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It’s been a little more than a year since the enactment of Assembly Bill 1616, the California Homemade Food Act, which for the first time allows folks to make certain foods at home and then legally sell them to stores, restaurants and directly to the public.

By eliminating the decades-old requirement that foods for sale must be prepared in a commercial kitchen, the bill has dramatically decreased startup costs and has created a whole new world of opportunity for folks to make a decent living with a home-based food business in a locally supported economy.

According to the Oakland-based Sustainable Economies Law Center, which helped fight for the bill’s passage, the types of foods that a “cottage food operation” can sell are limited to those that are “non-potentially hazardous” and unlikely to spread bacteria – basically things that don’t require refrigeration.

The current list of approved cottage foods that can be made at home and sold includes:

* Baked goods without cream, custard, or meat fillings, such as breads, biscuits,

churros, cookies, pastries, and tortillas

* Candy

* Chocolate-covered nonperishable foods, such as nuts and dried fruit

* Dried fruit

* Dried pasta

* Dry baking mixes

* Fruit pies, fruit empanadas, and fruit tamales

* Granola, cereals, and trail mixes

* Herb blends and dried mole paste

* Honey and sweet sorghum syrup

* Jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit butters that comply with specific preparation


* Nut mixes and nut butters

* Popcorn

* Vinegar and mustard

* Roasted coffee and dried tea

* Waffle cones and pizelles (traditional Italian waffle cookies)

* Other foods that the Director of the California Department of Public Health chooses to add to the approved list as food producers lobby for their inclusion


Even with the easing of the made-at-home rules, however, there are still plenty of hoops to jump through before going into the homemade cookie business.

Aside from registering with the state department of public health, getting a city business license, and paying a permit fee to the county, the law requires home food producers to complete a food processing course, label their goods, follow strict guidelines on sanitation and kitchen use, and, depending on who they’re selling to, undergo inspections and registrations with the local health department.

The Homemade Food Act is geared specifically for small businesses, only allowing up to $45,000 in sales per year, though that will increase to $50,000 in 2015. With the passage of California’s law, only eight states and Washington, DC now lack cottage food laws. Twenty states have no income limit for such businesses at all, and many folks want California to scrap the limit as well.

According to a January 29 article in Forbes, so far more than 1,200 people have registered and launched legal cottage food businesses statewide. “By liberalizing its food regulations, California has fostered a cottage industry of cottage food,” notes Forbes.

That’s great news for local economies and local eaters alike.  Here in the foodie haven of the Bay Area, it translates into dozens of unique local food purveyors who finally have an opportunity to contribute to our trend-setting regional food culture.

Highlighting those local food artisans is the monthly-ish Bay Area Homemade Market in Berkeley. Its December market event featured fifteen vendors sampling and selling everything from candies to cupcakes, breads to biscottis, mustards to vinegars, and everything in between.

The folks at Homemade Market say the event is a great way to strengthen the local food system and “connect Cottage Food Makers to the community in a market place setting with live music and hella joy.”  I say that’s a hella great idea.

The next Bay Area Homemade Market will be March 8 from 1-5pm at the Firehouse Art Collective Gallery in North Berkeley at 1790 Shattuck.

Time to check it out and see what our neighbors have been cooking up…