A Commercial Kitchen for All?

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Call it DIY versus the DOH.

The future of the the Greenpoint Food Market, a mostly-monthy gathering of artisans selling jam, pickles, kimchee and kombucha, has been in question since a New York Times article last week pointed out that all food products sold in NYC are supposed to be made in an inspected commercial kitchen, and all makers are required to have a food protection certificate.

The piece was a publicity boost for the market, which JoAnn Kim has been holding at Church of the Messiah in Greenpoint since last fall, but it also left Kim and her vendors scrambling to to navigate the Department of Health system. “After the Times article ran that day, I got phone calls from journalists, from politicians, from my vendors–it was really freaking me out,” said Kim, while on her way to the DOH yesterday.

As a result, Kim is canceling their planned June 26th market in an effort to bring all vendors up to DOH permit requirements. Instead of a market, Kim will hold a potluck gathering for vendors (open to the public, too) to discuss which permits are needed to legally sell their wares, the challenges of running a small food business, and what makes for an economically viable endeavor.

A DOH representative will attend to help clear up any lingering confusion, and Steve Levin, the City Council member representing North Brooklyn, will also be on hand as an advocate for Brooklyn’s entrepreneurial food scene. Kim plans on enlisting several successful small business owners to speak about how to run a food company in Brooklyn as well.

If you’re wondering whether church grandmas selling their fudge at holiday bazaars are criminals in the eyes of the DOH, don’t worry–fundraisers for non-profits are exempt from most rules. Kim had believed that this was true of the GFM, but not enough of the proceeds go to the church to qualify. In addition to the food protection certificate and proof of use of a commercial kitchen, the DOH also requires vendors to have a one-time permit as a temporary food establishment at each market, which costs $20.

“The majority of vendors at my market have never sold anywhere before,” said Kim. “This is very much an incubator. To require them to rent a commercial kitchen and pay $200 to make a batch of cookies they’re going to sell for one day–that doesn’t work.”

Jam-maker Laena McCarthy, who owns Anarchy in a Jar, argues that in addition to making it more difficult for small producers to enter the market, the rules and regulations are far from clear for small businesses. “Many food makers, such as myself, have taken the steps to be legal and legit as businesses,” McCarthy said in an email. “But it was difficult and frustrating to find that city and state departments often did not know what was required. It seems like the city takes advantage of small businesses and punishes them for their inability to pay the middlemen that function as decoders of the arcane and extensive permits, rules, codes and licenses.”

Kim though, ever a problem solver, has enlisted Councilmember Levin’s help to open a discussion about a city-subsidized commercial kitchen that would serve as a more affordable way for budding entrepreneurs to break into the market, safely and legally. “I want to create a way to change the system, to find a compromise.” Kim said. “The market is for people with ideas.”

Sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of The Greenpoint Food Market.

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