Release the tomatoes! New law brings home-canned tomatoes to market

Thanks to the Governor’s signature Friday. August  24th on the Home-Canned Tomato Bill (SB0457), shoppers may start seeing home canned tomatoes, pasta sauce, salsa, soup, and more at their local farmers market starting in September!

The Home-Canned Tomato Bill, championed by Illinois Stewardship Alliance and sponsored by Sen. David Koehler and Rep. Will Guzzardi, makes important changes to the existing Cottage Food Law, adding home-canned tomatoes to the list of products that can be produced in a home-kitchen and sold at farmers markets. The new law goes into effect immediately.

Prior to the Home-Canned Tomato Bill, last year’s Food Freedom Act drastically increased the number of products that could be made and sold under cottage food law, giving farmers and food entrepreneurs the opportunity to pickle, ferment, freeze, and lightly process their fresh produce into the value-added convenience products that consumers crave. The Food Freedom Act was a game-changer for local food systems, but one important crop was left on the negotiating table– the tomato.

For all their beauty, heirloom tomatoes don’t last long. Excess tomatoes are often tilled under or turned into compost. Thanks to the home-canned tomato bill, all that’s about to change. Farmers can now turn those tomatoes into the products you love to eat! Look for salsa, pasta sauce, soup and more at your local farmers as early as this September!

The new bill adds tomatoes to the list of produce that can be canned in a home kitchen, with a few additional safety precautions. The cottage food producer must “follow exactly a recipe that has been tested by the United States Department of Agriculture or by a state cooperative extension office” or the producer must submit the recipe to a commercial laboratory for pH testing. All cottage food licensing and labeling regulations apply as well.

Now Instead of tossing those beautiful heirloom tomatoes onto the compost pile, farmers can turn them into canned salsa or other tomato products, and sell it to customers for a premium, preventing food waste on the farm and increasing their bottom lines.

“We’ve been waiting all summer for this to pass!” says Marty Kerns of Natural Artistry, a budding cottage food vendor at the Old Capitol Farmers Market. “We just harvested a ton of tomatoes that we plan to turn into our tasty ‘garden juice’ –which is basically our version of healthy, homegrown v8 with our own secret blend of spices. We can’t wait to share it with our customers at the farmers market this season!”

Marty Kerns of Natural Artistry smiles next to her home-made jams at the Old Capitol Farmers Market in Springfield.  With the passage of the Home-Canned Tomato Bill last Friday, she hopes to add “garden juice” to the list of items that she is able to offer customers.

In addition to the allowing home-canned tomatoes, the bill also clarifies that both vegetables and “fruits” can be pickled or fermented, insuring that cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, and other scientifically classified fruits are allowed to be processed in this way.

“We were so excited when the Food Freedom Act passed last year, but we heard from many farmers that tomatoes needed to be on the list. We’re so grateful to our bill sponsors and the Governor for supporting local farms and making this bill reality.”

For more information about the Home-Canned Tomato Law, Cottage Food Law, and access to the new edition of the 2018 Cottage Food Guide featuring updates and frequently asked questions, subscribe to our newsletter.