Who would think a cookie could create such controversy and eventual sweet victory? After years of legal maneuvers and grassroots organizing, Wisconsin bakers can sell homemade baked goods thanks to a judge’s ruling in 2017. New Jersey is now the only state still with a ban on the sale of homemade baked goods.
Thanks to cottage food laws across our country, homesteaders can diversify and sell to their community certain “non-hazardous” food products made in their home kitchen, such as breads and cookies, and jams, jellies and pickles. It’s community commerce at its finest, crafting something in your own kitchen and selling to your neighbors.
While these state specific laws vary in what you can produce, how much you can earn and where you can sell, some states like Wisconsin and New Jersey unfortunately have been intensely fighting such entrepreneurial opportunities. I’ve learned it takes homestead bakers like myself to fight unconstitutional laws. Our success results in positive change that supports all of us small scale food entrepreneurs.
I’m one of a trio of baking activists that recently, successfully, sued the State of Wisconsin on behalf of home bakers. Alongside my farmer friends Kriss Marion and Dela Ends, we spent years working with the Wisconsin Farmers Union to expand our state’s cottage food laws to catch up with the rest of the country that fosters such entrepreneurial spirit and include baked goods via the Cookie Bill. While this bill had broad-based support, passing in the Senate multiple times, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos refused to put the Bill on the Assembly floor for a vote, resulting in Wisconsin being one of the most unfriendly states in the nation for home-based food entrepreneurs, especially those who want to launch a baked enterprise from their home kitchen.
When the Legislative branch bogged down as it became clear Speaker Vos would never put the Cookie Bill on the agenda for a vote, we took our case to the Judicial branch, suing the state in partnership with the Institute for Justice. Our point and Judge Jorgenson in Lafayette County agreed, was that Wisconsin’s ban on the sale of home baked goods is unconstitutional and reflects the illegal influence of big industry groups. Apparently, these groups felt threatened by mom and pop competition. While the Judge ruled in our favor back in May, 2017, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) had argued that the ruling was limited to just myself and Dela and Kriss. Fortunately, Judge Jorgenson officially disagreed and clarified that his ruling applies to all home bakers in the state of Wisconsin. Not, as DATCP claimed, just us three plaintiff bakers.
This victory is particularly sweet to me personally. The opportunity behind cottage food laws to champion new entrepreneurs inspired my husband, John Ivanko, and I to write the book Homemade for Sale, serving as the national authoritative guide to cottage food start-ups. Now, finally, these resources can also support new kitchen entrepreneurs in my home state of Wisconsin to thrive.
Wisconsin is now in a unique situation as we have a judicial ruling that lifts the ban on the sale of home baked goods, but we have no law or specific regulations. This means that until our legislature passes an official law, we do not have specific regulations to abide under. The net net: As fledgling new baking entrepreneurs in Wisconsin, we need to take responsibility and self-educate ourselves on what we can and cannot do under this ruling and steward this well fought for opportunity to launch in our home kitchens.
One state still has a ban on the sale of homemade baked goods: New Jersey. New Jersey allows home bakers to legally sell their baked goods for charity and nonprofit bake sales. But the second bakers sell a cookie to earn a living, they are breaking the law and slapped with $1,000 in fines. A new lawsuit filed December 7, 2017, by a group of home bakers, the New Jersey Home Bakers Association and aided again by the Institute for Justice, seeks to change that.
Stay tuned in 2018 for hopefully victorious news from the Garden State followed by positive success stories as we’ve seen in Wisconsin of new home bakery business launches, including our own Inn Serendipity Fresh Baked Homemade Bakery.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband and photographer, John D. Ivanko, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist 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. Read all of Lisa's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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