The recent resurgence of farmers markets and the popularization of the farm-to-table movement across the U.S. has led to a legislative change at both the state and local levels to craft Colorado’s business environment into one more favorable to small-time food producers.
The change began in 2012 when the Colorado Legislature passed the Cottage Foods Act, a measure that allows residents across the state to sell fresh produce and certain foods out of their homes.
The most recent push came earlier this month, when Colorado Springs City Council passed a law that falls in line with the Cottage Foods Act and closes a loophole in state regulations that allowed locals to sell select food items out of their homes without a license.
“The adoption of this ordinance will facilitate and encourage the production and sale of plants, fruits, vegetables and cottage foods within Colorado Springs, which supports a safe local food system and its sustainability,” according to the ordinance.
Known as the “Cottage Food Ordinance,” council passed the new rule 7-1. It will take effect Oct. 31, according to City Public Communications Specialist Travis Duncan.
The measure, which was recommended to council by the Food Policy Advisory Board (established in 2015 to keep local governments informed about issues surrounding local food production), also allows Colorado Springs residents to sell their products at food stands on a daily basis during the growing season.
“This ordinance supports local food entrepreneurs who want to start food-related businesses,” said Councilor Jill Gaebler. “These businesses will create jobs and support our local economy. The ordinance also supports neighborhoods and builds community, since most cottage food sales occur between neighbors.”
The law allows those residents to sell their wares from dawn to dusk, April through November. In order to sell their products in Colorado Springs, residents must first receive a home occupancy permit from the Planning Department. Those permits include a one-time fee of $60, Duncan said.
Sellers are also required to take a food safety course through the El Paso County Health Department or Colorado State University’s local extension program.
“I feel very positive about this,” said Jonathan Macinnes, who co-owns Crazy Pig BBQ with his wife, Joy. “I know a lot of people who do this work and people who are very serious about this business who are providing amazing products — and this really opens the door for them.”
Crazy Pig specializes in the sale of barbecue sauces and pickled products, such as peaches and cucumbers, which the couple has been making and selling at farmers markets in the region for nearly two years.
“Without the cottage laws, we wouldn’t have even started,” he said.
The Cottage Foods Act was the first Colorado law of its kind. Its popularity led to amendments, including the 2015 Cottage Foods Expansion Act, which expanded the list of applicable foods to cover all food deemed by the state health department to be “non-potentially hazardous foods.” Although the state statutes essentially allow Coloradans to sell their products to consumers without licensing or inspection, the law requires specific product labeling that includes product identification, the name and address of the producer, contact information, the date it was produced, a complete list of ingredients and a disclaimer notifying consumers that the product was made in a home kitchen.
Macinnes, who has worked in the food industry for most of his adult life, said the combined state and local legislation removes a sometimes-enormous barrier for people who want to take their products to market but can’t justify the expense of commercial kitchens.
“I’m happy that the local government is opening up these doors, because people need a chance to do it the right way,” he said. “I think it will really boost the local economy: Money spent here doesn’t always stay here, but it can.”
Rather than put a cap on how much money a person can make, the state limited the amount of income to $10,000 each year for each specific product. Unlike in other states, Colorado residents can pursue the cottage food industry as their primary income.
“I think more people will be open to doing this and go into business for themselves,” Macinnes said. “This just boosts the economy and I think that’s insanely awesome.”
While the city ordinance brings the Colorado Springs’ code in line with state precedents, it wasn’t passed without criticism.
“To me, the city of Colorado Springs is about public safety and infrastructure,” said Councilor Helen Collins. “I won’t be supporting it, and I think it was a waste of time.”