Small businesses look at advantages of Wyo Food Freedom Act after legislative sessionWritten by Melissa Hemken
Lander – In 2015, the Wyoming Legislature passed the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, House Bill 56. The act allows for the sale and consumption of homemade foods.
Wind River Farm to Plate, an organization promoting locally grown foods and direct relationships with food producers, hosted a public meeting about the Food Freedom Act on May 21 at The Bake Shop in Lander.
Nearly 40 farmers, farmers’ market coordinators and local food advocates from Lander, Riverton and Pavillion areas attended the meeting. The main presenter on the benefits of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act was Steve Doyle, a Riverton farmer.
“What makes it so remarkable is that Wyoming had some of the most restrictive food laws in the nation,” Doyle said. “Prior to 1967, there was no state law that regulated sales between a farmer and a customer. In the last 45 years, it has gotten to the point where a farmer, if he wants to cut a leaf of lettuce to make a salad and sell it, must have a certified, inspected commercial kitchen.
“Anyone could sell me their house, car or pit bull, but in return I could not sell a homemade pickle made on my farm – unless I was inspected, certified and licensed to do so by the state. That is the way laws are in the whole country with now the exception of Wyoming.”
With the act, a producer can sell their food on their farm, ranch, farmers’ market, office or any location agreed to between the producer and the informed end consumer – a person who is the last to purchase any product, who does not resell the product and who has been informed that the product is not licensed, regulated or inspected.
In a nutshell
“Here’s what the Food Freedom Act says in a nutshell,” Doyle explained. “The purpose of this bill is to enhance the state’s agricultural economy and provide citizens access to healthy food from known sources. Here’s the thing, this law allows a farmer to add value to his produce and sell it directly to an informed end consumer.”
“In Wyoming, we are now free to turn cabbage into kraut, cucumber into pickles, chicken into chicken potpie and milk into cheese without having to have any food inspected. We now have, as a farmer, nearly the same rights as any other citizen,” he continued.
The Food Freedom Act categorizes homemade food as produce and home-processed foods that are processed without meat or wild game, except for poultry and poultry products. These can be sold as long as the producer stays under the USDA poultry exemption of less than 1,000 birds.
It also allows for the sale of raw milk and products made from raw milk.
Sale of ungraded eggs was, and remains, legal, and producers still have to meet the requirements of the Wyoming Food Rule.
Eggs must be clean and refrigerated. If desired, clean cartons in good condition may be reused if all labeling from original use is marked out and replaced with the name and address of the producer, a packaging date and denoted with “ungraded” and “keep refrigerated.”
“As farmers, we are probably ancient,” Doyle continued. “I’m the exception, a pup in agriculture. One-third of farmers nation-wide are north of 65 years of age. We have to ask ourselves, what are these guys doing driving around a tractor? They ought to be in Sun City playing shuffleboard.”
Doyle noted, “We’re counting on these old guys to keep us fat and happy. What’s going to happen in 10 years? Who is going to feed us? The young farmers? There aren’t any. They have all slid to the coasts and are serving lattes. And they couldn’t have afforded to farm in the first place.”
Doyle proposed that the silver bullet for this problem may very well be food freedom.
“It promotes new agrarians from all stripes – CSAs (community supported agriculture), organic, pastured this and raw that. These new agrarians might very well be the force that brings positive change to our communities,” he said.
“Several years ago I grew malt barley, and I sold it for $4.20 a bushel, that was the market rate that year at commodity price,” Doyle remarked. “I wondered how much beer I could brew with a bushel of barley? So I asked Google, and it said about 32 six-packs of beer. I’m selling a bushel of barley for $4.20 at the elevator and then I’m buying it back from Budweiser with some water and hops to the tune of $190 bucks.”
Doyle explained that the value-added product allows producers to see increased profits.
“That is value-added. If small farmers can capture that, they may not need 500 acres and a fleet of tractors just to make a living. All of a sudden small farms become viable businesses. It’s a game changer. The small farmer has forever been the keystone of small towns. The Wyoming Food Freedom Act is really about building our communities.”