IJ Whips Up Victories for Cottage Food Entrepreneurs

IJ kicked off 2018 with sweet victories for food freedom—and way too many baking puns around the office.

Across the country, thousands of Americans are making food at home to sell in their communities. Although this is an age-old industry, many states stifle the ability of hard-working, talented entrepreneurs to earn an honest living selling their cookies, cakes, and jams. In IJ’s latest report, Flour Power: How Cottage Food Entrepreneurs Are Using Their Home Kitchens to Become Their Own Bosses, Research Analyst Jennifer McDonald details how “cottage food” laws too often foreclose paths to entrepreneurship.

It was thyme to turnip the heat against these knead-less restrictions.

For example, in Kentucky, only farmers were allowed to sell cottage foods—and nobody else. A home baker in Paducah who wanted to change this law contacted IJ and, together with Assistant Director of Activism Brooke Fallon, grew a movement of nearly 250 cottage food producers. Meanwhile, Attorney Erica Smith drafted a bill that would provide this enthusiastic group with the opportunity they had been craving. The ever-growing and vocal grassroots campaign reached new heights during a three-day blitz in Frankfort, where Brooke, Erica, and nine bakers met with 24 legislators and additional staff. Writer and Legislative Analyst Nick Sibilla gave the effort a boost of exposure with a piece in Forbes, which Steve Forbes himself re-posted on social media, gaining considerable traction. On April 2, Governor Bevin signed our bill. Being able to run legal cottage food businesses will be life-changing for many of our Bluegrass bakers.

Meanwhile in Maryland, cottage food producers were prohibited from selling their goods anywhere but farmers’ markets. This meant that the same exact cookie made at home, by the same home baker, became illegal if sold directly from home instead of first being driven to a farmers’ market. Erica worked with our bill sponsor to craft a simple fix that would have a big impact for Maryland home bakers, and Baltimore Activism Manager Pablo Carvajal and Baltimore Project Coordinator Angeles Evans mobilized dozens of cottage food producers from across the state in support of the bill, bringing sweet treats to Annapolis and providing IJ with the grassroots support we needed to underscore Erica’s testimony. The bill was signed into law in May.

It was thyme to turnip the heat against these knead-less restrictions.

On the defensive side, IJ killed a bill in Wisconsin that would have imposed a $10,000 annual cap on cottage food sales following IJ’s court victory in that state. Our legislative testimony, relying heavily on Flour Power and home bakers’ personal stories, persuaded legislators to reject the proposal. Bakers will now be able to make unlimited sales for the foreseeable future. And when North Dakota’s Department of Health threatened to adopt rules that would have largely gutted the state’s “Food Freedom Act,” IJ quickly “litigated by letterhead,” sending letters to lawmakers pointing out how the proposed regulations would not only harm entrepreneurs but also be unconstitutional. In response, the regulators backed down. 

Our efforts continue in New Jersey, the only state where the sale of cottage foods is entirely prohibited. Following months of widespread, high-profile grassroots advocacy led by Brooke—which made it to the pages of Food Network Magazine—we filed a lawsuit in December, and in late April the judge denied the state’s motion to dismiss, allowing our case to move forward.

IJ’s unstoppable collaboration between activism, litigation, communications, and research will continue to advance food freedom—and all of IJ’s efforts—on behalf of entrepreneurs and consumers nationwide.

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