Nebraska is taking a major step forward for food entrepreneurs and the “buy local” movement as Gov. Ricketts prepares to sign LB 304 into law. LB 304 would allow Nebraskans to sell low-risk homemade foods like baked goods, jams, popcorn, candy and dried pasta from their homes and online. Before this change, these “cottage food” producers were limited to selling only at farmers markets, making Nebraska the only state with that limitation.
Cottage food producers from across the state testified in support of LB 304, including Lincoln resident Cindy Harper. Currently, Ms. Harper can only sell her decorated sugar cookies and handcrafted marshmallows at farmers markets, which only operate during the warmer months, and even then, for only a few days a week. She was thrilled when she learned of LB 304’s passage in the Legislature. “I now have the opportunity to take my small business from a farmers market only business to one that can operate year round. This opens up a world of possibilities for me,” she said.
The bill was introduced by Senator Sue Crawford and passed the Legislature on April 29. Two non-profit organizations, the Institute for Justice (IJ) and the Platte Institute, worked with cottage food producers to help pass the bill.
“Forty-nine states allow the sale of cottage foods, but Nebraska was the only state to prohibit sales everywhere except for farmers markets,” said IJ Attorney Erica Smith, who testified in support of the bill. “These foods are incredibly safe and are a great way for farmers, stay-at-home parents, and anyone else who has talent in the kitchen to make money from home.”
In 2017, IJ released a research report, Flour Power, that showed that expanding cottage food laws have allowed the creation of many new home businesses, especially among rural women.
One unnamed Nebraskan woman submitted written testimony that the bill could help people with disabilities, including her son who has autism. “My son, Simon, is a very bright young man,” wrote the woman, but “I worry about his future.” She continued, “LB 304 has the potential to be life changing for people like Simon, as well as other people with disabilities and their families. With the ability to start small cottage food businesses out of their home, families would have the opportunity to teach valuable skills to their children in a familiar, accepting environment providing the dignity and self-worth that may not otherwise be attainable.”
Nicole Fox at the Platte Institute also testified in support of the bill. “LB 304 is a win for food entrepreneurs, and it will help grow Nebraska’s economy,” Ms. Fox testified. Ms. Fox also thanked Senator Crawford for sponsoring the bill and Senator Ben Hansen for prioritizing the bill.
LB 304 would require that cottage food producers comply with four basic requirements. They must (1) register with the Department of Agriculture, (2) take a nationally accredited food safety and handling class, like ServSafe, (3) label their foods as homemade and that they may contain allergens, and (4) comply with any local food safety and handling guidelines.