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Fresh dish from the Legislature: Homemade and legal!

For some, homemade food is one of life’s small pleasures – like that moment when you bite into a gooey chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven. For others, making homemade food is a hobby, a way of life and even a career.

Unless, however, you live in New Mexico. New Mexico’s laws have made it very difficult to sell homemade food, which hurts those who want to use their talents in the kitchen to support their families and their farms. Thankfully, that is about to change. The governor signed the Homemade Food Act on Wednesday. The new law will go into effect in July.

Although 49 states allow the sale of foods made in a home kitchen, New Mexico has had one of the strictest laws in the country. It is illegal to even sell homemade cookies to your neighbor. Instead, home bakers can sell only at farmers’ markets. And before a home baker can sell her cookies at the market, she needs to get a permit from the state that requires a stack of paperwork and can require thousands of dollars in kitchen upgrades. Making matters worse, Albuquerque bans the sale of homemade foods completely – one of the only cities in the nation to do so.

Amy Gants found out about New Mexico’s law the hard way. When Amy lived in North Dakota, she was able to support her family by baking her delicious sourdough bread in her home kitchen and delivering it to her neighbors and community. But when Amy moved to Sierra County to care for her elderly mother-in-law last year, she was shocked to learn her little business became illegal the moment she crossed state lines. Now, Amy is struggling to pay her bills.

Amy is one of thousands of people who will benefit from HB 177, or the Homemade Food Act. The act will help New Mexicans support themselves, their families and farms by making it easier for people to sell foods made in their home kitchen – like birthday cakes, jams, dried herbs and artisanal coffee beans. This legislation passed the Legislature with bipartisan and near unanimous support.

The act makes three changes that make a big difference. First, it allows people to sell homemade foods directly to consumers, including out of their home, online and through the mail. Next, it eliminates the burdensome permit requirement that is currently required by the state Environmental Department. Finally, it legalizes sales in Albuquerque. All together, these changes will be life-changing for budding food entrepreneurs.

The act makes these reforms while still protecting safety. It allows the sale of only shelf-stable foods that do not require refrigeration. These homemade foods are legally sold in 49 states and reports of food-borne illness are almost nonexistent. Yet the act goes one step further than many states by requiring sellers to take a one-day online food safety course and abide by safety standards.

These reforms will benefit all New Mexicans, not just home cooks and bakers. New Mexicans want to buy local food from their community. Buying local food gives customers access to fresh food from people they know and trust. It will also give a much-needed boost to the economy. For example, after Minnesota eased its restrictions on selling homemade foods in 2015 and allowed more sales, 3,000 new homemade food businesses opened. Texas saw a similar development after it expanded its homemade food laws.

Expanding the law also opens the door to economic opportunities for people who need it most. Studies show that lower-income women living in rural areas are most likely to benefit from these laws. The bill also helps chefs, restaurant workers and others start home businesses during the pandemic while they are out of work or have had their hours cut back. Also benefiting are farmers, stay-at-home parents and retirees – all of whom want or need the flexibility to work from home.

As our state finally starts to turn the corner with the pandemic and begins to rebuild our economy, we need to make it easier for people to support themselves and their families. And thanks to our Legislature and Governor Lujan Grisham, thousands more will be able to do so.

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