IJ launched our National Food Freedom Initiative in 2013 to make it possible for more people to buy and sell the foods of their choice. We celebrated a new milestone this year, when IJ’s advocacy prompted nine states to expand people’s ability to sell homemade or “cottage” foods.
Cottage food laws allow people to make food for sale in their home kitchen, without having to spend tens of thousands of dollars to rent a commercial kitchen space. This is a great option for budding food entrepreneurs who want to test out their recipes before opening a storefront, and it is an important way for families and farms to bring in extra income to make ends meet. The pandemic taught everyone that the flexibility to make money from home is more important than ever.
Despite all these benefits, many states still severely restrict the sale of homemade foods. Most states allow the sale of only certain foods, like snacks, desserts, and dry goods. Other states require burdensome licensing or limit where foods can be sold. Some cities even ban the sale of homemade food altogether. As regular readers of Liberty & Law know, IJ has successfully sued four states to remove these kinds of restrictions, and we have other lawsuits pending in Wisconsin and New Jersey. We make these victories go even further by using them to support the case for cottage food reform in state legislatures.
Nine states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming—passed cottage food reforms in spring 2021. In each of these states, IJ helped draft the bill, organized support from entrepreneurs and lawmakers, and shepherded the legislation through multiple committees until it reached the governor’s desk.
These reforms covered everything from eliminating local bans on selling cottage foods and removing permit requirements to lifting sales caps and allowing sales online and to retailers. The bill in Oklahoma was especially expansive. It allows people to sell almost any homemade food except meat, making Oklahoma one of only a few states to allow sales of foods that require refrigeration. Now Oklahomans can enjoy homemade soups, pizzas, and more—made fresh right in their communities.
Achieving these reforms is not easy. Every cottage food bill is opposed by government agencies and lobbying groups, often representing bakeries, restaurants, and other established players. They argue that homemade food may make people sick. Yet homemade food is sold in 49 states and D.C., and foodborne illness from these sales is almost unheard of. So long as consumers are fully informed, they should be able to choose what they eat. Opponents also argue that existing commercial establishments should be protected from competition from would-be cottage food producers. But this is America; everyone should be free to compete.
We are cooking up plans for even more reforms in 2022. In the meantime, this year’s changes will create thousands of new entrepreneurial activities, which will in turn stimulate local economies and bring consumers more choice.
Erica Smith is an IJ senior attorney.