West Virginia Passes One of the Most Expansive Cottage Food Laws in the Nation

Institute for Justice · March 26, 2019

Charleston, W.Va.—Yesterday, West Virginia becomes one of the most welcoming—if not the most welcoming—state in the nation for homemade or “cottage food” producers. Governor Jim Justice, with support of cottage food producers from around the Mountain State, signed into law a bill that will allow the sale of these safe, shelf-stable goods out of homes, online or in retail shops.

Before, West Virginians were limited to selling their cookies, jellies and breads at farmers markets and community events. With most farmers markets closed half of the year and events popping up sporadically, it was difficult for many producers to make a profit. “Since we couldn’t take custom orders from our home, my wife and I had to guess how much of what kind of goods we should make, package everything up, and drive to the market or event that was often miles away,” said Eric Blend, owner of The Blended Homestead. “Depending on turnout, we had to turn customers away or throw out product.”

Now, bakers, herb driers, honey makers and other cottage food producers can sell goods from their homes, take online orders and even have a spot in a retail shop—all throughout the year. “Not only can I customize my goods for special occasions, I no longer have to miss out on the most profitable time of the year—the holiday season,” said home baker Michelle Carpenter. “Birthday cake with a dancing pony? No problem! Christmas cookies that taste like eggnog? How many?”

“This is a great change for West Virginia small businesses and for American small business generally,” said Institute for Justice (IJ) activism associate Melanie Benit. “Another state is realizing that over-regulation is harming everyday Americans and, by government loosening its grip, people are given the opportunity to try their hand at entrepreneurship.”

As shown in IJ report Flour Power, allowing the sale of cottage foods results in new jobs with flexible hours and few start-up costs. “This is especially helpful for women in rural areas,” said IJ attorney Erica Smith. “Farmers and stay-at-home moms can bring in much-needed supplemental income for their families while providing local food options in areas that don’t have many choices.”

From its introduction, the bill was a legislative priority for the Department of Agriculture and a bipartisan effort with 28 sponsors since the bill focuses on simply expanding the point of sale. The law does not change what kinds of foods can be sold, and producers are still required to follow basic safety requirements like labeling the goods as homemade and listing the ingredients.

“As more people start selling and purchasing these safe, local products, I see a bright and delicious future of food freedom for West Virginians,” said IJ activism associate Melanie Benit.