Honey sales deregulated in Florida — a boon for backyard beekeepers

Aug 23, 2011

The following article was published in the Orlando Sentinel on August 22, 2011:

Honey sales deregulated in Florida – a boon for backyard beekeepers

By Joseph Freeman

For J.R. Denman, making honey over the past three years hasn’t been that sweet a deal. Denman, who works in technology, spends about $1,500 a year on the protective suits, new hives, lids and bottles that make up his sideline.

The moonlighting gig takes place largely in his Kissimmee back yard and kitchen.

“Beekeeping is a money-losing proposition,” Denman said. “I can bottle all the honey I want, but I can’t sell it.”

That’s about to change. Florida’s Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it’s adding honey to its list of “cottage foods.” Small-scale beekeepers — those who have no more than $15,000 a year in sales — can now bottle and sell honey without getting permits and preparing it in a Department of Agriculture-inspected kitchen.

Making, selling and storing “cottage foods” in unlicensed home kitchens was approved earlier this year by state legislators. The list of products includes rolls, biscuits, fruit pies and trail mix.

The action will help backyard beekeepers whose costly hobbies haven’t been sustainable. Denman, for instance, said the new rule would let him make about $3,000 annually. It also could help consumers who want to buy local foods and are “a little bit more aware of organic food production,” said Jerry Hayes, chief of the apiary section for the Department of Agriculture. A pound of honey sold out of somebody’s house goes for about $5.

The interest in honeybees has risen at the same time that they are mysteriously disappearing in large numbers because of what’s being called “colony collapse disorder.” Hayes said that in the past five years, the number of beekeepers in the state has tripled.

He explained that honey was added to the list of cottage foods because it doesn’t support the growth of bacteria and fungus: “They’ve found honey in the tombs of Egypt.”

Any cottage food product needs a label bearing the name and address of the seller, as well as ingredients. The label has to say that the item is made in a cottage food operation that is not subject to Florida’s food safety regulations.

Because the law is aimed at hobbyists, adding honey won’t threaten larger-scale distributors. In some places, such as Winter Park, local governments have imposed their own regulations and still require permits for cottage foods to be sold.

What’s more, cottage food operators can’t hawk their products over the Internet or to local restaurants or grocery stores because “wholesale” transactions aren’t permitted. They must sell their products directly to the consumer at a roadside stand or at a market. And they intend to.

Troy Dere has limited his business to friends, family and co-workers, but he’d like to expand. From east Orlando, Dere has five hives and processes the sweet goo in his kitchen.

The whole endeavor can be time- and space-consuming. “My wife doesn’t like it,” he quipped — but not even the Legislature can help with that.

Find this article here:  http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/os-honey-sales-deregulated-20110822,0,7334379.story