June 16 • 01:47 AM

Markets to serveup home cooking?

Proposed state bill would allow public sales of homemade food

July 07, 2010
TRI-CITY AREA — 'Fresh from the kitchen' could be the newest slogan at area farmers markets. In addition to locally-grown produce, markets may soon be selling pies, jams, granola, candy and other homemade treats.

It's a possibility now that the Michigan House of Representatives voted unanimously last month to amend current law and allow 'cottage food operations' to market their goods to the public. Currently, only persons or businesses with Class A certified kitchens can sell food products. The amended law would give an entrepreneur the chance to test their product's marketability before investing in the equipment required for a certified facility.

Imlay City and Lapeer market master Denise Becker called the proposal "awesome." Neighboring states like Ohio have similar laws in the place and it's something the Michigan Farm Market Association (of which Becker is a member) have been advocating for.

"I get so many calls from people looking to sell their pies or zucchini bread but we have to turn them away," Becker said.

The Michigan Senate is considering a bill that would make it easier for cottage food businesses like Two Patriots Farms of Mussey Twp. to sell at farmers markets and roadside stands.

"Something like this can help the local economy. It seems like everyone has that one special recipe that others tell them 'you should bottle that up and sell it.'"

At the moment, a Lapeer-area business, Past Tense, sells baked goods at the Imlay City market.

The only way for cooks and bakers to 'test the waters' is to develop and package their food products at one of two kitchen incubators in Michigan. The closest facility is in Bad Axe and availability is limited, Becker added.

Lapeer County State Rep. Kevin Daley said the bill will help farmers and others supplement their income.

"One of the people we heard from in committee was a strawberry grower who played around with the idea of making some strawberry jam or jellies. Without him having to go to the expense of putting in a Class A kitchen, he can try his recipe out at the local farmers market and see if it's worth his while, and if it works, he could even start a whole new business," Daley said.

The proposed bill (Senate bill 1403) would require cottage food operations to apply for license exemption and complete a basic food safety training course. Their kitchen facilities could still be subject to inspection. The homemade food products must be labeled with the complete ingredient list, including potential allergens, and must state "Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture."

"We included the label requirement because straight from grandma's kitchen or not, we still wanted to give people safety information about the food they are about to eat," Daley said.

The bill includes the following food products: honey, baked goods and cookies, jams, preserves, jellies, hard candy, breads, snack food, cereal, granola, dry fruit and mixes, vinegar, fruit pies, grains, hot coffee or tea, maple syrup, muffins, wedding or birthday cake, non-egg noodles, peanut brittle, popcorn, roasted nuts, spices, sunflower seeds, toffee, washed fruits and vegetables, wine vinegar, samples of fresh-cut fruit and vegetables and dried herbs.

Home canned foods, meats, cheese, custard pies, garlic in oil and bottled water sales will not be permitted.

Sales of homemade foods will be permitted at a person's residence, municipal farmers markets, roadside stands, county fairs and town celebrations, festivals and events.

Sales of homemade food cannot exceed $15,000 annually.

Rep. Phil Pavlov, who represents most of St.Clair County, also weighed in on the bill.

"Agriculture is an economic foundation of our state, and farmers markets are a part of this economy," he said.

"Our state has one of the most diverse selections of agricultural goods in the country, something that should be celebrated, not stifled. Farmers markets are an economic tool for families, and I'm proud to support this legislation that helps stop bigger government from killing jobs."

The bill has been referred to the senate's committee on agriculture and bioeconomy.

Becker said that any and all measures to attract more vendors and shoppers to farmers markets are welcome. More markets are beginning to accept Bridge card payments and Senior Project Fresh coupons.

She has hopes of setting up a credit card reader in Imlay City too. It's proved to be a popular and successful tool in Lapeer where $7,000 in credit card sales were tallied.

The Imlay City Farmers Market is open for business every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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