By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

OLYMPIA -- Felicia Hill first came to the state Capitol to urge legislators to permit home cooks to sell products made in their own kitchens.

When she came to Olympia on July 23, it was to receive the first state-issued permit.

In an ceremony at the Natural Resources Building, WSDA Director Dan Newhouse presented Permit No. 00001 to the self-described "stay-at-home mom" from Vancouver.

In the process of pursuing her dream, Hill became the leader of the cottage food movement in the state. Her Facebook page -- Washington State Cottage Food -- has nearly 700 followers.

In a conversation with Kirk Robinson, assistant director for WSDA's Food Safety and Consumer Services Division, Hill said, "I told him, when I started this it was to help myself. But as I realized how many people I'm reaching, it's quite empowering."

Hill's cake design business, FH Cakes, had been limited by state laws requiring that food prepared for sale must be processed in a commercial kitchen. She testified before legislative committees that small home business operators should be able to use their kitchens.

"I'm forced to put my children in daycare," she told them. "(If SB5748 is enacted) I will be able to provide an income for my family and care for my two children."

She has two sons, ages 4 and 6, one of whom is allergic to peanuts, which is what got her into specialty cooking to begin with.

Hill's cake recipes, in 12 different flavors, include peanut-free, gluten-free and dairy-free options. Each separate recipe had to be approved by state inspectors.

"I made the first special cake for a young man on his 17th birthday," she said. "It was a skateboard, designed to resemble his own skateboard."

The required home inspection "went really quick," she said. "They used me as a guinea pig, and it gave them the opportunity to see what works and didn't."

The Facebook connection is just a starting place, she said. "My intent is to let this run for one full calendar year. I'll start rallying supporters and present hard evidence to legislators" about how much the cottage cooks could have made with more food products approved and a higher limit on gross sales.

That limit is now $15,000 a year. The approved product list includes breads, cakes, cookies, granola, nuts, jams and jellies and other low-risk products.

It took almost exactly one year to put the legislation into action, WSDA public information officer Mike Louisell said. The Cottage Food Act, modeled after a Michigan law, went into effect July 22, 2011, but before the agency could implement the legislation, it had to write the rules.

Louisell said 17 have applied for permits, and "We've heard interest expressed by about 250."

WSDA will inspect the kitchens annually. Operations must meet sanitary standards, and operators must have a food worker card from the local health department.

WSDA estimates the cost of meeting all requirements should range from $230 to $290 a year.

Online

http://agr.wa.gov/FoodAnimal/CottageFoodOperation/

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