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Support Cottage Industry Laws

For several years now, Rob and I have been involved with the Three Rivers Sustainable Food Group (or just the Food Group for short). Our friend Karla started the project as part of her doctoral work in spirituality and sustainability and it's continued as a point of connection for sharing meals, local food resources and advocacy concerns.

One of the group's advocacy projects over the past couple of years has been encouraging legislation for a cottage industry law in Michigan. Cottage industry laws, like those already in place in Ohio and other states, allow people to prepare foods in their home kitchens for sale up to a certain amount of income every year.

While we were in Shickley, Nebraska last week, we got to see a cottage industry law at work, as our friends Elizabeth and Kate prepared homemade breads, muffins, pies and granola bars to sell at the farmer's market in York. They baked, printed labels, created attractive displays and prepared some of the produce from their large backyard garden for sale. As a cottage industry, they're required to display a sign that specifies that their baked goods were not made in a licensed kitchen, but that didn't seem to stop the person who wanted six of each kind of granola bar.

I'm a big fan of cottage industry laws. As Kate and Elizabeth attempted to work out post-college summer income in a small town with cleaning, mowing and grocery store jobs, being able to bake good food to sell at the farmer's market seemed to give them a different kind of delight and sense of creativity and agency. For such micro-enterprise entrepreneurs, cottage industry laws mean that if they can find a market for quality, home-baked goods, there's an instant source of income.

And for eaters, in an age when "food security" is driving food sources toward bigger, slicker, more processed, less humanized operations, being able to buy something at the farmer's market that was made from whole ingredients in someone's kitchen is a refreshing alternative. All around, cottage industry laws seem to create space for good relationships, good work and good food.


Kate & Elizabeth's Chewy Granola Bars

Adapted from Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets by Esther H. Shank

1/2 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. light corn syrup or honey
1/2 c. butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla

Mix together until well blended. Stir in:

3 c. quick oatmeal.
1/2 c. coconut
1/2 c. sunflower nuts
1/2 c. raisins or dried cranberries
1/3 c. wheat germ
2 Tbsp. flax seeds
1 c. chocolate or butterscotch chips

Press mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely. Cut into 24 bars.

6 Comments

Hi Kirsten, Do you think there's any chance that Michigan legislators will ever approve a cottage industry law that would allow bakers to work from their homes? I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this specifically. What sorts of issues would prevent them from approving something like that?

Many thanks,
Jane

Hi, Jane. Thanks for your questions. I don't know if you saw this more recent post, but legislation has just been introduced in Michigan:

http://www.eatwellfoodtour.com/2009/08/good-news-from-ontario.html

You might think about contacting your representative with your opinion on it. I think that with the way the current legislation is being framed (as potential income in difficult economic times), it may well pass. It's also helpful that there's been a precedent set in other states.

The most common objection is health risks, but I think that with proper labeling, consumers should be able to make their own choices about what they eat. It's also conducive to closer personal relationships--as in, if I know the person I'm buying from, I'm more likely to trust that they're making their foods in a safe, clean kitchen. I guess another question would be to what extent homemade goods would compete with commercial bakeries, restaurants, etc.

Hi, Kristin. I just came upon this article today as I was researching starting a small baking business in my rural Nebraska town. Would you be able to forward me contact information for Elizabeth and Kate, or forward mine on to them as I have some questions about how the cottage industry laws work in Nebraska and haven't been able to get much guidance. The Health Department requires a commercial kitchen seperate from our home kitchen, however, that seems a bit over the top to install for someone who wants to bake 10-15 dozen cookies per week. Thanks for any information that you can pass along.

Cathy Wanat on January 18, 2010 2:34 PM

Hi,

I am trying to find some info on cottage bakeries in Florida. I was at a cake decorating mini convention this past week end and someone told me about a movement that is developing to make the laws that will allow people to have cottage baked good from their ones. There is a group working on this agenda, but I did not get the particulars. Do you think these people might know something about this movement. My name is Cathy and I do wedding cakes and would love to have a "legal" kitchen in my home. Send any info to my email above. Thank you, Cathy

Thanks for your interest, Amy and Cathy. It sounds like there's a lot of hunger (ha) for the cottage industry movement, especially with the unemployment rate being what it is. Amy, I passed your contact information on, so you may hear from Elizabeth. Cathy, I'm not familiar with the movement in Florida, so I'd suggest following up on whatever leads you were able to gather from the convention. Even a quick Google search doesn't appear to be turning anything up for me. I hope you can connect with what you're looking for soon!

Thanks for passing on this recipe! (And yea for being allowed to buy and sell homemade goodies!)

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