Islander inspires law to sell homemade goods

Senator Phil Rockefeller, members of his family, Governor Christine Gregoire and islander Carolyn Goodwin at the signing of the
Senator Phil Rockefeller, members of his family, Governor Christine Gregoire and islander Carolyn Goodwin at the signing of the 'cottage food bill.'
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

A legislative bill created to help small producers bring their goods to market gets a hand-made touch from an islander who inspired the measure and spurred a local legislator into action.

“It was an incredible education and fulfilling chance to get to watch democracy at work,” said Carolyn Goodwin, founder of the island non-profit Sound Food. “I was amazed by how quickly we worked together to make this happen.”

Goodwin's work will make it easier for small producers to sell goods made in their own kitchens.

The “Cottage Food Bill,” Senate Bill 5748, sponsored by Sen. Phil Rockefeller and initiated by a letter from Goodwin, was signed into law by Gov. Christine Gregoire last week after passing both houses with near unanimous support. The bill will allow small producers of low-risk goods such as jams, jellies and breads to sell products made from their own kitchens.

Goodwin wrote to both Rockefeller and Rep. Christine Rolfes in late January after coming across a new bill in Michigan that she saw as a potential boon for Washington producers.

Prior law required that all processed food sold to the public be produced in a certified commercial kitchen. A producer would either have to build their own or rent, lease or borrow a commercial kitchen. With no such facility on the island, renting and transporting to Poulsbo or Bremerton becomes cost prohibitive for a small entrepreneur.

A couple weeks after Goodwin sent her email, Rockefeller’s legislative aide Faith Homan called to say that she was working on a measure sponsored by the senator.

Goodwin worked with Homan to track down similar legislation in other states and personally wrote letters to some 97 representatives in the house.

Rockefeller said Goodwin's own initiative to  circulate information within her network via Twitter and other outlets helped attract other small producers around the state who could do their part in contacting their local legislators to garner support.

“My thanks to Carolyn because this is great illustration of how a local constituent can be active in the legislative process,” said Rockefeller. “She came forward with a problem and I was happy to go to work at it. We had a great time working together and figuring out a way to find a solution.”

Rockefeller said that these kinds of bills can often take two years to pass, but within three weeks of the initial email a bill was drafted and prepared for a vote. The entire process from draft to look took just three months. Rockefeller teamed up with Rolfes when the bill ran into some complications in the House of Representatives. Together they revised the bill until it worked for both legislative bodies.

During the bill drafting process, Goodwin said they worked hard to make sure there were enough public safeguards built in. Anyone who gets the cottage food permit has to have their kitchen inspected, after which anyone can obtain a license to sell goods. An annual inspection is required to renew the license.

The cost for the cottage food permit includes $125 for an inspection, $30 for a processing fee and $75 for a public health review. The goods need to be labeled with ingredients and a disclosure identifying that the product was made in a home kitchen and sold directly from the producer to the customer - not through a retail outlet.

Any kind of baked, homemade goods that don’t require refrigeration or perishable ingredients can be sold.

“Hopefully this bill will help to jump-start a lot of entrepreneurial small businesses in the state,” said Goodwin. “One of the real benefits is that people can come up with a product and at least test the market place without the big financial investment of a commercial kitchen.”

Carol Rolph, a farmer at Paulson Farms who has a stand at the Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, said she didn’t believe it at first when she heard about the bill.

“I am a big canner so being able to promote and sell my canned goods would be a great addition for our farm products,” said Rolph. “Certified kitchens are hard to come by on the island at a reasonable price or at the hours you might want to use them. Being able to use your own kitchen and process your own grownproduce is very exciting.”

Rolph said she cans pickles, relishes, sauces, jams and vinegars for family and friends, and is excited about the opportunity to sell to others.

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