A bill that allows small food producers to sell products they make in their home kitchens is getting a tepid response from those most likely to benefit from it.
The much-anticipated bill, AB 1616, was signed into law on Sept. 21 by Gov. Jerry Brown. It signals a major shift in the laws regulating so-called “cottage” food industries in the state. The bill will allow artisan food producers to sell products that they make at home, rather than forcing them to rent a commercial kitchen.
But some small producers in the Mission District are not enthusiastic about the law.
“I don’t think it’s a sustainable practice to have a food business that you operate out of your home,” said Emmy Moore of Emmy’s Pickles and Jams.
On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Moore can be found in the Mission Community Market with a table full of brined vegetables and bright fruit preserves. She started her business two years ago, making her products at home and selling them at San Francisco’s Underground Market.
When the market was shut down by San Francisco’s Department of Public Health over potential food safety issues, Moore decided to go big. She started working at a commercial kitchen in the Mission and later moved to a larger space in Emeryville.
“In the long run, it was good to have a push to go pro. I don’t think I would have expanded as much. I was able to produce so much more and work alongside other businesses.”
In two years, Emmy’s Pickles and Jams went from retailing in six stores to 30, and she estimates her business is currently making around $45,000 annually. Moore says that overall she’s happy that the Homemade Food Act passed, but warns it could give producers who are just starting out “a false sense of ability.”
AB 1616 will allow Californians to sell “non-potentially hazardous goods” they produce at home. These include things like breads, jams and preserves, granola, nut mixes and coffees — foods that don’t contain meat or dairy, or could produce potentially hazardous bacteria like botulism. The law caps the revenue these businesses can earn at $35,000 this year. The cap will increase to $50,000 in 2015, significantly higher than in other states. Washington and Michigan’s cottage foods laws cap revenue at $15,000 annually, and Colorado limits sales to $10,000. Still, local producers agree that while AB 1616 is a good start, it is not means to an end.
“If they sign it, I’ll be very happy, but I don’t want people to think that’s it,” said Adriana Lahl before the bill was signed. “Eventually they’re going to have to rent a place.”
Lahl runs Sal de Vida Gourmet, a niche business specializing in salt, rice mixes and condiment spreads. Lahl started her business in 2010. Initially she cooked at home and sold her products at events at her daughters’ school. But she soon began working in the commercial kitchen of Mission District food incubator La Cocina.
“If you really want a business,” said Lahl, “you have to grow it.”
Now Sal de Vida products are sold at the Ferry Building Farmers Market, at street food festivals and occasionally at the Williams- Sonoma Artisan’s Market. This year Lahl hopes to bring in over $12,000 from the business.
She encourages small producers to take advantage of the new bill, but also to look beyond it. “Don’t try to save pennies by staying in your home,” she says. “I encourage people to think bigger and don’t be afraid of investing. Don’t be afraid of going the next step.”
Overall, California’s Homemade Food Act is a victory for everyone sitting around the local-food table. If anything, it will give producers just starting out a way to sell their products legally. But in the Mission District, even the little guys are saying, “Go big, or go home.”