Securing or Expanding Your State Cottage Food Law 

BY far, the most visited posts on this blog over the last two years have been those on cottage food laws. As someone who ran markets in a city/state with byzantine rules and a total lack of clarity for producers, I was gratified when a cottage producer took it upon herself to push for such a law in Louisiana, following recent adoption of one in neighboring Mississippi. That law had been championed by a task force headed ( I believe) by a researcher from Harvard.

Markets can help this process even when not leading it by maintaining and sharing their internal process for inspections, permits and on-site pricing/labeling rules with those advocates working to begin or expand their cottage food laws.

In addition, markets can collect qualitative data through Marker Surveys (allowing them to write a quote on the sheet) from shoppers about how they feel about the short chain system that relies on the deep and regular relationship they have in their markets and then to share those stories with those advocates.

In addition, I’d be happy to share the template of the mystery chef project that I employed at my markets which encouraged selected market community members to purchase products already at market and gave a written  assessment on the taste, display and labeling of that product. That assessment was sent via postcard to the vendor via mail and a copy was put into their file. The most common result was a positive assessment and so we also encouraged them to display the postcard at their table if they wished. Send me an email to dar wolnik at gmail if you want me to send you that template-that is if I can find it. Additionally, the other piece of that system was the mystery shopper surveys that we also created; one of the templates is available on the http://www.marketumbrella.org site on their Marketshare page. All it requires is the creation of a free log in and password to see all of the resources they offer on their page.

Here are the results from my posts about cottage food laws; and the link below leads to a very good framework for those states (or cities or counties) to plan or expand their own systems: Securing or Expanding Your State Cottage Food Law – Real Food – MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Louisiana – New Cottage Food Law (August 2013)

Sales are limited to $20,000 per year

Cottage food operations don’t need to get a license from their health department, but they do need to check with their county to see if any zoning requirements apply to them.

Operations do not need to collect any state sales tax, but they may need to collect local sales taxes (it is different for each city and county).

Only food items in these categories are allowed:

Cakes, Cookies, Honey, Jams & jellies -Preserves.

Unlike most states, Louisiana allows custard and cream-filled bakery products.

Louisiana – Cottage Food Law.

Louisiana updates its cottage law on labels for raw honey, state sales tax

June 2015: The update means no label is required to sell raw honey and deletes the earlier need for registering at the state for sales tax collection. However, if there is local (parish or municipality) sales tax registration and collection  required, it does not lift that requirement.

The following foods were specifically listed:

  • Baked goods, including breads, cakes, cookies and pies
  • Candies
  • Dried mixes
  • Honey and honeycomb products
  • Jams, jellies, and preserves
  • Pickles and acidified foods
  • Sauces and syrups
  • Spices

My original post on the subject in 2013

2014 revisions to cottage food law

New for 2015: no label required for sales of raw honey

 

Good site for the cottage food community which includes some interpretation of laws.

More detail from the sales tax issue. The original article from TP overstates the sales tax issue a bit. I asked for a clarification from the sponsor and this is what I was sent:

The pertinent information is in the bill itself on page 1, line 19 through page 2, line 5 of HB 79 Enrolled – which provides as follows:

“No individual who prepares low-risk foods in the home shall sell such foods unless he is registered to collect any local sales and use taxes that are applicable to the sale of such foods, as evidenced by a current sales tax certificate issued to the seller by the sales and use tax collector for the parish in which the sales occur.”

This means that if any local sales taxes are applicable to the sale of the food, then the seller must be registered to collect that tax in order to sell his home-produced food legally. If no local sales taxes are applicable to the sale of the food, then the seller doesn’t need to be registered to collect taxes on the sale of the food.

The main purpose of this particular amendment that HB 79 makes to the cottage law is to strike the reference requiring sellers to register to collect state sales tax. This correction was necessary as state sales tax does not apply to food for home consumption

Hope this helps,

Brandy Pearce
Legislative Assistant to
Representative Richard Burford

 

 

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials on cottage food laws

Pass the Virginia Food Freedom Act

Hey Virginians (or friends of Virginians): Please sign or forward this to those who can help influence the legislature to enact a cottage industry law that other states including my own Louisiana and nearby Mississippi passed recently.

Pass the Virginia Food Freedom Act! | Peers.

A Grocery Store That Takes ‘Local Food’ to Its Logical Extreme – Bonnie Tsui – The Atlantic Cities

YES.
I think this “less waste and more uses” of local food is exactly what it will take for a small store to re-imagine itself as a source of healthy food. To simply move itself into local sourcing through distributors is not going to be enough. Stores like the Saxapahaw grocery outside of Raleigh Durham are also taking the closed loop seriously and combining gourmet takeout and diverse food stuffs with nearby local sourcing so that even the scraps go back to the animals and compost heaps that supply their store.
I’m still not sure the business plan is completely figured out, but it will certainly help these stores bottom lines to be more waste conscious and to build nearby farms and cottage industries to supply their shelves.

A Grocery Store That Takes 'Local Food' to Its Logical Extreme – Bonnie Tsui – The Atlantic Cities.

Odds and ends from the Washington State Farmers Market Association meeting

View from the conference dining room

View from the conference dining room

Just got back from a great farmers market association meeting in Olympia WA with what I hear was around 200 participants but seemed like double that with the ideas and networking flying around. Karen Kinney, WSFMA’s impressive Executive Director could be seen everywhere, adding content to their market bootcamp, introducing sessions, setting up table displays, and making time to chat with anyone who stopped her, like Farmers Market Coalition Executive Director Jen Cheek, or even a random consultant from New Orleans…
2015-02-08 19.27.40Jen and Karen

In many ways, Washington represents the apex of the U.S. market work right now because of the serious attention paid to building the capacity of market organizations themselves and their work on regional and national issues that benefit all markets and their communities. (California has to be exempted from any comparison as it is always is a decade or so ahead of the rest of us.)
I have found that meeting long time and full-time market professionals in Washington is not unusual, nor is finding stable and expansive market organizations across the state that offer their communities tons of resources and spend time to increase the connections between direct marketing producers and shoppers in their region. One of the indicators for the flagship market typology is the ability of the market to look “outward” and assist the larger food system or other market organizations. Flagship markets seem to abound in Washington.

There is no doubt that the WSFMA is considered one of the top (flagship?) associations in the country by most market advocates and partners with Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York thought to be in that same tier too.
In recent years, the level of sharing that Michigan and Washington especially have done on programs such as Washington’s benefit program pilots/card technology research, its data collection and policy work and Michigan’s respected manager certification program really stand out. Pennsylvania’s PASA, although not specifically a market association, should be mentioned for its excellent service for markets in their very large state. I can also tell you that in all of my work with markets in any state, I go back to these folks time and time again for input or to ask them to share their analysis and they always deliver.
Many younger or all-volunteer associations are coming right behind in the level of resources or strategy they are offering in their state to increase market professionalism – some of the ones I am asked about regularly are Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia. Sorry if I left any out, that was just off the top of my head…

The Vancouver Farmers Market gorgeous literature and materials on display

The Vancouver Farmers Market’s gorgeous literature and materials on display


The WSFMA market bootcamp run by WSFMA board member Ann Foster and WSFMA staff member Jennifer Brown,

The WSFMA market half-day bootcamp run by WSFMA board member Ann Foster and WSFMA staff member Jennifer Brown and assorted speakers.

great display of a project to help start-ups test food products. They have a program at OSU to conduct surveys for producers and help them figure out the best products to get the best niche.

great display of a project to help start ups test food products. They have a program at OSU to conduct surveys for producers and help them figure out the products to get the best niche.

I saw a bunch of great resources, a few workshops and had dozens of conversations about some fascinating market projects.

Here are some:

The 2014 CSA Farming Report

List of Washington’s Top 10 most frequently purchased minimally processed F&V

Details on the pilot project for procurement of unprocessed f&v

WA Cottage Food Operations Permit

Loads of information on both MarketLink‘s new and improved services and FMC’s new replacement technology program. Amy Crone of MarketLink and Jen Cheek of FMC presented together and were ably assisted by Suzanne Briggs.

I also learned about the Moscow Idaho market, Gorge Grown’s interesting mobile market, discussed data collection with a trio of rural Oregon markets, and heard a RIVETING presentation by Washington State University Small Farms Coordinator Colleen Donovan. Colleen used her time to lead a spirited discussion with the entire room of farmers and market leaders about her survey data collected in Washington State on farm and market farmer characteristics. Donovan is an advisor to the Farmers Market Metrics work and did a great 2013 workshop for FMC that can be heard and seen on FMC’s YouTube channel. Check out her work; even though it is for Washington, her methods and analysis are vital for any and all markets to see. I left thinking (and saying): every state needs a Colleen Donovan.

So, now I’m back home with some time to experience our holidays here (Mardi Gras is Tuesday February 17 this year, and no, it’s probably not what you imagine it is…) and then to read all of those reports and keep on working inspired by the new connections and knowledge gained in Olympia.

One business shares a gratitude index

In what has to be the most common topic in this blog for 2016, I offer another illustration of how data collection can be simply managed, yet offer meaningful data for a wide variety of audiences.
The elegant metrics from a small value-added business in Charlottesville VA are below. It seems important to note that Stacy was my comrade for the original creation of the FMC Farmers Market Metrics work (and FMC’s founding executive director before our current excellent Jen Cheek) , and did a incredible consulting  job in 2016 assisting FMC with metric refinement, data collection research and devising the workbooks that are at the core of the FMM program. Those tasks are in addition to what the output shows in the metrics below, her devotion to fitness as a student and a leader and (along with her ever cheerful husband Joe) raising their energetic son.

2016 was good phyte foods’ first full calendar year of operation, after our first humble sale at Charlottesville City Market in May 2015. Since January this year, the business has made from scratch and sold 57,024 crackers, 1,003 bars, 157 pounds of granola, 978 pumpkin muffins, 533 kale cookies, and a motley assortment of odd-looking experimental snacks. In so doing, we have bought sustainably grown (and often certified organic) vegetables and herbs from at least twelve farms² in Central Virginia. We are grateful not only to our loyal and patient customers at City Market, but to our enduring local partners at The Juice Laundry, Random Row Brewing, Blue Ridge Country Store, and ACAC Downtown. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It is a humbling honor to be part of this evolving local food economy.

And for those who think cottage industry producers only care about their own cash flow:

In the coming year, we want to expand our reach to more retail partners, reinvest in new equipment, train some cracker apprentices, experiment with early summer cracker flavors, and give back to community organizations that are helping kids eat more vegetables. I have recently been appointed to the Advisory Council of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, which, among other things, teaches children of limited economic means how to grow, use, and appreciate fresh organic vegetables.

Go Stacy Miller; Keep the goodphyte going.

Source: getting specific: gratitude counts in our 2016 index

Bob Dylan and Contract Theory

As excited as many are about an American folk/rock singer composer winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, the economic prize is also worthy of mention here. First though, my favorite song lyrics of Mr. Dylan:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind Pa
She’s sixty eight, but she says she’s fifty four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

Many of Dylan’s interpreters suggest this is a criticism of capitalism or of the military industrial complex. That actually leads us to a chat about the economic prize this year, given to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström for their contributions to contract theory. (Disclaimer: not only am I not an economist or a lawyer, my understanding of these theories is very casual and centered on my community organizing work. I may over or understate many of these theories and will always edit when better information comes my way. Feel free to add to my knowledge via email as needed.)

Contract theory focuses on the relationship between the parties in a contract, especially those which are asymmetrical in terms of how much information each side has access. The world contains scads of examples of information asymmetry: citizens and media, citizens and police or the military, employees-employers, consumers and technology providers etc. When one party has access to more information than the other, the fairness of the contract should be questioned. The other contract issue relevant to markets and farmers is what are called incomplete contracts. This covers the likelihood that a contract in present time cannot always cover every possible outcome and so often must be renegotiated at some time; in th, t case it is possible that renegotiation can go off the rails because of lack of trust.

In many ways, these scenarios describe much of what drove farmers and their advocates to the creation of the alternative food and farming movement.  The desire for fairness and trust for both producers and for eaters led to transparency being one our chief indicators of success and in keeping the heart of our movement in direct marketing channels which offer simple ways to create fairness. But even within those models, there can be an information asymmetry. For example, some farmers markets have created systems where information only flows from vendor to market and not the other way around. In others, vendors cling to systems that ask little of them as far as information sharing with the market. One way to gauge whether this is an unequal contract is at the time that the agreement is being changed.

Still, the very nature of the mutual dependency and face to face nature of farmers markets and their vendors can usually correct these small imbalances. Same goes for other type of direct marketing contracts, especially CSAs which began as simple contractual relationships between producers and eaters for a single season and a single farm. More recently, some CSA relationships have become imbalanced: like when a farmer offers a member a credit for a bad season, even though the contract in a CSA explicitly states that the shopper loses their investment if the crop fails. Or, when a CSA farmer begins to morph into an aggregator of goods from nearby farms and cottage industry producers without creating a updated contract with their shoppers that outlines the new rules of bringing those goods to the shopper.

However, the concern over unfair contracts really “scales up”  when systems move into intermediate (back door or bin sales) and wholesale (middle-man or pallet sales) contracts. Here, I’ll focus on intermediate sales, as wholesale sales are a whole other kettle of fish and in most cases, are beyond the capacity or interest of small family farms. (The reason for that is that few of those systems have really changed anything about their purchasing policies or their regulations for small farms, and so the costs and risk are all on the side of the farmer still.)

The hope is still that restaurant owners and wholesale buyers will build contracts with producers with the same transparency and information sharing as those in the direct marketing sector, but often that has not been the case. The key to mutually beneficial agreements on all levels of our food work relies on building contextual contracts and incentivizing them for all  involved. What are the main benefits for a producer to sell at a  lower cost to a chef? Well, two might be consecutive, consistent sales and the ease in delivery (meaning the farmer can deliver when most convenient to him or her and get quick payment), and yet rarely are these benefits described in agreements for most of our producers when they sell at these levels. What is the main benefit for the buyer? Often it is the quality of the product or the name recognition of the producer attached to the goods and yet rarely are those benefits understood and outlined in these agreements.

One way to incentivize the fairness of the contract in these situation may be to create a shared asset owned by all of the parties, such as a mutually owned cold truck or even branding. Another way to make them contextual might be to have an external party monitoring the agreement. Maybe this is where farmers market leaders can grow their influence?

And of course, markets managing transactions through card technology has led  to lopsided contracts with processors. Markets scramble to understand these complex agreements which exist over different eras of management and open markets  to many new layers of liability.  Another issue is that the energy that markets must reserve for reaching and encouraging benefit program shoppers is often wasted by the lack of good information about the client lists from local or federal government authorities. Too many markets I talk to have no idea how and where to reach these shoppers in their area and when you take in the short time that the majority of these shoppers remain on these programs at any one time (also not shared by most government entities), successful outreach becomes even more unlikely. The market vendor in this situation is also underrepresented in a fair contract, as most markets – or the processors working directly with farmers – use boilerplate agreements about card processing with their vendors.

So, one can see from just these few examples that center around direct marketing and intermediate farmers how many contract issues arise. So maybe before the alternative food system becomes another one of Maggie’s farms, let’s spend some time on increasing transparency and incentives for everyone’s benefit.

Louisiana Update # 8: The natural cost

 

14079492_10153806953867060_6009672677636791922_n.jpg

The flood leaves a watermark stain on the tree’s leaves as U.S. Geological Survey surveyor Scott Hedgecock works to survey the water levels along the Tangipahoa River along Highway 190 just west of Robert, Louisiana. (Photo by Ted Jackson NOLA.com )

Climate change is not entirely accepted, even by those for whom it should be obvious possibly because it is not entirely understood.  People don’t feel its effects as they move in comfort from their air-conditioned personal vehicle to living amid a span of concrete around their glass-enclosed home away from coasts or forests, getting most of their information through a thumbnail headline or from friends who work and live in the very same setting. In other words, industrialized countries.

Another culprit may be the environmental work done in the 1970s and 1980s, which often used unfamiliar phrases that lacked relevancy such as global warming (or even the term used at the beginning of this post, climate change) and focused mostly on national policy changes or in shaming users of resources without compelling evidence of the effect of that reduction. Environmentalists were seen as “do-gooders” who meant well but lacked realistic goals (this was actual feedback from focus groups at an organization I worked at in the 1980s.)

The strong pushback showed the fallacy of engaging ordinary citizens using lofty or scientific terms and  led to many turning to food as an organizing tool. After all, what could be better as an impetus to understanding and sharing the repair of the natural world but food?

Yet in the roll call of environmentalists circa 2016, food system organizers are usually in the middle of the pack. Most can certainly outline the issues involved with food production that both imperil and reboot Mother Nature, but are rarely working directly on those issues in concert with environmental organizations. Farmers markets have done an admirable job on promoting entrepreneurial activity and improving access, but efforts to highlight the stewardship of the natural world by market farmers has fallen a little behind.

I hear our great writer Wendell Berry exhorting us to remember the farmers:

“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

The  “eyes to acres” ratio suggested by Berry and Wes Jackson needs to be included in regional planning theory and in the metrics that assess our work. Within the framework of disaster, the acknowledgment of the need for that ratio could mean”deputizing” farmers to supply immediate indicators of the level of destruction.

Disasters point out the fragility of a place and at the same time remind us of the strength of human ties and the resolve of communities. Following that line of thinking, deeper knowledge of local and regional systems would help knit everyone more closely together, allow for rescue and recovery to happen faster even as it is offering a narrative with more relevancy to those in far-off but similarly sized food systems.  If the watershed or the regional system for food production were one such way to describe the need among those participating in food initiatives, assistance could be met one farm, one family or even one small town at a time.

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From 0 to 35 in MS

I have worked with markets and farmers in Mississippi for a dozen years and have found more barriers to getting regional food accepted than in most other areas of the US, yet also have met some of the most optimistic and capable people  working on it there.
What’s interesting is that in going from a deeply (still) entrenched commodity/plantation culture of farming directly to a new economy of small family farming for markets and restaurants can mean that some of the middle steps can be skipped, which is beneficial to innovative growers.

In other words, the situations is similar to what has happened in many non-industrialized or colonized countries in regards to technology; having skipped the landline era, the new users adapt much more quickly to the technology of mobility*.
I can see this leapfrogging in play for sustainable farming in the Gulf States with new farmers pushing the envelope with pesticide-free and heirloom varieties at markets and in CSAs, rather than  being influenced by the less inspiring midcentury distribution system that hardened growers’ experience into growing the hardiest and tasteless products to ship.
The area around Oxford MS is one that is ready for takeoff. The small farmer markets offer organic products at a higher rate than the New Orleans farmers markets for example, and the average age of the vendors seems markedly less than the US average, to my unscientific eye. The chef quoted in the article below is a pal of mine and had been the Board President of the New Orleans-based Market Umbrella before Katrina, and now is a leader in the regional food movement in Oxford. He offers his knowledge to the markets and farmers around the area as well supporting the leading agricultural advocates, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN), which was founded with Wallace Center support a few years back. Corbin and MSAN are good example of the quiet revolution happening up there.

Additionally, the folks in Hernando MS (north of Oxford, closer to Memphis TN) are leading the state in innovative healthy living strategies and thinking deeply about how to expand regional farming to support those strategies. Their weekly market is large enough to attract serious attention from regional funders and even policy makers, and I have hopes that they might soon attempt to create a year round market.

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Another detractor and another clear need for better data and reporting

The article found here

For those of you who have read my “Big Data, Little Farmers Markets” blog posts linked here, and the Farmers Market Metrics pilots many of us have worked on, you know this is the kind of media that concerns me. I will fully agree that farmers markets have limits to their ability in carrying food equity on their shoulders, although I am not sure that markets ever promised that.

The findings extracted for this article lack necessary context and since the original academic article is behind a paywall, many are left to wonder how closely this piece extrapolated the best ideas from the study. However, I won’t be surprised if this small study did say exactly what has been used here, but I’d hope it made allowances for the small scope of the research and the lack of comparable metrics between community food systems and the industrial retail sector.

Farmers’ markets offered 26.4 fewer fresh produce items, on average, than stores.
Compared to stores, items sold at farmers’ markets were more expensive on average, “even for more commonplace and ‘conventional’ produce.”
Fully 32.8 percent of what farmers’ markets offered was not fresh produce at all, but refined or processed products such as jams, pies, cakes, and cookies.

As those of us know that are working constantly to expand the reach of good food, there has never been a belief among those that run markets that our role was to replace stores, especially the small stores and bodegas likely to be present in many of the boroughs of NYC. Instead, the lever of markets is meant to offer alternatives AND to influence traditional retail by changing everyone’s goals to include health and wealth measures that benefit regional producers, all eaters and the natural world around us.
As far as being more expensive, one might wonder if that the study did not compare the same quality of goods; these price comparisons often compare older produce with less shelf life to just-picked and carefully raised regional goods. I have bought much lettuce this year from a few of my neighboring markets that lasted 3-4 weeks in my refrigerator, which I have never been able to match with the conventional trucked-in produce seen in my lovely little stores that I frequent for many of the staples I need. Additionally, the price comparisons I have conducted or have seen have shown most market goods to be competitively priced or cheaper in season, so this study may need a larger data set or maybe a longer study period.
Generally speaking, refined or processed foods available from cottage producers at a market are markedly different from what is seen in the list of ingredients in most items on a grocery store shelf. Using fruit or vegetable seconds for fresh fruit spread or salsa is common among market vendors and extends the use of regional goods. And of course, balancing one’s diet means allowing for a treat on the table after that good dinner and may actually lead to less junk food later.

And finally, the article does not even consider the positive impacts found in markets for regional producers or neighborhood entrepreneurs; that omission in these type of articles is always a warning to me that we are reading an author who has spent little or no time quantifying the needs of the entire community being served in the market. If you require proof of the need to show the multiple impacts of farmers markets, the author’s curt conclusion should make that need clear:

Sure, they’re a great place to mingle. But as to whether they are a net nutritional plus for the neighborhood, the answer appears to be: Not so much.

(someone needs to introduce this guy to the idea of social determinants of health.)

Even so, as mentioned in those Big Data and FMM posts (a new Big Data post is coming soon), even these weak arguments are still based on data and analysis which means WE need to do a better job as well. It’s high time that we started to publish regular reports from the front lines of farmers markets, CSAs and other food and civic projects that use our own good data to show the impact that we are making everywhere rather than just keep rebutting these viral pieces that offer incomplete or inaccurate snapshots.