With supporters calling it “manna from heaven” and “food freedom,” the Montana Legislature recently passed legislation implementing cottage food in Montana and streamlining regulations related to mobile and temporary food vendors. House Bill 478 creates an avenue for food entrepreneurs to test the market for their products, while also providing more consistent enforcement of food regulation through clear definitions. The bill easily passed the Montana Legislature and Governor Steve Bullock signed it into law in mid-April. Montana becomes one of about 30 states to have a cottage food law.
HB 478 allows small producers to make non-hazardous food products in home kitchens and sell them directly to consumers, including at farmers markets, fairs, and other community events. Cottage food products include items like jams, jellies, dried fruit, baked goods, and dry mixes used for making pancakes and other items. These products require minimum regulation from a food-safety perspective, which is provided by HB 478. Under the new law, cottage food producers will register with their local health departments and pay a fee; however, their operations will not require an inspection unless a problem is reported. The law also includes instructions on how cottage food must be labeled.
The Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition, which is housed at and coordinated by NCAT, was the driving force behind HB 478. Grow Montana prioritized the need for a cottage food law to truly expand economic opportunities for home-based producers. It has also looked for ways to streamline and improve Montana’s patchwork of confusing and complicated food-safety rules, which HB 478 also addresses. Many portions of HB 478 resulted from recommendations made by the Departments of Agriculture, Livestock, and Public Health and Human Services as a result of a 2013-2014 study. To read more about this study, please see this article.
Grow Montana helped get supportive testimony presented to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees from small local producers, including Becky’s Berries (Absarokee), Grandma Hoot Products (Florence), Great Ape Crepes (Helena), Lifeline Creamery and Farm Store (Victor), and Wholesome Foods Farm (Bridger). Many of them said a cottage food law would have made starting their businesses easier, and they all appreciated HB 478’s efforts to make regulations consistent from county to county. “We need this bill,” said Joyce Previte of Grandma Hoot Products. “We [producers] need consistency.”
Alternative Energy Resource Organization (AERO), a member of Grow Montana’s steering committee, told lawmakers the bill provided a value-added process for farmers that could create additional income through cottage food. The clear guidelines created by HB 478, AERO explained, allow producers to understand what they can and can’t do. The potential for economic development was a common theme. Jan Tusick, a steering committee member, told lawmakers, “Cottage food businesses are grassroots food entrepreneurs that, under this act, have the opportunity to explore and develop markets for their food products.”
HB 478 received overwhelming support while making its way through the Montana Legislature. It passed its committee hearings before the House and Senate Agriculture Committees by votes of 21-1 and 10-0. The wide margins of support continued on the House and Senate floors, where HB 478 passed with votes of 87-12 and 46-4. During the legislative process, multiple lawmakers described the bill as promoting “food freedom” and thanked its sponsor, Rep. Kathleen Williams, for carrying such an important piece of legislation. Lawmakers also commented how much they enjoyed the collaborative nature of HB 478, which had the support of producers, county regulators, and state agencies. No one testified in opposition during the committee hearings on the bill.
Throughout HB 478’s journey, lawmakers mentioned they received many letters and calls asking them to support the bill. Grow Montana thanks all the community members from around the state that contacted their lawmakers in support of the legislation. That support was instrumental is getting HB 478 passed into law!