Kevin Nerney prepares soup in the Cider Fixins & Fixins Kitchen in Steamboat Springs. Commercial kitchens, like the one Nerney rents, are one way that small food producers are able to bring their products to market.

Photo by John F. Russell

Kevin Nerney prepares soup in the Cider Fixins & Fixins Kitchen in Steamboat Springs. Commercial kitchens, like the one Nerney rents, are one way that small food producers are able to bring their products to market.

New bill would ease sales for local food producers

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— A new bill working its way through the Colorado Legislature could make it easier for some local food producers to take part in Steamboat’s Farmers Market every summer.

The Local Foods, Local Jobs Act passed the state Senate on Wednesday and is headed for consideration in the House. If it becomes law, it would exempt home kitchens from some health inspections that generally are applied to large retailers, according to the majority office of the Colorado state Senate.

That means some bakers, as well as people who can jellies and jams, would not have to rent a commercial kitchen to make products they sell directly to consumers.

“That would really energize our Farmers Market to grow and have more food available,” said Mainstreet Steamboat Springs’ Tracy Barnett, who organizes the annual summertime market. “That’s what people want to see when they come to a farmers market. I get calls from people who want to sell granola and cookies. They can rent a kitchen, but even at $15 an hour, it adds up.”

The bill has bipartisan support — it was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, and in the House of Representatives by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

“As our economy continues to recover, it’s important that we provide Coloradans with every opportunity to strengthen their small businesses,” Schwartz said in a written statement. “This legislation will help support our local communities by allowing small-scale growers and producers to make the most of their products.”

The bill would not apply to people who produce food products to sell to retail stores, and the range of products is limited.

The language in the Senate version of the bill specifies that a producer is limited to selling only foods “that are non-potentially hazardous and that do not require refrigeration. These foods are limited to spices, teas, dehydrated produce, nuts, seeds, honey, jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butter and baked goods, including candies.”

Henry and Linda Laughlin, of Steamboat Springs, produce honey and share it with friends and neighbors. They would like to sell a specific honey product, but Linda Laughlin doubted that the new bill would apply to them.

“We do it mostly as a hobby and produce about 200 pounds of raw honey a year that we give to friends,” she said.

However, the Laughlins have their eyes on a specific market niche, selling pieces of highly sought-after honeycomb to specialty health food stores.

“We would be pretty pysched about doing that,” Laughlin said.

She said honeycomb is a high-end product prized for the natural antibodies the bees impart to the honey-drenched 4-inch blocks of waxy comb.

Unfortunately for the Laughlins, the new bill as written would not apply to their sales to a health food store.

The new law would require that qualifying food producers be trained and certified in safe food handling and processing by a third party. The bill lists the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service as being among the entities that could provide that training, and the Routt County Extension Service typically provides classes in safe food handling and canning every spring.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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