Cottage Food Industry: A Delicious Side Income
By Brenda Eggert Brader
Home cooked and baked goods are a treat no matter who makes them. Many choose to not bother with cooking or baking in their own kitchens and instead choose to purchase comfort foods from others in the community who enjoy whipping up delicious delights. The Florida Cottage Food Law allows certain foods to be produced in private homes and sold directly to consumers, enabling those home chefs to make a little side income.
Florida’s Cottage Food industry is extremely popular and thriving. Floridians with a knack to create jellies and jams, citrus honey, or yummy baked bread warm from the oven, among numerous other treats, can legally sell their wares, free of a license, at the numerous outdoor arts and crafts fairs — and at the even more popular weekly farmers markets found in almost every Polk County community.
Enacted by the Florida legislature in 2011, House Bill 7209 allows individuals to manufacture, sell and to store certain types of “cottage food” products in an unlicensed home kitchen. Those food products include items as breads, cakes, cookies, candies, jams, jellies, and fruit pies — among others deemed safe in this category.
“These food items are considered not as potentially hazardous as defined by the FDA’s rule which is sold by a cottage food operation,” says Aaron Keller, of the office of Commissioner Adam Putnam. “Potentially hazardous food means a food that requires time/temperature control for safety to limit pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation.”
So, that leaves all processed-in-some-way foods off the table for the Cottage Food industry. Some of those non-cottage food items that cannot be prepared in private homes include fresh or dried meat or meat products including jerky, canned fruits and vegetables, chutneys, hummus and the like, fish or shellfish products, pickled products, raw seed spouts, bakery goods requiring any type of refrigeration such as cream or custards, milk and dairy products, cut fruits or vegetables, barbecue sauces, salsas and the like, and breads with vegetables or cheeses added. If one wishes to make and sell any of these items they must have a commercial kitchen that is subject to inspection and all necessary licenses.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) website, not only do cottage food operations not require a license or permit, but they are also not subject to inspection by any state government entity. Of course there are certain rules that a cottage food operation must follow, including a limit on gross sales to not exceed $15,000 annually, and products can only be sold directly by the cottage food operator to the consumer (no selling to brick-and-mortar stores, which then sell to their customers). Sales by internet, mail order, consignment or wholesale are prohibited. And proper labeling must occur.
Jams, Jellies and Biscotti
Winter Haven resident Crystal Shannon just started creating her cottage products about a month ago. Her business, called That’s My Jam, includes jams, jellies, and biscotti. She has uncommon flavors such as Blueberry Basil, Watermelon Mojito, Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean, and Peach Jalapeno.
“I had been thinking about it for a couple years,” Shannon says. “The reason I got into it is because I have a degree from Le Cordon Bleu Orlando at the Orlando Culinary Academy and studied a little bit in France. Baking was my favorite form of cooking and it was easier to share. You could bake all day and share with friends.”
“I started baking biscotti a few years ago and my family raved over them and these were great,” Shannon says. “I made jams and jellies that would be added to the basket for Christmas. Then I sold a few batches to family and friends who wanted to give them as gifts as well.
Shannon says that two years ago she began taking crackers and a new jam to the yarn shop to share and people expressed an interest in purchasing her jams. So, she finally took the plunge.
“I try to do things (fruits) mostly in season,” Shannon says. “I like to pick out my own fresh produce to meet my standards. Out-of-season fruit is not as high a quality and so doesn’t taste as good.”
“I make eight or nine flavors of jams and jellies and added the spiced cranberry for the holidays,” Shannon says, and adds that her cranberry jam makes the house smell like Thanksgiving. It is like Thanksgiving in a jar, she says. The jam features honey that makes it taste a little bit smoother, combined with the warm spices of cinnamon, cloves and ginger.
“I got started on this by accident so any amount of money helps. It takes one to two hours to make one batch (of jam) that is six to 10 jars,” she says.
Shannon has standardized her pricing for the jars making the half pint $6, with larger jars $10 and $11. A batch of jelly sweetened only with honey costs more.
“The sugar costs 30 cents a cup and the honey is $5 a cup so that’s quite a big difference in cost,” Shannon says. “Honey is sweeter than sugar and weighs more by the cup. People have asked for the honey as a sweetener and it is a premium product.”
“(That premium quality) is the difference in getting a cottage food and not store bought – every piece of fruit that I put in my jams passes through my hands at least twice,” Shannon says. “I check the cranberries and only the best cranberries go in. Commercial people are not passing those things through their hands.”
“I do small batches with a lot more care and attention in making it the best it can be. I take time picking out the fruit at the market,” she says. “If it doesn’t look good and not smell good I am not going to buy it. I smell all my fruit. When I get it home I go through the fruit again and if a piece of fruit does not pass muster, so to speak, then it gets tossed out.”
Making Honey to Make Money
Jan and Pat Allen move their bees around to different farms to pollinate many crops. A long list of fruits and vegetables, and especially almonds, will bear nothing without being pollinated by honeybees. Impressed with Mother Nature’s honeybees, Jan Allen says that every third bite of food anyone eats is thanks to the honeybee.
Beginning as hobbyists in upstate New York, the Allens had their bees on their property there. When they moved to Auburndale, they brought their bees along. Their business is called Pat’s Apiaries.
“We thought we could make some honey and do some of these farmers markets and put some extra gas in the tank,” Allen says. “Eight years we have been working with bees. Since we moved here in the spring of 2012 we started the Cottage Food Industry business.”
She says that her honeys vary in flavor as the nectar source is what determines how honey tastes. Think about it… things bloom in different months. The bees draw nectar from anything they can get to in their three- to five-mile range. These are called nectar flows.
“People think that bees just go make honey from nectar,” she says. They do, but if there is a lack of rain, the plants don’t produce as much nectar. Hence, there isn’t as much honey.” There is a science to it.
“Our business is exploding,” Allen says. “I have a unique product and I don’t sell it one time. People want it and people come back for more. I have developed quite a clientele. I hear all the time that people can’t find raw honey. Orange Blossom honey is the most popular.”
She also says there is no such thing as organic honey because no one can control where the bees forage and they are going to gather any nectar they can get in their three- to five-mile range.
And a bit of bee knowledge from Allen: All worker honey bees are females and they only live six weeks. When they emerge from their cell, they are house bees and clean cells to prepare them for the queen to lay another egg in. During the second two weeks they care for the larvae, and during the last two weeks of their lives they are foragers.
“They set their ‘GPS,’ their natural way of honing into the home hive, before they leave so they can return,” Allen says. “Each queen bee has her own smell or pheromone that she puts off. Bees have a sense of smell 30 times greater than a dog.”
The Allens sell their honey in one-, two- and three-pound bottles in prices of $9, $15 and $20, respectively. They also offer gallon-sized containers for sale because honey never spoils. Allen says many people have replaced sugar with honey. It’s great on toast, in coffee, tea and on oatmeal instead of brown sugar.
“I put it on my homemade bread instead of peanut butter. When cooking you use one-third less honey (than sugar) because it is sweeter,” she says. “Use two-thirds cup of honey when it calls for one cup sugar.”
Allen has a permanent honey booth at the Auburndale International Flea Market for the past three years and is a vendor at the ‘1st Saturday Market in South Lakeland’ at Resurrection Catholic Church, and also at the ‘2nd & 4th Saturday Markets in Downtown Winter Haven. Find them on Facebook as ‘Pat’s Apiaries.’
Shannon’s jams can often be found in person at those same Saturday markets. On Facebook her business page is called ‘That’s My Jam.’
For more info on the Florida Cottage Food Law visit FreshFromFlorida.com.