By Sharon Shay Sloan
Like many small-batch producers, Mark got started making his foods in his own kitchen, and was frustrated by state and local laws limiting not only his ability to produce his products in an affordable way but to sell them at all. Not willing to settle, Mark decided to put his bread on the line. An article written on Mark in June 2011 for The Los Angeles Times would change the future of food in California.
In the article titled “The Artisan: Bread baker Mark Stambler,” the author tells Mark’s remarkable story and lets people know where to buy his then-illegal bread. Mark was aware of what could happen…and it did. Someone at the Health Department got wind of the article and Mark and his homemade bread operation were closed for business.
“When I started this whole thing, I was doing it to right this wrong that was done to me personally. How dare they prevent me to sell my bread at local shops!” Mark said. After time, he was convinced it would help so many people that even if it didn’t work perfectly for him, he knew it was a positive step for so many throughout California that he would have to see it through.
“There are so many stories, usually of women, who are home making cookies, brownies, cakes, and they can’t sell them because it is illegal. To sell, they have to go to commercial kitchens, often in the middle of the night when they are affordable and hire someone to look after their kids… It’s ludicrous,” said Mark The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) was among the first to agree with Mark and, together, with support from SELC, Los Angeles County, farmers, ordinary citizens and, eventually, Sacramento, California signed on.
The California Homemade Food Act, Assembly Bill 1616 (AB 1616), became effective in California January 1, 2013, making it legal to produce and sell “non-potentially hazardous” foods from home. Mark—and his bread—are largely to thank for this tremendous victory for small-batch local foods and artisanal food makers.
On January 2 (January 1 being a holiday), Mark made his way to Baldwin park, to the headquarters of LA County Environmental Health, filed his paperwork and paid his fees. Two days later, a team of inspectors went to his house and inspected his “facility”—his home kitchen. He passed with flying colors. Right there, in the very place where all the trouble began, the county health inspectors “gave the first permit from LA County, on the spot,” recalled Mark with pride in his accomplishments.
Rightfully so, Mark, co-founder of the LA Breadbakers group which now has nearly 600 members, was the first permitted homemade food maker in Los Angeles County.
Two weeks later, his fresh-baked bread was available for sale—on Fridays through the Silverlake Farms CSA (silverlakefarm.com) and on Sundays at Atwater Village Farm, 3224 Glendale Boulevard.
“What I am looking for right here in LA is to expand my customer base… I can do not only CSAs but now I have at least one, possibly two shops… and I am looking forward to growing,” he said.
Using only the best organic whole grains, flower he grinds himself, non-commercial yeast, pure, distilled water and sea salt, Mark’s bread is now baked fresh daily for sale—and it is legal. His company: Pagnol Boulanger. Foods this fresh, and high quality will be more readily available now that we have a Cottage Foods Law in California, and Mark is largely to thank.
Being able to produce at home is an important stepping stone to developing a successful business. The costs are low enough to do research, try things out and test equipment while developing your most marketable products, outlets and customer base.
“My home kitchen is a wonderful place to develop new types of bread and see what will sell better than others,” Mark said. “What I am hoping eventually is to make enough of a name for myself to move into a commercial bakery and really expand… I am looking forward to the day when I can hire some people and I don’t have to do all the work myself!”
Now, everyday people like Mark, and small businesses, can qualify for permits to make and bake from home—and earn money. In 2013, owners can gross up to $35,000 annually, and this number increases to $50,000 by 2015.
“[Los Angeles] is ready to be a model for other Counties. We are the largest, most populous county in California and we are the best at implementing the California Homemade Foods Act,” said Mark.
On the AB 1616 Facebook page, citizens from across the state in Contra Costa, Alameda, Riverside, Orange, Santa Clara, Los Angeles Counties and more are sharing their stories as permits are issued, inspections are scheduled and delicious, locally made foods start filling our shelves.
“My vision for this has been, one day I want to walk in to my local Von’s and see shelves full of homemade food…food that is sourced from producers within walking distance from the stores,” said Mark. Look out Von’s, here we come!
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
There are 58 counties in California, and every one will implement their own regulations. Contacting your local Health Department is the place to start. In Los Angeles, the County is very eager to get this going and is making public appearances at community-sponsored informational events throughout the County. Join one or organize your own and let others know it is happening. Contact mark through LA Breadbakers Meetup or the AB 1616 Facebook page where people are posting daily as they get their permits, schedule their inspections and host community meetings.
WHAT COTTAGE FOODS CAN YOU PRODUCE?
- Baked goods without cream, custard, or meat fillings, such as breads, biscuits, churros, cookies, pastries, and tortillas
- Candy, such as brittle and toffee
- Chocolate-covered nonperishable foods, such as nuts and dried fruit
- Dried fruit
- Dried pasta
- Dry baking mixes
- Fruit pies, fruit empanadas, and fruit tamales
- Granola, cereals, and trail mixes
- Herb blends and dried mole paste
- Honey and sweet sorghum syrup
- James, jellies, preserves, and fruit butter that comply with the standard described in Part 150 of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations
- Nut mixes and nut butters
- Vinegar and mustard
- Roasted coffee and dried tea
- Waffle cones and pizzelles
- Decide what you want to make and make sure it is on the allowed foods list
- Read the County of Los Angeles Cottage Food Operations Guide: http://publichealth.lacounty. gov/eh/docs/WhatsNew/CFOGuidelines.pdf (If you do not live in LA County, contact your local health department for info for your County/city.)
- Contact the Planning or Zoning Department for your city. Make sure you understand what rules and ordinances govern home-based business where you live and that food production is allowed.
- Start thinking like a small business. Do all the stuff that small businesses do, like… getting a business license, registering with the city, county and/or state, talking to the finance department to get a business tax certificate. (If you gross less than $100k per year you don’t pay any tax but you do have to register.) Look into insurance requirements and determine what is right for you.
- Determine which kind of permit you will need. They are non-transferrable, so save yourself the trouble of having to reapply if you change your mind. A is for Direct Sales only ($65). B is for Direct and Indirect ($194).
- Apply for a permit.
- Though not required, before your inspection, you might want to take an online food handlers course.
- Start making, baking and selling!