Editor’s note: This is the second half of a story on the Cottage Food Law that ran in the Winter 2016 edition of Florida Food & Farm. Part 1 ran Wednesday, Oct. 12.

How did the Cottage Food Law start?

The Cottage Food Law concept began as a movement to promote Florida agricultural products – the true origins of the farm stand or farmers market – explains Charles LaPradd, agricultural manager for Miami-Dade County and very knowledgeable about the law.

It would allow making value-added products – jams, jellies and breads – to be produced on farms. And in Miami-Dade County, people living in the agricultural areas are allowed to use the Cottage Food Law to produce such products.

The glitch

Costa's pies and tarts contain no dairy, so are legal. Cottage Food Law / Courtesy photo

Marilyn Costa’s pies and tarts contain no dairy products, so they are legal at green markets under the Cottage Food Law. / Courtesy of Marilyn Costa

The problem comes when someone living elsewhere – in a suburban neighborhood, for example – wants to use the law, according to LaPradd.

The law doesn’t exempt individuals from needing to comply with other laws, including zoning laws.

“There is a very specific list in Miami-Dade County of what a home business can entail. That does not include creation of a product,” he says. “So that’s where it runs into a glitch. They can’t get a business license to do cottage foods because they’re not in the agricultural area.”

He admits that few people operating without fully complying with state and local laws are likely to get caught.

“Certainly, there are not enough folks within the food-safety section of the Florida Department of Agriculture to adequately enforce all the laws on the books,” he notes. “If there’s somebody that’s violating, generally the only way they’re going to be found out is if someone turns them in – a competitor makes a complaint, perhaps.”

“Too many operate to avoid the overhead”

Gary Karess, who runs three farmers markets in Broward County, says the law is well-intentioned but much abused – and a competitive threat for businesses that spend the money to operate a commercial kitchen.

“I think the law was passed with good intention, but unfortunately, too many of the people who operate under that law don’t operate under the true letter of the law. Too many operate to avoid the overhead and licensing, thus giving them an unfair advantage over people correctly licensed,” Karess says. “I see them in the marketplace every day, knowing they have to be making more than $15,000 a year.”

Karess and his children make Lip-Smakin’ Good Farmer’s Market Honey, operating from the only FDA-certified honey house in Broward County, he says. The three farmers markets he runs – in Tamarac, Plantation, and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea – are more a labor of love than a money-making venture, he says.

Karess believes that adding a fixed time element to use of the Cottage Food Law would eliminate the abuse. “Within six months, you better have a good idea if your product is going to be viable or not.”