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Home-based food producers stymied by regulations … for now

While some chefs and restaurateurs seem frustrated by Southern Nevada Health District regulations, the operators of less traditional mom-and-pop food endeavors face their own frustrations. Last November, Quail Hollow Farms in Overton made headlines when inspectors paid a visit to a Farm to Fork dinner, where they intended to serve a multicourse meal of meats they had butchered themselves and vegetables they had grown. According to the Las Vegas Sun, it was shut down because of a lack of labels, USDA certification and receipts — exactly the things you wouldn’t expect to find when dining on a farm. The SNHD reportedly responded by pouring bleach on the food.

That’s just the tip of the issue. Farmers can’t even take their own fruit, make jam in their kitchens and sell it to the public at a market without submitting to the same licensing and inspections regulations as large commercial food establishments.

These rules have lead to cries for so-called cottage food laws here in Nevada that protect small, home-based food producers. The first of these recently passed the Nevada Senate, and is on its way to the Assembly. SB206 would exempt certain small businesses doing less than $35,000 a year in sales from commercial regulations, provided they make their food in their home, and either sell it directly from their home, or directly to consumers at events like farmers’ markets. Its co-sponsor, state Sen. Aaron Ford, says it “allows entrepreneurship.”

Unfortunately for farms like Quail Hollow, it only applies to what Ford calls “semi-perishable” products such as nuts, candies, jams, vinegar, dry herbs, dried fruits, popcorn and baked goods that do not contain cream, uncooked egg, custard, meringue or cream-cheese frosting.

According to Ford, a more expansive bill has also been introduced in the Assembly that would go further, and protect events like the one at Quail Hollow. Many local chefs would welcome such legislation.

“I live downtown, and I have a huge garden in my front yard,” says Doug Taylor, the pastry chef for Mario Batali’s local restaurants, who also runs the Bet on the Farm market. “What this possibly does … is I would be able to, out of my yard, feed people food that I grow, and have them in as like a little restaurant in my own home on my one day off.

“It would open up these little boutique situations that happen in other cities,” he continues. “And I don’t think anyone cares so much when it happens in New York or happens in San Francisco. But here, this would be really cool.”

Unfortunately, for now at least, that’s just wishful thinking.