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New honey sales generate lots of buzz

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By Regan McCarthy

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-985601.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – A new law enacted in July lets Floridians cook and sell foods from their homes without government licensing. The so called "cottage industry" is expected to create business in the state. Honey is the most recent product The Department of Agriculture has cleared for production, and Regan McCarthy tells us what the buzz is all about.

Tommy Duggar has been in the bee business for the past 35 years. He makes his living from the 10 or so hives he has here at Orchard Pond farms. They were his uncles hives before Tommy took over.

"Yeah, my first job, I started in the honey house cleaning boxes. See all this wax and stuff they get on them? That was my first job was to clean boxes."

He loves bees and even though he says the stings never stop hurting he loves his job.

"You get to work for yourself you get to be in the woods every day. You don't have to put up with the rat race of life. Though actually when you work for yourself you work more than you do for an 8 to five job."

He says everyone who wants to should be able to sell honey. And as past president of the Florida State Bee Keepers Association Duggar says he worked on reducing the requirements for small scale bee keepers, but he says the de-regulations made by adding honey as a cottage industry food go too far. For him the concern isn't so much about safety or competition. He says he produces honey on too large a scale to worry about competition and he says it's almost impossible for a person to get sick from honey. He's worried about the honey quality. Duggar says when nothing is in bloom and his bees have no honey he feeds them corn syrup, but he can't sell the honey his bees make after eating it because he says it wouldn't pass muster with the state's honey standards. But he says cottage industry bee keepers could.

"There's nobody gonna regulate these other guys to say, hey, I'm selling my honey for $5 a pound, I'm buying that corn syrup for 23 cents a pound why don't I just stick a couple gallons on top of my hives, let my bees store it in my combs and I mix it with my wild flower, and boom I've just made a pile of money."

Duggar sells most of his honey by the barrel to companies that use it as a sweetener, but Mary Phipps the owner of Orchard Farm Organics sells Duggar's honey too. Orchard Farm is also too big to take advantage of the cottage industry rules. To count as a cottage industry a business has to gross $15 thousand or less annually. So, she bottles the honey in a permitted kitchen and says getting through the red tape to do that has been hard work. And she says living on the edge of North Florida has meant she's had to do it in more than one state.

"You have to go through the whole process of getting the label approved and getting the kitchen inspected. It's so far, every new product that we try to do, they come and we have to schedule another inspection and it just takes a long time, there's a lot of waiting for them to have time and come do it and getting the label approved takes a long time too."

She says it took 6 month to pay to get a permit for the kitchen, get the honey registered with the FDA and get approval from the health department just so she could bottle it. Now she's waited more than three months for an okay on her honey's label. Now folks in the cottage industry won't have to face that, which could make selling honey a little easier and could give Phipps more competition. But despite that and despite the fact that for her honey sales Mary can't take advantage of the cottage industry rules, she for the most part she thinks the cottage rules are a good idea.

"Because I think it's just really hard for small places to get started and that'll make it easier. But for some people it really will be not very good because a friend of mine who paid to have a kitchen built, added on to her house so that she could do preserves and things like that, she probably won't even really need that now."

And Phipps says she actually does have some plans to take advantage of the cottage industry rules herself. She says she plans to start a cottage industry brand on the side that she intends to use like a test kitchen for new products her company would like to try out. They'll sell it like a cottage industry food at farmers markets without having to struggle with permits before they know how well it will sell.

"It will make it a lot easier for us to start new products and just kind of test them out and see how they do before we have to invest a lot of time into it. So it will make it a lot simpler now."

And Daniel Hixson from the Florida Department of Agriculture's food safety division says officials would like to see that happen.

"It's also an opportunity for them to try out a cottage food that they're well known for producing and then starting that out on a smaller scale at first and then finding out the success or lack of success for that product to go ahead and test the market."

Hixson says that could help people find they have a business worth expanding, which in turn could mean more jobs in the state. Hixson says the Department's list of cottage industry approved foods is just a start.