Cottage Food Workshop Teaches Entrepreneurs What to Do
By Jacqui Sinarle
If you’ve always dreamed of starting your own food business from home but never knew where to begin, the university of California Cooperative Extension in Stanislaus County can teach you how in its popular workshop, starting a successful cottage food business.
“The workshop is very fun and informative,” said Theresa Spezzano, County Director and Nutrition, Family and Consumer Science Advisor. “All of our workshops of this nature are a combination of hands-on and lecture. It’s the best way to learn and teach new concepts. Plus, it’s much more enjoyable!”
The cottage food workshop teaches participants about the two-tiered cottage food business permit and registration system, training requirements, sales restrictions, and approved cottage foods. The class also discusses sanitation and operating procedures, label requirements, operating your cottage food business, and food safety and sanitation for cottage food production. In addition, the class gives participants guides to types of cottage foods and addresses where to ﬁnd resources and help.
California’s cottage food law enabling individuals to prepare and/or package certain non-potentially hazardous foods in private home kitchens (referred to as “cottage food operations”) became effective January 1, 2013.
“When this bill passed we were inundated with calls from community members who wanted information on what the law allows,” Spezzano recalled. “Luckily, here in Stanislaus we have a very proactive Environmental Health Department that put together much of this information and made it easily accessible.”
The cottage food workshops were developed and tested last year by the UC Small Farms Program, which created materials and a valuable website at ucanr.edu/sites/cottagefoods. Materials were tested in workshops throughout the state, and a USDA grant was secured for funding the classes.
“Because of the expertise of Stanislaus County Environmental Health we wanted to partner with them ﬁrst for our hands-on workshops,” Spezzano said. “We want to make sure everyone leaving these classes understands the food safety issues related to making food products.”
Before you jump into the cottage food business, it’s a good idea to do your research thoroughly. “The law is more restrictive than most people think,” Spezzano observed. “If there is something you are thinking about selling through the law, be sure to check the list of approved foods. For instance, pickles are not allowed, and jam is restricted to only a high sugar content.”
Spezzano said that artisan breads and baked goods are very popular cottage food businesses, in addition to seasonings and flavored nuts.
“Cottage food business operators might be surprised to discover that they will have to become experts in marketing,” Spezzano added. “Yes, making products takes time. However, marketing your product is going to take most of your time.”
The most important thing to remember when beginning a cottage food business is that the consumer public will be trusting you with their lives, Spezzano emphasized. “Food safety is very important! This is not a business that you can do casually as a hobby — you need to be very serious and not cut corners when creating products that people will be eating. The last thing you would ever want to learn is that something you created made someone sick or worse.”
The best way to get a spot at the next available cottage food workshop is to visit the UC Cooperative Extension’s website and sign up on the waiting list.
In addition to cottage food classes, the local UC Extension offers a variety of informative classes including a workshop that discusses creating and sustaining your school’s garden or your community garden; a three-part class on agritourism; grower meetings and workshops; and integrated pest management breakfasts.
All workshops are listed on the UC extension’s website at cestanislaus.ucanr.edu