Pop-up produce stands may be coming soon to a yard near you. On Monday, the Denver City Council voted 9-1 to allow home retail sales of fresh produce and cottage foods grown by the seller on residential property. The Colorado Cottage Foods Act of 2012 made this possible, without the food licensing required for larger businesses.
Robin Kniech, Denver councilwoman at large, sponsored the ordinance that modifies existing zoning regulations to allow the sales.
Shannon Spurlock, community initiatives coordinator at Denver Urban Gardens, and a founding member of the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council that recommended this change, says it’s the result of grass-roots support and partnerships with several organizations and individuals, including councilwoman Kniech.
Spurlock says DSFPC reached out to Denver residents for their thoughts on the idea. “Our feedback from people was basically that, ‘Yes, this is right on. We really like what you’re working on. How do we get involved?'” she says.
Ruby Hill resident, Sharona Thompson, echoes that support. “I think this is great!” Thompson says. “I was surprised that it wasn’t legal.”
Thompson is one of three leaders at the Ruby Hill DUG community garden and has a certificate in permaculture design. Her garden is overflowing with flowers, fruits and vegetables. Scents of herbs mingle with the breeze to create a sense of tranquility.
Denverites can sell freshly-cut herbs as produce and dried herbs under the cottage foods provision, but sorry, this doesn’t include marijuana.
Not to worry, there are many potential advantages in neighborhood produce stands.
They may partially fix the food desert problem in some Denver neighborhoods. For those with vehicles, driving a couple miles to a grocery store isn’t a big deal. But not all residents have access to a vehicle, and not all can afford healthy produce.
Michelle Schoen, president of the Westwood Residents Association, says this could have a big impact in areas like Westwood where grocery stores are located on the perimeter of the neighborhood, and many live below the poverty level.
Schoen says neither she nor her husband is able to drive, due to medical conditions. “We have no choice but to take public transportation and it can be a nightmare,” Schoen says. “You end up buying less and having to go more often.”
Each trip to the grocery store costs more money, she says, because they have to pay for bus fare and buy in small enough quantities to carry on the bus.
Produce sales may also provide a meaningful boost to some residents’ income.
Eric Kornacki says a 2012 survey by Revision International showed that many of the families it serves live on less than $16,000 annually, for a family of four. “Even $20 in sales can make a difference,” Kornacki says. But he is concerned that the required $20 permit fee may be a barrier for some folks.
Kornacki is the executive director and co-founder of Revision International, a nonprofit that among other things, teaches low-income families in southwest Denver how to grow food at home. He’s also a member of the DSFPC.
Spurlock says it won’t just help economic development, but will foster stronger neighbor to neighbor connections, and stronger communities.
Thompson agrees, and says it can be a great way to get to know your neighbors.
“Plants bring people together,” she says. And, it could be an opportunity to start conversations about environmentally friendly practices, such as “Bee Safe Neighborhoods,” which she supports.
Spurlock says the council discussed concerns that included increased traffic and bringing business into residential neighborhoods, but says, it’s so hyper-local that people just aren’t going to drive from one side of town to the other for a yard stand. “I don’t think there’s a downside,” she says.
However, Kornacki says it’s important for sellers to understand regulations.
“Ownership of the product is critical,” he says. “You can’t go buy food from somebody else and then turn around and sell it at your stand. Then you’d be considered a reseller or wholesaler, and that’s prohibited.”
There are some other regulations, including a food safety class required for those who plan to sell cottage products. Spurlock says a class will be offered in Denver this September; you can learn more about it at Denver Urban Gardens’ Facebook page.
Those who want to sell from their homes can apply for the $20 zoning permit, starting July 18, and no class is required to sell fresh produce.
Schoen, who plans to sell this year, says it’s a concept whose time has come. “The idea that we can do a farmer’s market in our front yard from produce that we grew in our back yard,” says Schoen, “just kind of makes sense to me.”
Who knows where this may lead? Thompson says she can envision hyper-local farm stand maps and neighborhood produce stand tours. Look out First Friday.
And, this may be only the beginning.
Spurlock says DSFPC is looking at ways to support a broad range of fresh food retail outlets and placing EBT stations at farmers’ markets to give people using food stamps better access to local foods.
Denver fresh produce and cottage foods home occupation guide
(copy and paste link)
Denver Urban Gardens’ Facebook page
(information on food safety class)