spotless, it could only be given away, not sold.

That changed late last month (July 22 to be exact) when a cottage food law went into effect in Washington. With that change, comes a potential new stream into the local-food market.

According to the new law, which is still being worked out on the implementation and health inspection end, a home-based entrepreneur can whip up baked goods, jams, jellies, preserves and fruit butters for sale directly to a consumer as long as:

  • The home kitchen passes an inspection
  • The food preparer obtains a food and beverage service worker’s permit
  • Gross sales must be less than $15,000

Locally made foodAdditionally, during production, children and pets have to be out of the kitchen area. Food must also be labeled with ingredients and state that it was prepared in a home kitchen (address included). If sales exceed $15,000, the food producer must either cease operations or move their business to a full-scale operation and prepare the food in a commercial kitchen.

“Under the prior law, in the state of Washington, if you wanted to process food for sale to the public, even on a limited basis, you had to have a commercial kitchen facility,” explained Phil Rockefeller, the recently retired Washington State senator who sponsored the bill. “Effectively, there was little opportunity for people who wanted to process (and sell) food on a small scale.”

Felicia Hill of Hazel Dell was a force behind the new law. The 30-year-old stay-at-home mom logged nearly a year rallying and testifying to get the law passed after she looked into making and selling allergy-free cakes (no peanuts in the facility). It was a passion that developed after she tried to find a baker to create an allergy-free birthday cake for her son. When she couldn’t find a baker who could assure her no peanuts products would be in her cake, Hill took matters into her own hands, took a class and learned how to make and decorate her own cake. Soon, family and friends were nudging her to get into the cake-making business. Enter the hang-up:

“It was illegal to operate out of my home kitchen,” Hill said. “I had to use a commercial kitchen. That, to me, was silly. I was looking to do a birthday cake here and there.”

Hill, who wanted an opportunity to generate extra income for her household, scoffed at the high cost of entry into a home-based business. Before long, she found herself involved with the state food bill and is still involved with an advisory group that is working on its implementation.

Kirk Robinson, assistant director for Food Safety and Consumer Services at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, did not immediately return a phone call to his office, but he told the Capital Press agricultural newspaper that it will be four to six months before the food standards are in place and home-based entrepreneurs are able to sell their fare.

Inspections, however, have been a hang-up for Backyard Bounty Co-op, an arm of Urban Abundance in Vancouver.

“It wasn’t as easy as it initially sounded,” said Warren Neth, executive director of Urban Abundance.

For Neth, inspections make sense and he understands the need for oversight. But unannounced kitchen inspections were a sticking point.

“It really didn’t work for us, but I’m sure it will make it a lot easier for some small-farm kitchens,” he said.

Meanwhile, local businesses see the new law as good news for the local food landscape.

Neighbor’s Market“It’s a very small move in the right direction,” said Lynn Krogseng, owner of Neighbors Market on Main Street. “People have been eating this way since time untold… As (cottage food makers) get on more sound footing, they might be able to jointly own a kitchen. And they might be looking for outlets, like my little store. So it’s all good.”

That’s the hope at the local farmers market, as well. Jordan Boldt, executive director of the Vancouver Farmers Market, said many people are interested in selling homemade food at the market, but it’s been in the $800 neighborhood just to get all of the permits and purchase time in a commercial kitchen that’s necessary to bring food to market.

“For a lot of people, that’s like, ‘holy cow, I’ve got to make a lot of cupcakes just to break even,’” said Boldt.

With the new law, there will be less overhead cost, which, Boldt hopes, will translate to more local food vendors. Space rent at the market is $40 per day, although a vendor does need permits, too.

“The farmers market is all about business development,” Boldt said. “Hopefully this will open the door.”

New Seasons Market is eyeing locally produced foods, as well. With a Fisher’s Landing store slated to open in early November, the company is hosting a local food artisan’s fair on August 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2100 Southeast 164th Avenue, Suite D-111, in Vancouver. Of the 30,000 products sold in the store, about one-third is produced locally or regionally, according to Lee Collinge, a spokeswoman for New Seasons. The company hopes to partner with more Vancouver-area growers to help supply products to the new store.

Meanwhile, for small-scale operations, like Hill’s cake baking, the cottage foods law has the potential to generate additional household income while creating future opportunities.

“If someday I choose to bring this into a (retail) bakery, this is a stepping stone for me,” she said.