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Trading greens for greenbacks now legal in Denver -- with a "cottage foods" permit

Trading greens for greenbacks now legal in Denver -- with a "cottage foods" permit
Emerald O'Brien

As it turns out, your kid's lemonade stand might not be technically legal in the Mile High City. Neither was selling veggies that you grew yourself until Monday night, when Denver City Council passed a zoning amendment allowing the sale of home-grown food -- both raw produce and items prepared from it. This new rule is an extension of the 2012 Colorado "Cottage Foods Bill" that allowed some types of food to be sold from homes without a license, but did not include produce. Now Denver has closed that loophole.

Starting Friday, July 18, Denver residents can apply for a permit to home-sell. This is a one-time, $20 application, and will allow you to sell anything you grew in your yard.

See also: "Cottage food bill" that would allow farmers to sell directly to consumers signed into law

Mayor Michael Hancock on garden tour.
Mayor Michael Hancock on garden tour.
Emerald O'Brien

You can also sell prepared foods, called cottage foods -- teas, honey, baked goods, etc. -- but doing so also requires that the seller first attend a class on food-preparation safety. That's why your kids still technically can't sell brownies and lemonade on the side of the road, though that will likely go unpunished.

Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech says she expects the amendment to draw many Coloradans to home-growing food."Sustainability and getting food from our own hands are very 'Colorado,'" says Kniech, who sponsored the measure.

Mayor Michael Hancock and Kniech celebrated the proposal's passage on Tuesday morning by visiting the home of Debra Neeley, a Denver resident who has a fairly large backyard produce system in place and plans to start selling now that it is legal.

Neeley and her family have been reaping the dietary benefits of the garden for a long time, and Neeley has also been sharing the bounty with neighbors. Now, she says, she'll have the opportunity to make a little money from her garden as well. "It's not free to do all this," Neeley notes.

The Neeleys have seven chicken; eight is the limit.
The Neeleys have seven chicken; eight is the limit.
Emerald O'Brien

The Neeley garden is a little more advanced than the average backyard, with peaches, berries, kale, garlic, rosemary and much more. The family also has bees for honey and chickens for eggs, and plenty of flowers for aesthetics.

Neeley says her neighbors have had no problem with her garden, including the seven chickens -- though that may have to do with the free eggs they get. Gardening has been a great tool for connecting with her community, she points out. "I have gotten to know my whole neighborhood through doing this," Neeley says. "They all come by to see what I am doing."

The goal of the new rule is to provide additional income opportunities for families as well as easy access to healthy, affordable food. "This may be small from a citywide perspective, but for individual families, it can be huge," Kniech says.

According to Denver's department of Planning and Development, newly sellable items are "raw and uncut fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, grown by the seller in an on-site or community garden; whole eggs produced by chickens or ducks owned and kept by the seller at home; 'cottage foods,' which are low-risk, unrefrigerated food products made on-site such as spices, teas, honey, jams, and certain baked goods, as defined in the Colorado Cottage Food Act."

Debra Neeley shows Mayor Michael Hancock around her greenhouse.
Debra Neeley shows Mayor Michael Hancock around her greenhouse.
Emerald O'Brien

Marijuana is not covered by this rule, though, so make sure to keep the greens you grow and the green you smoke separate.

You can apply for a permit starting on Friday at denvergov.org/homebusiness.