If you’re a backyard farmer, and you want to sell your produce to an individual, a restaurant, or a grocery store, the State of Colorado just released clarification that says you can do exactly that. Wait – what? Did you just hear that right? Yes you did – if we’re talking about raw, uncut, unprocessed produce, just about anyone can sell just about anywhere. Let me get some specifics for you – the following is taken directly from Interpretive Memo 14-08, Determining “Approved Source” for Raw, Uncut Fruits and Vegetables.”
Approved source for produce – Raw, uncut produce is exempt from the requirements of the Food Protection Act, C.R.S. 25-4-1602 (14)(j), and the Colorado Cottage Food Act, C.R.S. 25-4-1614. Retail food establishments may use whole or uncut fruits and vegetables, with minimal post-harvest processing to remove dirt, debris, or dead leaves, from various sources including private gardens and farmer’s markets.
Can retail food establishments sell and/or use locally grown produce? Yes. Retail food establishments may use whole or uncut fruits and vegetables from locally produced sources, including private gardens or farmer’s markets.
So here’s the upshot. Want to grow vegetables in your backyard and sell them to that funky little restaurant down the block? Now you can – providing you only rinse the produce, and leave the produce whole and uncut. If you take a knife to the produce, you may not sell it to a retail establishment. Mixed salad greens are out (they are considered processed), but whole heads of lettuce are in. Mushrooms are excluded completely due to their nasty habit of killing people if you happen to get the wrong variety. If you sell prepared foods under the Colorado Cottage Food Act, you may sell only fresh whole and uncut produce to retail establishments, but your prepared foods cannot be sold to a retail food establishment.
This is HUGE news for local food. In the stroke of a pen, on January 1, 2014, the State gave the green light to thousands of small producers across Colorado, and finally local food on the Front Range has a chance. On the Front Range we don’t have water in rural areas to grow food; we have water in the cities. We have to grow food where the water is, and that means growing food in Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo, and all of the other Front Range cities. With the State allowing small producers into retail, we have more flexibility than ever before to develop viable economic models for our communities.
Now, before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s give a nod to Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), and all the other protocols that have been established to keep the food system safe. As a producer, you are still liable if your food sickens/injures/kills someone. Some homeowners policies will extend coverage, but most do not. In addition, both Manitou’s Local First Grocer and the Colorado Springs Public Market are checking into carrying liability insurance to cover small producers that form co-ops. These co-ops would implement GAP standards, and do home inspections to verify growing practices. While a system of this sort does help, the bottom line is that the food produced needs to be safe. If the food is not safe, the farmer will be held liable.
This information was unveiled last night (March 13, 2014) by Tom Gonzales of El Paso County Environmental Health, to a rousing round of applause (Tom said it’s the first time in his history with the Health Department that he’s ever received such an enthusiastic response). It was well deserved – this is the best bit of news the local food community has received in a long time. Folks are fired up and ready to roll for this summer. If you are a producer who’s wanted to break into a local food market, the time is now. The demand for local food is high, we don’t have nearly enough producers, and now you have wide latitude regarding selling your product. The local food scene in Colorado just got a shot in the arm – I told you this news would make your day.