My grandma made amazing cookies. They weren’t just the best on the Hi-Line. They were the best in Montana. I’m sure those are fighting words to anyone lucky enough to grow up with doting grandparents. However, if she were still here to bake them today, I could prove it thanks to a new law. As of Oct. 1, 2015, my grandma could have sold her baked goods to the public.

With bipartisan support, House Bill 478 passed the Montana Legislature easily and provides a new tool for food entrepreneurs by implementing cottage food. As of Oct. 1, Montanans will be able to prepare non-hazardous food products in home kitchens and sell them directly to consumers, including at farmers markets, fairs, concerts and other community events. Small producers will have a straightforward process under HB478, rather than what has been confusing and piecemeal regulations scattered throughout Montana Code. Cottage food won’t be complicated. Instead, it will be a tool available to everyone.

HB478 allows small producers to make cottage food products such as jams, jellies, dried fruit, baked goods and dry mixes. It requires cottage food producers to 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 new law allows local producers to test the appeal of their products before deciding if it makes sense to try and launch a commercial enterprise. As one HB478 supporter said, “Cottage food is the grassroots of entrepreneurism.” Another supporter noted that the bill provides an opportunity for an additional income stream for farmers. They can now use their raw products and add value to them by making and selling a cottage food.

With lots of hard work and cooperation, HB478 made it through the Montana Legislature with little opposition. It passed the House by an 87-12 vote and the Senate by a 46-4 vote. Gov. Steve Bullock signed it into law. Lawmakers appreciated that producers, county health inspectors and state agencies came together in drafting the legislation. With its passage, Montana became one of about 30 states to have a cottage food law.

To learn more about cottage food and HB478, please visit the website for the Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition at growmontana.ncat.org. Grow Montana is a broad-based coalition promoting policies that support sustainable Montana-owned food production, processing and distribution to improve all Montanans’ access to healthy foods. The coalition was a major driving force behind HB478.

There are still some details to be worked out between now and Oct. 1. Once finalized, we hope to see many community members making and selling cottage food. The new law makes it easier for local food producers to enter the market and sell their goods, and it also allows community members more access to locally produced items. We look forward to seeing how food entrepreneurs put this new tool to work for the benefit of Montana communities. 

Travis McAdam works for the Butte-based National Center for Appropriate Technology and serves as the coordinator for the Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition. The following organizations comprise Grow Montana’s steering committee: Alternative Energy Resources Organization (Helena), Community Food and Agriculture Coalition (Missoula), Lake County Community Development Corporation (Ronan), Montana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Bozeman), Montana Farmers Union (Great Falls), Montana Office of Public Instruction (Helena), National Center for Appropriate Technology (Butte) and Northern Plains Resource Council (Billings).

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