For Sale: Homemade Products from the Homestead

Reader Contribution by John Ivanko
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Finally, the freedom to earn from our home kitchens.

In 42 states (and counting), home cooks can now sell to their neighbors and community certain “non-hazardous” food products made in their home kitchen, often with very few regulations or governmental entanglements. Chalk it up to the Great Recession, but states from coast to coast have loosened up their laws over the last five years and passed what are known as cottage food laws that allow homeowners to sell to the public either low moisture foods, like breads and cookies, and/or high acid food products, like jams, jellies and pickles. For homesteaders who are already lining the shelves of their root cellar with jams, preserves, pickles and salsa, the cottage food laws make it relatively easy to generate another revenue stream from your produce and diversify your operation. If you operate a farm in Canada, many provinces also allow certain non-hazardous food products made in a farmhouse kitchen to be sold at farmers’ markets.

We delve into the details on these laws in our new book, Homemade For Sale, the first authoritative guide to launching a food business from your home kitchen. The book’s website has lots of resources and helpful links to get you started and even includes a press release template.  While you should review the latest definitive legal requirements for your state, in our book we devote many pages to the marketing of your product and getting set up as a business, including how to manage your finances and the risk associated with selling food products.   Not all states’ cottage food laws are the same and by definition, cottage food laws are a state-by-state issue.  A great source for information on your state’s laws and cottage food operators throughout the country is Forrager.

Every cottage food law will address, in some way, four basic questions:

What products can you sell?

Your state cottage food law will define which “non-hazardous food products” you can sell. In many cases, there is no home kitchen inspection required or fee to be paid to the state. In some cases, it’s a matter of following specific approved recipes and making sure you label your product with certain key information and language — again, defined by your state’s law.

Where can you sell your products?

From farmers’ markets to holiday bazaars, there are many venues to sell your cottage food products. Depending on your state’s cottage food law, you may be restricted to certain venues and possibly prohibited from selling from your home or making deliveries to your customers. Just understand your options and create a business around those.

How much of your products can you sell?

Because the cottage food laws are designed to help jumpstart new food businesses, most laws have a gross sales cap. Once you exceed that sales cap, ranging from $5,000 to $30,000, you’ll need to produce your product in a licensed food production facility. The last section of HOMEMADE FOR SALE addresses opportunities to expand your enterprise using a co-packer, incubator or community kitchen or constructing a commercial facility appropriate to your food product on your homestead.

In what ways are you allowed to sell your products?

Your products sold under cottage food laws must be sold directly to your customers. In other words, most cottage food laws do not allow for wholesaling to other retailers or mail order. Also, cottage food products cannot be sold outside your state. Some states allow for special orders while others do not; when it comes to baked goods (if your state allows them), this can make producing batches of muffins on demand much more profitable and efficient since you don’t have to worry about having any extras.

Once you’ve answered these questions and understand how the cottage food law operates in your state, you’ll then need to figure out whether what you love to make is worth selling. If people are clamoring for your products, that’s an excellent sign.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of launching a food business right from your home kitchen, make sure you pick up a copy of the September/October 2015 issue of GRIT Magazine that contains a more detailed article about doing so.

Or you can catch one of our talks at an upcoming MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. We’ll be both speaking and exhibiting at the FAIR in West Bend, Wisconsin on August 8 – 9, 2015 as well as speaking at the FAIR in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, on September 18 – 20, 2015.

We’ll also be contributing addition MOTHER EARTH NEWS blogs in the coming months to give you a feel for the incredible opportunities that exist to transform your passion for cooking, talent for creating tasty food products and interest in helping rebuild a more sustainable and thriving local economy where neighbors are, once again, selling delicious food products to neighbors.

Perhaps the best part of all in launching a food business from your home kitchen: you can’t fail, at least not in the traditional sense. All you’ll be doing is using the equipment you already have to produce great-tasting products for sale in your immediate community. The worst than can happen is you come home from a farmers’ market with a few extra loaves of artisanal bread and extra strawberry jam.  So, give it a try!

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authoredRural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winningECOpreneuringandFarmstead Chefalong with operatingInn Serendipity B&Band Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer andphotographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.

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