Frank Greene insists Connecticut's Department of Consumer Protection isn't totally opposed to the concept of home-made foods being sold to the public, but that there are big barriers to making that happen.
"It's not necessarily... a bad idea," says Greene, who is director of the agency's food and standards division.
Part of the problem with it, he argues, is Connecticut law that gives local health agencies the right to set local health standards for food production. "I can't support something I know local health people are not going to approve," he says.
If the legislature wanted to change that part of state law, Greene adds, then his agency might be able to live with a Cottage Foods Law similar to the strict California system. "But how we fund it, how we do the inspections, that's another thing," he says.
Greene points out that his current staff is already hard-pressed to keep tabs on regular commercial kitchens: "I don't' know what the burden would be on my staff."
Connecticut's regulatory bureaucracy has a habit of driving some people nuts. Take Fred Kudish, for example, who's been operating Hickory Hill Orchards in Cheshire for nearly 40 years.
Kudish says his operation imports frozen apple pies from a commercial distributor in Michigan, and heats them up in the family's Cheshire farm-market store. Consumer Protection insisted that, because the farm's water didn't meet state standards for a commercial kitchen, Kudish needed to buy a "water enclosed system" where anyone touching the pies could wash their hands.
Kudish says state health officials told him the water was okay, but he went ahead and bought a $900 water system and sink, where he and his employees could wash their hands and "then put on plastic gloves" to handle the pies.
"If you come to our store you could eat off the floors," says Kudish. "How is somebody going to get sick?"
"It's all intertwined and all very difficult," Kudish says of dealing with state and local health agencies and the state consumer protection dudes. "All we're getting is aggravation."
Mushinsky, a liberal Democrat from Wallingford, was convinced by constituents to submit a bill to allow baked goods to be produced at home without all that regulatory hassle. "I can't envision a big health risk from baked goods," she says.
State health officials could, and they convinced the co-chairs of the General Assembly's Public Health Committee to send Mushinsky's bill down the legislative garbage disposal.
The same thing happened to the legislation submitted by state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven. After being approached by Gomez, Holder-Winfield says he started asking questions about the issue. "I thought there must be some way to fix this problem," he says. But his bill followed didn't even get to a public hearing.
Gomez says that, if state regulators are worried about money to oversee home-production licensing, they should be able to get it from licensing fees. And she has no problem of copying what other states have done by requiring things like having home cooks take food-safety courses.
States like New York, Gomez points out, have test kitchens and "incubator" kitchens where would-be cooking entrepreneurs can try out their money-making ideas at comparatively little cost.
"It works really good in lots of states," Gomez says.
Those Harvard researchers agreed. "Allowing for cottage food operations is an easy way that states can support the development of small businesses and increase the availability of local products within their borders," the Harvard study concluded.
Both Holder-Winfield and Mushinsky says they'd be ready to reintroduce home-food bills in next year's legislature.
Still, Mushinsky has words of warning:
"There will have to be more pressure from those grassroots kitchens for this to go anywhere."