Rules promote homemade entrepreneurs

A look at what it takes to stay on Uncle Sam's good side when selling goods from home. From the Alamosa Valley Courier.

Kerry Rockcastle stands in front of her house, where she operates a home bakery business.

Alamosa County residents wanting to sell homemade foods will now have an easier time following the law.

The county recently formally adopted the Colorado Cottage Foods Act into its land use code, lowering the bar for people who would like to be above board when selling homemade items like jelly or bread.

Now, local producers may legally sell goods by following a set of state regulations, which include:

  • Attending a food safety course, available for $25 on request through the San Luis Valley Area Extension of Colorado State University by calling 852-7381, or quarterly for $20 through the Alamosa County Department of Public Health by calling 587-5206.

  • Obtaining a county business license, which costs $25 and is available through the Alamosa County Clerk’s office.

  • Labeling packages with the name of the product, the producer’s name, address, telephone number, email, where the food was prepared or grown, the date the food was produced, and a complete list of ingredients.

  • Not selling more than 250 dozens of eggs per month.

  • Not exceeding $5,000 of sales for a single item per year.

  • Being able to provide proof of a well or other legal and adequate water source.

Foods are limited to those that do not require refrigeration. Pickled items are not currently permitted, though forthcoming state regulations will address pickled goods.

Though the act was passed into law in 2012, the integration into county law removes a barrier for locals.

Prior to the adoption of the Cottage Foods Act, people seeking legal recognition of their home food business through the county could only have been regulated like a commercial kitchen, said Alamosa County Deputy Land Use Administrator Rachel Baird.

“People felt like the county was going to come after them,” said Baird. “They’d say, ‘I don’t want to be a commercial-scale baker, I just want to decorate cakes for weddings!’ So it actually hurt people and it hurt economic development. In my opinion, the last thing the county should ever do is discourage economic development.”

The regulatory framework worked well for Kerry Rockcastle, who followed the act’s guidelines before setting out to sell her home-baked gluten-free breads.

“It was really easy,” said Rockcastle, who is also the on-site manager of the Alamosa Farmers Market. “I just took an afternoon class. It’s not like they’re going to drop into your house and inspect you like you’re a restaurant.”

The classes offered through the CSU Extension are basic but comprehensive, said Mary Ellen Fleming, Area Extension Agent for the agency.

“We cover basic food safety: cross contamination, kitchen hygiene, causes of food-borne illness, that sort of thing,” said Fleming. “It takes two to three hours. We’ve done it for as few as one or two people.”

The point of the Cottage Foods Act is so that businesses can start up without a lot of overhead costs, said Lynnea Rappold, Regional Environmental Health Program Supervisor at the Alamosa County Department of Public Health.

“We worry a little bit because cottage foods aren’t inspected,” said Rappold. “But it’s low-risk foods that are allowed. There’s not a high risk of people contracting food-borne illness. This helps give the farmers market a larger variety of food they can sell.”

Baird said the act’s integration into county code isn’t with the intention of busting producers.

“A lot of this looks overbearing, or like government overreach,” said Baird. “But realistically, it’s me finding these finding these confining, restrictive parts of our code, where all I can say is no, and me being able to give them the space to say yes. This isn’t to go out in the community and hunt people down. If you come into my office, and you ask, I can give you an interpretation that allows you to have your business.”

Rockcastle said she is pleased with the act.

“It seems like things usually go the other way with government – you have these rights and they slowly take them away,” said Rockcastle. “So it’s really awesome that they’re finding a way to help people with sustainable independent businesses.”