In the News...
Locals champion cottage foods bill which helps small farms
The Delta County Independent
By: Kathy Browning
March 28, 2012
Everybody knows how much news the North Fork Valley continually makes. When Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Cottage Foods Act on March 15, it was a success for every little farm and orchard across the state.
The creation of this act by Senate Bill 12-048, spearheaded by Sen. Gail Schwartz and Rep. Don Coram, means that a producer may use their home kitchen or a commercial, private or public kitchen to produce foods sold directly to their personal customers.
The act allows the producer to sell certain foods that are considered not potentially hazardous and do not require refrigeration. The foods, the act says, are limited to spices, teas, dehydrated produce, nuts, seeds, honey, jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butter baked goods including candy. While pickles and tomatoes are not allowed to be sold, many other fruits and vegetables are. The act contains specific guidelines on marketing small number of eggs.
The producer must be certified in safe food handling and processing by a third party certified entity, which locally would be CSU Extension and Delta County Health Department.
The foods cannot be sold to grocery stores or restaurants. They must be sold from the producer's premises, roadside stand, farmers' market, community-supported agriculture organization, or similar venue where the product is sold directly to consumers.
Each producer can earn $5,000 net per food product. If an orchard makes seven different flavors of jam, the producer has the potential to make $5,000, after all expenses are subtracted, per flavor.
Jim Brett of Slow Food Western Slope, who testified and worked for passage of the act, said now producers can supplement their income throughout the year. It diversifies their income. Seconds which can't be sold at farmers' markets can now be made into applesauce or preserves or sold as dried fruit directly to customers.
Mark Waltermire, who owns Thistle Whistle Farm and is a member of VOGA (Valley Organic Growers Association), credits Monica Wiitanen of Small Potatoes Farm with working with Sen. Gail Schwartz to find a bill that would be advantageous to local farmers. The Cottage Foods Act keeps Thistle Whistle Farm's market for sales open for a full year. Previously, he and other local farmers had a limited amount of time to bring fresh produce to farmers' markets. Now, dried items from previous years can be sold. Not only will it provide a better income for the producers, it will cut waste on the farms.
Waltermire noted that episodes of foodborne contamination has come from large regulated and inspected operations. Here customers will buy their food directly from their local producer, someone they can look in the eye, and if something is wrong the customer knows exactly where they got it from.
The bill failed in the 2011 legislature. It received opposition from the Farm Bureau, health departments and the restaurant association. The bill this year was introduced early and Sen. Schwartz worked with those who had previously opposed the act, garnered support, made necessary changes to this year's bi-partisan bill, and it passed. At the governor's signing ceremony in Denver, Sen. Schwartz called Monica Wiitanen the champion of the bill. Wiitanen was present and given a pen by Gov. Hickenlooper used in signing the bill. The governor told Wiitanen, "Now you can sell your bread!"
What the act means for Wiitanen is that she can sell the delicious bread she makes in her outdoor brick oven to customers. "We'll start baking one day a week, maybe two days a week," she said.
Yohann Gasparach, a professional baker, and Wiitanen will be able to build their clientele. "We'll see where we go with it. In the meantime, we'll have a lot of fun," Wiitanen said. She points out that the Cottage Foods Act is for Colorado residents and is not limited to farmers. The act includes labeling requirements.
Wiitanen says she was stunned when notified by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union lobbyist the bill had passed.
Wiitanen's father, a builder by trade and a conservationist by conscience and deed, told her of the man who wrote the Wilderness Act. It took eight years and 66 rewrites before the act was passed.
"We are one of 30 states to have a cottage foods bill," Wiitanen remarked. These bills make farms viable and will save the nation's farmlands. That knowledge made her feel even better to have been part of this bill.
About being the champion of the bill, Wiitanen said it took everyone to make it happen including VOGA, the people who testified in person and by video, senators, representatives, even those who drove her back and forth to Denver.
Wiitanen testified every opportunity she could both last year and this year. She realized she was following in her father's footsteps.
"This is what you have to do if you want a bill passed. You have to show up," she said.