Home-based Food Entrepreneurs Surge under Cottage Food Laws and Covid-19

Reader Contribution by Lisa Kivirist
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The current economic downturn and job loss caused by COVID-19 vividly highlights why my husband, John Ivanko, and I have been on a mission for the last decade to increase access to and opportunities for us to diversify our homestead income by selling shelf-stable, non-hazardous food items like breads, cookies, pies, jams, pickles, candies and other items that are truly homemade.

Amidst the unpredictability and unknowns currently in our world, there’s one thing you can be sure of: There is no better time to follow your dream of launching your food product business from home under your state’s cottage food law. Cottage food laws allow the sale of non-hazardous food items, like baked goods or high-acid canned items made in your home kitchen.

While I needed to join two other home bakers and the Institute for Justice to win a lawsuit against our state of Wisconsin over my right to earn a livelihood by selling baked goods, most state laws will allow the sale of non-hazardous baked items, which, in the simplest of terms, means baked food products that do not require refrigeration and have a low water content. Most cottage food laws cover high acid canned items, like jams or pickles, as well, plus a host of other items.

We’re inspired by the emerging Food Freedom movement in places like Wyoming and parts of California that even allow certain prepared meals to be made and sold directly out of home kitchens. As the economic fallout from the pandemic builds, millions of Americans have opted to launch their own business from home to cover the bills and enhance the local food movement with homemade products sold to their neighbors.

“The pandemic has impacted everyone differently, but it has impacted everyone,” admits David Crabill, founder of Forrager.com, a leading national resource for cottage food operators. “Some cottage food businesses have shut down temporarily or permanently, while just as many others have seen their sales skyrocket. More cottage food businesses started this year than any other by far, and overall, the pandemic has caused a huge surge of interest in this industry.” We love to see cottage food operators, like ourselves (the dot in southwest Wisconsin), popping up on the Forrager map.

Running your own business and being a home-based entrepreneur cultivates an inspiring synergy between expressing your values and earning a livelihood. For many of us, that includes working with our family. For our home-based bakery, I’m the cookie baker and John is the cookie decorator. Our son, Liam, is our taste-tester (quality control) and our IT department. After the success of our lawsuit against Wisconsin, we launched Inn Serendipity Fresh Baked Homemade Bakery and immediately added it as a listing to the Forrager.com map, reflecting the spectacular growth in the cottage food industry over the past few years. Our number one seller continues to be my Latvian Sourdough Rye Bread, based on a recipe inspired by my Baltic heritage.

“There has been a significant increase in consumer interest in cottage foods and the food freedom movement in the last year,” observes Alexia Kulwiec, Executive Director of the Farmer-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund that protects, defends, and broadens the rights and viability of independent farmers, artisanal food producers, and their consumers. “Consumers recognize the importance to local economies of purchasing food locally and supporting local food producers, and in trusting the ingredients used.”

“There has also been an increase in households seeking to offer cottage foods for sale as primary employment has been lost,” adds Kulwiec, on the explosive growth in food product businesses started from home. “Regulations have not kept up with demand for these foods and the cottage foods permitted for sale in most states remains unduly limited.” With the potential worsening of the economy, some states may demonstrate greater leadership and rapidly expand their laws or regulations instead of being forced to cover more unemployment claims, especially from those in the restaurant and hospitality industries. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 100,000 restaurants are estimated to be shuttered as a result of the pandemic and lack of financial support from federal or state agencies.

To help more people get started with a cottage food enterprise, or transform what was once a hobby into a small business, I just completed a new online Udemy course, How to Set Up and Market a Food Product Business from Your Home Kitchen, based on Homemade for Sale. To help more homesteaders launch their business in 2021, I’m offering the course at a discount via the YouTube overview video page.

Echoed throughout the introductory course, my workshops at Mother Earth News Fairs, and my book, it’s impossible to fail with your new business, at least in the traditional sense, because everything you need you probably already have in your home kitchen. And most, if not all, jammers, canners and bakers have years of experience turning out amazing food products. In most cases, it takes just a few quick and easy steps to be in business and selling your delicious items to your neighbors and others in your community.

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband,John D. Ivanko, a photographer anddrone pilot, have co-authoredRural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winningECOpreneuringandFarmstead Chefcookbook along with operatingInn Serendipity B&Band Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authoredSoil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solarand9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam and millions of ladybugs.

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