Albuquerque bans the sale of home-baked goods and New Mexicans living outside its largest city suffer from onerous regulations that make it difficult to start a homemade, or “cottage foods” business. A new bill being introduced Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. MST would permit New Mexican entrepreneurs in any city to start their own home-based food businesses, and it would also allow home-based food producers to easily sell properly labeled shelf-stable foods identified as homemade—similar to what is allowed in other states nationwide. The Institute for Justice (IJ), the nation’s leading advocate for food freedom, welcomes the effort to expand food freedom throughout New Mexico.
“Every year, more states expand their homemade foods laws, but New Mexico is still at the back of the pack,” said Erica Smith, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice and legal expert on cottage food laws. “These laws are great for farmers, stay-at-home parents, people with disabilities and many others who have a talent in the kitchen but want or need to work from home. Now during the pandemic, making it easier for people to work from home is crucial.”
After Albuquerque mother Katie Sacoman’s daughter was born, she quit her teaching job to watch her grow up, but she still wants to make some money to support her family doing what she likes best: baking.
After learning of the ban, Katie contacted the city to see if this was something that could be changed. She was told there were no plans to at this time, a fact so frustrating to her she considered moving, ultimately deciding against it because she loves Albuquerque and because her husband works in the city. Katie supports HB 177 because it would let her to continue raising her daughter at home while following her dreams of selling her popular sugar cookies to support her family.
“I’ve been looking into building this business for three years, and I haven’t been able to because of these restrictions. Having the ability to build a business that I can fit my family’s schedule around would be such a great privilege,” Sacoman said.
Albuquerque is one of the only cities in the country that still bans the sale of homemade food. Should Albuquerque lift its ban, it would create dozens, perhaps even hundreds of small businesses. After IJ sued, Minnesota eased its restrictions on cottage food sales in 2015, leading 3,000 cottage food producers to register with the state in just two years. Texas saw similar development after it expanded its cottage food laws. Albuquerque could similarly benefit from lifting its restrictions.
New Mexicans outside Albuquerque do not have it much better. The current law bans sales from the home, which are allowed in virtually every other state. The law also bans online sales, which have been increasingly popular in other states during the pandemic. Instead, sellers can only sell at farmers markets, roadside stands and special events. The bill would fix these restrictions.
Current state law also requires would-be cottage food producers to go through a burdensome application process to get a permit, just to sell safe and shelf-stable foods like cupcakes or bread. The permit application includes pages of paperwork, a $100 fee, a kitchen inspection, a food safety course, and unnecessary requirements for home kitchens that sometimes require thousands of dollars in upgrades, such as installing extra sinks. In addition, cottage food producers must provide health inspectors with each of their recipes, and keep samples of all their sold products. This is in contrast to other states, that allow cottage food producers to start selling without a permit or inspection or meeting other burdensome requirements. The bill would remove these barriers.
“Home bakers throughout New Mexico just want to do what people throughout the country have been safely doing for years: sell shelf-stable goods like cookies to support themselves and their families,” said IJ Activism Assistant Ellen Hamlett
In 2017, IJ authored the nation’s first comprehensive study of cottage food businesses, which showed that cottage food businesses serve as an important path to entrepreneurship for their owners, who are often lower-income women living in rural areas. Even a small amount of extra income from a cottage food business can be helpful to lower-income Albuquerque households struggling during the pandemic.
The hearing on HB 177 will be in front of the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Zach Cook.