State House of Representatives Votes to Pass Texas Cottage Foods Bill

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When HB 1139 -- also known as the Bake Sale Bill -- was signed into law in June 2011 by Governor Rick Perry, it set a precedent in Texas for so-called Cottage Food Bills that allow small, independent bakers and other culinary artisans to make and sell food from their homes.

Former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh profiled the "pirate bakers," canners and tamale-makers who fought to have greater freedoms in selling their goods in his feature "Come and Bake It" in February 2011 -- just a few short months before the bill was finally passed.

"Bake sales and homemade tamales are only two of a long list of beloved Texas food traditions that health authorities are stamping out," Walsh wrote of the dark days before the State of Texas saw the light.

"Your tax dollars are also helping eradicate the dewberry jam, mayhaw and muscadine jellies, and other preserves that were once sold at farm stands," Walsh continued. "To the disappointment of many budding local food entrepreneurs, homemade food products may not be sold at farmers' markets either."

Not only has that changed, now the state is allowing even more goods to be brought to farmers markets -- and it should be easier now, too.

On Monday, May 6, the Texas House of Representatives voted to pass HB 970, one of another recent Cottage Food bills, this one sponsored by Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin).

Expanding on the last Cottage Foods bill to pass, HB 970 allows food producers to make and sell a huge list of "non-potentially hazardous foods" that includes baked goods, jams and jellies, dried herbs, dried fruits and vegetables, granolas, dry mixes, pickles, and coffee/tea mixes. It also expands on the previous bill that allowed sales from home, by allowing the producers to sell their goodies at locations such as farmers markets and community events.

Monday, the House also voted in favor of a second food bill, HB 1392, the DSHS Better Communications Act, which encourages -- as the name would imply -- better communication on the part of the Texas Department of State Health Services with small farmers, ranchers and food producers.

A third local foods bill, HB 1382 was scheduled for a House vote yesterday, and would establish clear, reasonable standards for sampling at farmers' markets and farm stands, replacing the current overly burdensome and confusing regulations. The bill, by Representative David Simpson (R-Longview), also clarifies the requirements for cooking demonstrations and exempts educational demonstrations from permit fees.

If you've been thinking of building your jalapeño jelly-making hobby into an empire, there's never been a better time to start.

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