Gatto Proposes “California Homemade Food Act”


The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), the Los Angeles Bread Bakers (LABB), and Proyecto Jardin are pleased to announce that Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D—Los Angeles) has introduced the California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616, in the California State Assembly.

The Act would allow for the sale of certain homemade, non-potentially hazardous foods, and it would change California law to mirror recent changes in the laws of 31 other states (and counting). Changes in California’s laws are needed because outdated statutes and local ordinances strictly prohibit everyone from home-based, artisanal bread bakers to small-scale, dried-fruit vendors from selling their products to their communities.

Passing a “cottage food law,” on the other hand, would offer neighborhood-based economic opportunities to micro-entrepreneurs for whom shelling out substantial sums to use a commercial kitchen is often impossible. “Helping these small, neighborhood businesses be free from stifling red tape is the right thing to do, particularly during these tough times,” Gatto commented. If the Act passes, homemade foods available for sale within the state would include breads and other baked goods, granola and other dry cereal, popcorn, nut mixes, chocolate-covered non-perishables, roasted coffee, dry baking mixes, herb blends, dried tea, honey, dried fruits, jams and jellies, and candy.

SELC, LABB, and Proyecto Jardin had been working on these issues for quite some time. The genesis of this specific bill came when Assemblyman Gatto read an article in the newspaper about the difficulties experienced by baker Mark Stambler, a constituent of Gatto’s. He called Stambler out of the blue and offered to help. SELC, LABB, and Proyecto Jardin teamed up with Gatto to draft this legislation after noting the value to local food systems and local economies that cottage food laws brought to other parts of the country.

SELC formed two and a half years ago to address some of the legal barriers to more sustainable and localized economies. SELC works to foster micro-enterprise, small-scale production, local ownership of business and local investing. Janelle Orsi, Executive Director of SELC (who is also an attorney in private practice), commented on her experience with some of her clients: “Starting a small food business is a solution that many refugees of the economic crisis turn to, and it’s a good alternative, because many people are capable of making food. Because of the requirement of a certified commercial kitchen space, people have to first raise a large sum of money to get launched. Many new food businesses never get off the ground because they don’t have the connections, resources, and clout to get that funding.”

Mark Stambler, co-founder of LABB and a serious bread baker, remarked, “After I ran afoul of the Los Angeles Department of Environmental Health last June for selling my homemade bread at local shops, I made a commitment to work with the department to see if there was a legitimate way for a small-scale bread baker such as myself to start a micro-enterprise without going deeply into debt. This legislation should do the trick. It’s not every day that a member of the Legislature calls you after reading about your problems. I was surprised to receive the call from Assemblyman Gatto, but I am so pleased that he has agreed to take the lead on passing legislation that will address this issue in California.”

Irene Peña, Executive Director of Proyecto Jardin, a food justice advocacy organization based in Boyle Heights, commented, “Low-income communities of color throughout California, like my neighborhood in East Los Angeles and Coachella where I was born, have limited access to fresh, affordable, healthy food. People who live in these ‘food deserts’ are inundated by heavily processed, high-calorie fast foods that undermine families’ efforts to make healthy choices to prevent chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.” Peña and other food justice advocates believe a cottage food law is one antidote to the ubiquitous presence of junk food and “would increase access to good quality food in underserved communities by empowering local residents to prepare fresh and healthy, culturally relevant foods that typically do not contain harmful chemical additives and preservatives.”

Since initiating an online petition in support of such a law last year, the coalition has engaged over 2,000 eager supporters and expects to see a substantial rise in those figures precipitated by the introduction of the California Homemade Food Act.

    Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center