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Local Food Producers Share Their Stories

Local food producers share stories
By Tanya Ishikawa, The Watch newspaper. Originally published March 5, 2015

Louise Meier used to lug her fruit, honey and jarring supplies from her house in Nucla to a commercial kitchen several miles down the highway in Norwood to produce her popular jams, jellies and honey. She had to pre-schedule her hours at the kitchen, which often meant working at inconvenient times and always meant limiting how long she could spend in production. Following retail food operator regulations was a bit overwhelming for an individual producer like Meier.

Though the laws were made to ensure food safety and protect public health, she said in her case they sometimes did the opposite. Meier already practiced safe handling and processing procedures in her very clean home kitchen, where her own standards were higher than some commercial kitchens — but the necessity of transporting her jars back home immediately after production meant the possibility of lids coming unsealed during the loading or unloading. Each unsealed jar lid could lead to product contamination, making each of those jars unsellable.

The Cottage Foods Act, which became law in Colorado on March 15, 2012, made small production of processed foods easier for Meier and other small-batch food vendors who sell their wares at local farmers markets. Now, two new pieces of legislation have been introduced that would expand the kinds of foods allowed under the Cottage Foods Act as well as the amount of money producers can make. But some producers and legislators worry the regulations, while aimed at public safety, are more applicable to large-scale operations and could be burdensome for small producers such as Meier.

The Cottage Foods Act opened the door for these small businesses to sell their products legally without the more stringent and expensive processes required of retail food operations. The act also placed several restrictions on producers, mostly to help prevent food-borne illnesses and ensure consumers were informed of the food’s less-regulated origins.

“In most rural areas, we don’t have a whole lot of access to commercial kitchens, yet that’s where most of the growers are,” explained Meier, who makes most of her products with the fruit grown in her orchard and hoop-house gardens. “I didn’t produce and sell nearly as much as I do now under the Cottage Foods Act. I can produce more now because of the ease of doing it in my kitchen.”

She and her husband, Terry Boekhout, began their business by selling organically grown vegetables, fruit and honey under their Rockfield Place brand, named after their property’s “rocky soil overlooking the San Miguel River” on “hills of sagebrush, cactus and rock.” Bees were an integral part of their farm ecosystem, so they decided to sell honey; when they had excess or aging fruit, they made jellies and jams.