By DOUGLAS FARMER
South Bend Tribune
June 12, 2010
Farmers market patrons could notice a change in products at their local markets later this summer. Michigan legislators took the first step to legalizing the sale of certain homemade foods at farmers markets and roadside stands this week.
“What the bill allows people to do is if you have your favorite grandma’s recipe and make it, you can sell it,” Benton Harbor farmer’s market advocate Christopher Bedford said. “This is a very big deal. … You basically have this great local food movement.”
The Michigan House Agriculture Committee approved Bills 5280 and 5837, introduced jointly by Rep. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, and Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Ann Arbor, at a committee meeting Wednesday. The two bills, if passed by the House of Representatives and the state Senate, would grant an exemption to “a cottage food operation” from licensing and inspection laws previously required.
Currently, any prepared food, such as pies and pastries, must come from a Michigan Department of Agriculture certified kitchen, Proos said. He estimated the cost of such a kitchen at “between $15,000 and $25,000.”
Thus, homemade prepared foods could not be sold legally. If the bills pass, these foods could be sold at farmers markets and road-side stands.
“It says that foods defined under the act are essentially not regulated by the state,” Bedford said. “People can sell directly to their customers. They can’t sell to wholesalers or through anybody else, but at markets to their customers.”
Proos said it was time for this change.
“It was really a hindrance to the entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “This eliminates the barrier entry. The idea behind it is who knows who the next Mrs. Fields is going to be, starting out in a small way.”
Lee LaVanway of the Benton Harbor Fruit Market feels the bills, while a step in the right direction,
limit individuals to keep their operation too small scale. The bills would grant the “cottage food operation” exemption only to operations that do not exceed $15,000 in gross sales annually.
“I like this effort. I think the concept is good, but that $15,000 limitation shouldn’t fly,” he said. “If we are serious about creating jobs and revitalizing our local economies here in the great fruit belt, we need to look at small farms.”
Proos said the limitation was created with safety as a priority.
“The idea behind it is the food safety is the number one goal and objective,” he said. “It is not a number that turns it into a commercial industry.
“Once you get to the point of the $15,000 threshold, then I think you are in a position you should consider capitalizing your product through a proper commercial kitchen and move to the next level. This is a business incubator in the farm market.”
Cottage food operations must meet a few requirements still to be eligible to sell homemade foods according to the bills. Mainly, labels that indicate ingredients, potential allergies, and location of the kitchen must be placed on any food, as well as a label that reads, “Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture.”