Board of Supervisors Creates Law to Allow Residents to Sell Homemade Meals

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Photo by Samuel Yang | The Bottom Line

Lauren Luna
Staff Writer

On Jan. 28, the Santa Barbara County board of supervisors made a unanimous decision to implement a law allowing independent vendors to sell food and beverages with the proper credentials in Santa Barbara. These businesses, also known as microenterprise home kitchen operations (MEHKOs), exist within single family homes and can sell foods to the public.

The days of sidewalk lemonade stands have passed; vendor’s permits and other civic regulations have made the spontaneous production of homemade goods nearly impossible for small-scale businesses. But, the implementation of legal resolutions like AB 626 have broadened the definition of “food facilities” to include MEHKOs.

In Santa Barbara County, numerous MEHKOs have operated on extralegal grounds. The board of supervisors’ decision establishes a “pathway to legal compliance,” according to Santa Barbara Independent’s Delaney Smith.

The resolution directly states that it will include a “microenterprise home kitchen operation within the definition of a food facility, and would define a microenterprise home kitchen operation to mean a food facility that is operated by a resident in a private home where food is stored, handled, and prepared for, and may be served to, consumers, and that meets specified requirements, including, among others, that the operation has no more than one full-time equivalent food employee and has no more than $50,000 in verifiable gross annual sales.” 

In layman’s terms, AB 626 defines what a microenterprise food operation is the qualifications necessary for it to sustain business. Ultimately, the county decides how broad the qualifications are for MEHKOs to operate. The decision made by the board of supervisors essentially granted the maximum freedom within the outlines of AB 626 for independent vendors to operate.

When it comes to how this policy affects Isla Vista (I.V.) the results of the resolution won’t be entirely clear for a while after the board’s decision. 

One positive anticipated outcome of the resolution is the growth of local businesses in Santa Barbara County. In an age where sustainability initiatives have tremendously grown in awareness, this resolution reflects a potential turn towards small, local enterprises instead of large chain corporations. With places like the IV Food Co-Op, where funds are directed towards the Isla Vista community itself rather than business profits, this redirection from big corporations isn’t new to the city. 

This resolution also presents possible competition for other small businesses, one notably being I.V. tacos. Yet the scale of MEHKOs compared to the scale of more established vendors may not present as large a change to the consumption from the latter category. If anything, the board’s decision may simply create a larger platform for people looking to build a career in food service.

MEHKOs have begun to take a larger role in the Isla Vista community as of late. On Super Bowl Sunday, for example, chili dogs were sold to local Isla Vista residents.

Supervisor Joan Hartmann is thrilled that this decision has integrated MEHKOs into the legal network of food enterprises in Santa Barbara county. Here is her directly released statement on the decision: 

“I’m excited that the board of supervisors unanimously voted to opt into a new state law (AB 626) to allow for microenterprise home kitchen operations (MEHKOs). County staff Is now in the process of crafting what our ordinance will look like. Permitting small-scale home food production will put existing operators on a fair pathway for compliance with safety standards and can create economic opportunities for interested home-cooking entrepreneurs. The board also directed staff to explore new options to allow wine tasting rooms to add small kitchens and begin offering expanded food options to their patrons. There is also potential for I.V. residents to participate in this enterprise. I encourage anyone interested in a home kitchen operation to reach out to the County Public Health to enroll in food safety education training for safety standards.”

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