University of Maryland Extension’s newly optimized course teaches the intricacies of the small food business, including new state regulations
If you’ve considered turning your farm’s tomatoes or fruit into a canned product, or turning your grandmother’s favorite bread recipe into a small business idea, University of Maryland Extension has a newly updated virtual workshop developed to teach the intricacies of starting a food business under Maryland’s on-farm home processing license and cottage foods.
The Maryland Food Ventures workshop (formerly known as Food For Profit) is currently offered in a virtual format (in-person dates forthcoming), and is free for a limited time only (till Mid-September 2022). The newly designed course was created in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Health, and provides foundational information for farmers (small farms and ranchers, specialty crop producers and value-added producers) under the On-Farm Home Processing License, and home cooks and bakers interested in selling their homemade products to the public, under the Cottage Food Business. The self-paced workshop will help both groups determine if their homemade jam, or other value-added product, will make a sustainable business idea.
“There’s some important things that have been updated in terms of Maryland regulations,” said Dr. Shauna Henley, senior agent in the Family and Consumer Sciences program, and current lead on the U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) grant to re-examine, optimize, and improve the current modules for both online and in-person classes. “In October of 2019, cottage foods were allowed to be sold in certain retail establishments, and this October (2022), the cap on sales for cottage foods is rising to $50,000 from $25,000 per year. These are significant changes for these small businesses, although not for on-farm home processing.”
In addition to the increase in the yearly cap on sales for cottage foods, the U.S. will also include sesame as the ninth major food allergen that will need to be declared, like tree nuts (e.g. almonds) or the other eight major food allergens. “This program gives us the platform to reiterate the regulations, as well as bring awareness to the new food allergen,” Henley said.
Collaborating with Shannon Dill, principal agriculture and food systems agent (Talbot county), and Neith Little, agriculture and food systems agent (Baltimore City), to create the new curriculum, the program not only highlights state regulations, but also tackles the business development side of starting a cottage food or on-farm home processing business from your home or farm kitchen.
“It’s intended to be a beginning platform to introduce people to all of these moving pieces,” said Henley. “We really want people to think of the risks as it applies to food safety, costs, business planning, and labeling – even that can be more than people expect.”
While starting an on-farm or cottage food business comes with challenges and risks, the Maryland Food Ventures workshop provides an introduction designed to help people develop their idea into a sustainable business plan. The workshop also addresses those who have been running an on-farm or cottage food business and are ready to take the next step.
“You have to be invested if it’s something you want to pursue,” Henley said. “An on-farm or cottage food business can give you a taste of whether your idea can be successful on a larger scale in the future.”
The free introductory period to access the workshops only lasts for a limited time, after which, the course registration is $15. Learn more and register at https://umeagfs.teachable.com/p/maryland-food-ventures-cottage-onfarm. For more food safety resources from farm-to-table visit https://extension.umd.edu/resource/food-safety-farm-table-resources-marylanders.