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Gwen Ashley Walters
October, 2013, Page 124
Photography by Courtney Sargent
Thanks to a new law, home bakers can measure, mix and bake their way to the free market, but not everyone is buying it.
At 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning, Dana Dumas shoves two more cookie sheets into a hot oven in her tidy home kitchen. She has been up since dawn, baking sheet after sheet of jam-filled cookies for an upcoming event.
“People can’t believe I can produce 60 to 100 pies and 300 to 400 bags of cookies for one event out of one home kitchen oven!” she says with a laugh.
Dumas will spend the rest of the day as she has the last several days: at home baking and packaging her SugarJam cookies to sell at a bridal fair. Across town, another home baker is frosting cupcakes to sell at a farmers’ market, and another is bagging up granola. An autistic young man is methodically working through his checklist to bake and deliver orders for brownies. All have dreams of rolling in dough, both literally and figuratively. If not for a spunky septuagenarian from Fountain Hills, these budding entrepreneurs wouldn’t be able to sell their goodies to a family member, let alone the public at large.
According to David Crabill, creator of national cottage food resource website cottagefoods.org, 41 states have laws or allowances for the commercial sale of home-baked goods. Several states, including Arizona, passed cottage food laws between 2009 and 2012, spurred by the economic downturn and the growth in popularity of farmers’ markets. Led by flour-flinging citizen activists, home baking became a valuable source of income for many hands left idle by the Great Recession – and a boon for baking entrepreneurs as the economy recovers. However, not everyone is happy about Arizona’s new law, especially some commercial bakers who view home bakers as competition with a built-in advantage, and the Maricopa County health department, which was cut out of the regulatory loop.
Dana Dumas of SugarJam Cookies
Stirring the Pot
Judy Kubinski of Fountain Hills operated a successful chocolate confections store called Jus Chocolate for 20 years. Then she had a stroke. Forced to close the store in 2003 to focus on her recovery, she let her chocolate-making equipment sit idle in her garage for seven years. With limited mobility but enough stamina to make small batches of chocolates, she was ready to go back to work in 2010 – but no one would hire her and she didn’t have the physical strength or financial resources to open another retail store.
“I needed to make money,” she says. “So I had to do something.”
She thought she would make chocolates, candies and baked goods in her home to sell to retail stores and at farmers’ markets to generate a small income. There was only one problem. It wasn’t legal.
Kubinski, now 72, searched the Internet and discovered the term “cottage industry.” Some states allowed home bakers and candy makers to legally sell homemade goods to individuals and businesses under a cottage food law. Arizona had no such law.
She contacted the county health department, Maricopa County Environmental Services Department (MCESD), and learned the only way she could sell to retail stores was to apply for and receive a Class 2 Baking permit for $310 that stipulated the goods must be baked in an approved commercial kitchen subject to frequent county inspections.
Short the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to build an approved commercial kitchen, or even the thousands of dollars required to rent shared commercial kitchen space, Kubinski did what desperate citizens often do: She contacted her state representative and asked for help.
Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) was originally skeptical about home bakers selling products commercially. But Kubinski was persistent and urged him to look into the matter. After some study, he discovered that a majority of states had either passed a cottage food law or were considering it.
“I called the state health department and asked [Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble] if there would be a problem with this [law]. He said ‘no.’ So I wrote it and we passed it,” Kavanagh says.
House Bill 2130, sponsored by Kavanagh to legalize the commercial sale of home-baked goods (with stipulations), passed the Arizona House and Senate in early 2011 and was enacted in July of that year.
Kubinski promptly went to work.
Candy Lesher of Baci d'Amore
“The Arizona law is very friendly to the cottage baker,” Crabill of cottagefoods.org says. “Home bakers in Arizona are fortunate. Compared to some states, there aren’t many limitations.”
Home-baking bill architect Kavanagh acknowledges there are health concerns associated with any home food business, but he also feels the Arizona law is balanced between protecting public health and enabling home bakers to create successful businesses. The law requires four conditions be met before bakers and confectioners can sell to the public.
First, only “non-hazardous” grain-based baked and confectionary goods are allowed. Cookies, brownies, cupcakes and fruit pies are approved products. Cheesecake? Forget it. No custard-based desserts like crème brûlée, either. Any product that requires refrigeration is taboo – and for good reason. If not stored at a safe temperature, dairy-based products can give rise to dangerous pathogens and consumption of the tainted product will cause serious – even life-threatening – food poisoning.
Second, would-be home bakers are required to register with the state, a process as simple as answering four questions. The registry provides the state health department with a record of everyone who intends to participate as a cottage baker, allowing the state to disseminate information about food safety and provide participants with healthy recipe ideas for their businesses.
Home bakers must also obtain a food handler’s card if their county requires one. The cost of the Food Service Worker card in Maricopa County is $15 and entails passing a standard test based on a food safety and sanitation guidebook.
Finally, products must be labeled with the address and contact information of the maker, include a list of all ingredients in the product, and disclose that the product was prepared in a home kitchen. The label must be given to the final consumer of the product.
According to Humble, who volunteered his department to oversee the program, 1,700 Arizona residents across the state have registered for home-baking. The roster includes people from a swirl of backgrounds – from retirees to new mothers to professional chefs.
Matt Resnik, baker of SMILE Biscotti
A few years from retirement, Maureen Flanigan lost her job and needed an income. Flanigan created MJ’s Tasty Treats in 2012 after registering as a home baker. A frequent shopper at the Old Town Scottsdale Farmers’ Market, she found a niche she could fill – flavored potato chips, which became an instant hit. She wants to add dips to complement her chips, but the law doesn’t allow it. She would need to upgrade to a commercial baking permit and move production out of her home and into a commercial kitchen. For now she is sticking with the economically friendly home-baking program.
“You still have to meet requirements, like getting a food handler’s card, but from an economic standpoint, it gives a person a chance to see if it’s going to work, sort of like a trial market,” Flanigan says.
Not everyone is thrilled with the law. Nicki Anderson owns The Cupcake Café and bakes out of a shared commercial kitchen. She also manages that kitchen and is responsible for renting space to other food producers. “[The law] has its pros and cons, but it has definitely impacted my business in a couple of ways,” Anderson says. “I’ve noticed a drop in the number of people looking for space, and at farmers’ markets, there is increased competition.”
She points out that home bakers have a pricing advantage over commercial producers because of the home bakers’ lower overhead costs.
Renting commercial kitchen space is expensive. Shared kitchens charge $20 to $30 per hour, generally with a 10- to 15-hours-per-month minimum, but some will collect first and last month’s rent and also charge for dry goods or refrigerated storage space. Bakers who rent commercial kitchens must receive a permit from the county, tacking on another $300 to $600. Throw in ingredient and ancillary equipment overhead, and out-of-pocket costs could reach $1,500 before turning on an oven.
Supporters say the cottage food law can provide a useful gateway to commercial baking. SugarJam's Dumas left the corporate world to stay home with her two young children, but she wanted to contribute financially to the household. She started SugarJam Cookies in September 2011, two months after the law was enacted. “I registered for the law immediately, got my food handler’s card and product liability insurance and set up a booth at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market with three flavors of my sugar cookies,” she says. Over time, Dumas expanded to fairs and food events, and even hired a helper. This fall, she plans to move from her home kitchen to a shared commercial retail space.
“The law has been nothing but a godsend for me,” she says.
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