(Editor’s note: The village council approved adding the provisions of the Homemade Food Act to its zoning ordinance at the Thursday, March 17, meeting.)
BOSQUE FARMS — The village of Bosque Farms council unanimously approved the publication of amendments to its zoning ordinance which incorporates state legislation that allows people to cook and sell certain food items from their home.
“Last year, House Bill 177 (the Homemade Food Act) was enacted. A big point of the act is the state is allowing you to cook certain foods in your kitchen, in your house, and sell them. There are certain foods you can and cannot make and little licensing,” said Bosque Farms Mayor Russ Walkup. “You can sell at markets, online and out of your home. This affects our home occupation license greatly.
“This amendment would acknowledge that bill in our ordinance. I believe they were hardest hit in Albuquerque, which had a complete ban on home-baked goods.”
The Homemade Food Act, which applies to the majority of jurisdictions in the state, not just Bosque Farms, exempts foods and non-alcoholic beverages that are not time and temperature controlled to ensure safety and limit pathogenic microorganism growth, from the state’s Food Service Sanitation Act.
House Bill 177 allows people to sell homemade goods directly to consumers within the state at farmers markets, festivals, online, at roadside stands, at the seller’s home for pick-up or delivery, or through mail delivery.
The seller must complete a food handler certification course approved by the New Mexico Environment Department and maintain a sanitary kitchen, practice good hygiene, protect their kitchen from rodents and pests, and keep pets and children out of the kitchen while producing food.
Sellers must also label their products with contact information, ingredients and allergen notifications.
The act does allow a Class A county and a home rule municipality with an established, combined local health department to operate a mandatory or a voluntary permit system for the sale of homemade food items within that county and municipality, but neither Valencia County or the village meet those requirements.
“Again, this is the state regulating another type of business and not us,” Walkup said.
Village resident Lillie McNabb said this was a “dangerous health issue. How many cats and dogs are going to be around this food? I don’t care who it is. If you don’t check every day, they’ll be in there. These things will be sold to kids. We need to consider what is best for our community.”
Walkup said he understood McNabb’s concerns, saying the operations of the home kitchens was “all on the honor system.”
Sharon Eastman, a member of the Bosque Farms Planning and Zoning Commission, said the act was easy to read and understand, but the state wasn’t giving the village a choice.
“We have no regulatory authority over homemade foods. I agree, it will most likely be unsanitary but we have no choice,” Eastman said. “It’s similar to the cannabis bill. We have to have them so long as they meet the state criteria but that’s not our criteria. I’m not fond of the idea, but what can you do when the state says you have to?”
As a counterpoint to the concerns voiced, village Clerk/Administrator Gayle Jones noted she has a food service and food handlers’ permit. Jones and her husband own and operate a food truck in Mountainair.
“On the other side of the fence, I do hold a food service permit and we are inspected yearly. I also hold a food handler’s permit and that is not easy,” Jones said.
Walkup countered that the certifications can be done online.
According to the act, NMED may operate a voluntary permit system for the sale of homemade food items that sellers may apply for. The department is responsible for enforcing the Homemade Food Act, and may investigate any suspected food-borne illness or stop the sale of any suspected contaminated foods, provided it first issues a written warning.
Failure to comply with a written warning shall be a misdemeanor, and on conviction the violator shall be fined $100 per violation, according to HB 177.
With a motion to approve publication of the amendments to the village’s comprehensive zoning ordinance by Councilor Bryan Burks and a second by Councilor Ronita Wood, the publication was approved 4-0.
Consideration of the amendments will come before the council at its March 17 meeting.
Homemade Food Act (HB 177)
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.