By Susie Wyshak
On Saturday, Berkeley held its first Cottage Food Market. Or at least its first legal market. Before Dec. 31, 2012, most such food sales in California were illegal.
Starting this year, the California Homemade Food Act (Assembly Bill [AB] 1616) allows California residents to sell “certain non-potentially hazardous” foods they have made and/or packaged in home kitchens, whether in cottages, mansions or condos.
To celebrate the new law, Alex Stone, Operations Manager at the Berkeley Student Food Collective, planned the inaugural cottage market for Saturday evening at the Firehouse Art Collective at 3192 Adeline St. A handful of cottage food operators (CFOs) sold their wares, there was live music by Tommy P., and Christina Oatfield, Policy Director at the Sustainable Economies Law Center, talked to the kombucha drinkers and cupcake eaters about the new law, for which she had tirelessly advocated and collaborated with the state.
The event made the perfect test-bed for CFOs to get feedback on their recipes, packaging, pricing, and even company names.
It also shed some insight into the law’s complexities which can be put pressure on resource-strapped counties as a major new workload descends on their public health departments.
As Berkeley foodies tasted samples under festive Christmas lights, vendors shared stories both about progress and travails. One maker had secured health inspection clearance but found herself in limbo, waiting for her landlord’s written approval to operate from rented premises. Another realized her temporary housing would not qualify for licensing and will pursue approval once she settles down.
Goods for sale included baked treats from Teveh Sweet Life, probiotic artisan Kombucha from Monkey Tree, and homemade crackers from Girl Alex Productions. The duo behind Forrager.com, an online marketplace for cottage food operators were on hand to demo their site.
The licensing process works with over-arching guidelines laid out at the state level, the first point of reference for home-based entrepreneurs to see if their idea even qualifies (for example, fresh cream is a no-no).
The California Department of Public Health controls the list of approved foods (nothing likely to kill people), food processor training, sanitation, labeling (clearly saying the goods are from a home kitchen), and revenue limits. Each county sets the rules around other aspects of licensing and zoning. With counties strapped for resources, getting the guidelines and processes in place can take time which explains why some businesses have not been able to get started until now.
In the meantime, Facebook groups are popping up like non-GMO popcorn to provide community support both locally and statewide.
Not everyone is facing hiccups. UC Berkeley student Michael Assayag tested out three flavors of his A-Live raw food bars. “The Cottage Food Market aided by boosting my confidence in my brand. I’m now comfortable moving forward,” he said.
For more information about the cottage food market, including future dates, email email@example.com
Susie Wyshak works as a consultant for speciality food entrepreneurs and blogs about the food business at Nutty Fig.
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