When Mary Ann Hytken needed surgery two years ago, she began asking herself bigger questions. "The surgery gave me time to think about what I really wanted to do," says Hytken, a former junior high English teacher. Faced with her own mortality, her mind turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: banana bread.
Or, more precisely, what banana bread evoked about her mother, Betty, a musician and piano teacher whose home-baked bread was savored after recitals. After a successful surgery, Hytken started baking. But health code regulations prohibited her from selling her many banana breads: chocolate chip, walnut, original, organic and gluten-free.
That changed earlier this year when Hytken became the first person in Humboldt County to receive a Cottage Food Operations permit under a new law that went into effect on Jan. 1. The law rips through decades of red tape that forbade sales of non-refrigerated homemade goods. The list of items that people can now make at home and sell to the public includes jams, jellies, granola, trail mix, chocolate-covered nuts, popcorn, vinegar, mustard, roasted coffee and any baked goods that do not contain cream, custard or meat fillings.
By the way, before anyone thinks that they can start selling "special" homemade brownies, state law does not consider marijuana edibles to be food, but rather medical delivery devices.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Silver Lake, wrote the home food business law to help people start small businesses without the expense of renting a commercial kitchen or opening a storefront. His inspiration, he says in a YouTube video, came when he learned that health officials had shut down a backyard brick-oven bread business that was lauded in the Los Angeles Times. The new law allows entrepreneurs armed with a home oven to sell "foods that do not support the rapid growth of bacteria that would make people sick when held outside of refrigeration temperatures," according to the California Department of Public Health's website.
So far, Humboldt County's Department of Health and Human Services has received 13 cottage food applications, and 10 have been approved, according to Heather Shelton, media contact for the department. Applicants must attend a food safety class and pass a state exam, and permit holders have to undergo an annual kitchen inspection at their own expense. Beyond that, product labels must comply with federal law and include the words "Made in a Home Kitchen."
Humboldt residents pay $63 for a Class A permit, which allows sales directly to the public, and $189 for a Class B permit, which allows direct sales and sales through retailers. Before the law passed, Roger L. Smith, co-owner of Norton Creek Farm in McKinleyville, would have had to rent a commercial kitchen to prepare the dried fruits and veggies he now sells next to his pesticide-free produce at the Arcata Farmers Market. "That would be cost prohibitive," he says.
But will the new law hurt the city-run Foodworks Culinary Center in Arcata, where start-up food manufacturers can rent a commercial kitchen for three hours minimum at $16 an hour?
Larry Oetker, Arcata's director of community development, said he doesn't think so because rental demand is still high. Oetker's deputy director, David Loya, says the new law is a great way for small business owners to "test the water before making a huge investment." Besides, Loya says, any successful home business will quickly outgrow its confines and seek commercial-sized kitchens to handle larger quantities. Oetker sees the change as a good thing either way, since Foodworks' goal is to help small businesses grow into local manufacturers. Some of the center's successes include chocolate maker Drakes Glen, Bless My Soul Café and Naan of the Above.
Still, Oetker does worry that home kitchens lack the grease traps of their commercial counterparts. "That's a lot of extra grease going down the drains which could lead to [city] pipes getting clogged," he says, and that makes extracting oils from the city's wastewater system more difficult. "It tends to raise to the surface and clump together," he says, adding that grease could eventually end up in the marsh.
However, given its small scale, the typical home food business is not likely to create large amounts of grease, says Kevin Metcalfe, supervisor of the consumer protection program for Humboldt County's Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Environmental Health. In a written statement, Metcalfe says, "Where there may be concerns, the operator can take simple measures such as recycling oils."
For now, keep an eye out for some of Humboldt County's best-kept family recipes at the Kneeland Glen Farm Stand in Freshwater, and let's keep our fingers crossed that finding homemade goodies at the corner store will soon be as easy as finding your favorite microbrew.
Arcata Bay Llamas (Class A), Sherria Tyler, 822-8661. Plum jam and lavender and chamomile tea.
The Banana Bread Cottage* (Class A), Mary Ann Hytken, 443-5021. Banana breads.
Carlene and Anthony P. Coglaiti (Class B), 668-5550. Specialty breads, including bread bowls for Adel's in Eureka and naan for Bollywood Indian Cuisine.
Ewe So Dirty Products (Class A), Jamie Cohoon, 764-2161, www.ewesodirty.com. Lanolin products from Cohoon's sheep, including lip balm, soap, massage oil and lotion.
Granny Be Jammin* (Class A), Cindi Hebard, 445-8362. Local fruit jams and jellies, raspberry bread and pies.
Honey Apple Farms (Class A), Rochelle Honig, 496-9958. Plum, strawberry and strawberry-rhubarb jams and apple butter.
Humboldt Hens (Class A), Autumn Glock, 672-2576. Jams, jellies, preserves, cakes, cookies, breads, marshmallows, candies and lozenges.
A Little Sugar Rush* (Class A), Jennifer Troeger, 499-6586, A.Little.Sugar.Rush@gmail.com. Specialty cupcakes (strawberry, mimosa), pies and breads for small gatherings.
Norton Creek Farm (Class A), Roger L. Smith, 839-0786, firstname.lastname@example.org. Dried fruits and vegetables.
The Old Farmhouse Bakery (Class A), Charlou Weaver, 768-2057. Breads (white, wheat and flax) and cookies (chocolate chip, peanut butter and coconut). Closed for the season.
Trident Lightning Farms (Class A), Danielle Newman, 633-5467. Plum, blackberry and peach jam and lemon marmalade.
*Available at the Kneeland Glen Farm Stand (5851 Myrtle Ave., Eureka).