Minnesota’s Cottage Food Story

Five Years of Cottage Foods in Minnesota

It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since the bill was passed and took effect on July 1st, 2015. It’s even harder to believe that this all began nearly eleven years ago. By the time the bill came to be voted on in 2015, a very small group of us had already been working to get this bill passed for over 6 years. And here we are today, amazed and pleased to see how  cottage foods have grown here in our great State!

It all began when I had the great idea of renting a small shop where I had planned to sell items already baked in my kitchen. I’d thought that this would be a great way to get my baking known and make some money in order to expand. It would also help to see what interest there might be in the area before I invested more money into a real bakery.

So, armed with this wonderful idea I started checking into exactly what I would need to do this. Lo and behold, I found out that not only could this grand idea never be, but that even selling my baked goods from home at all was illegal. I did not know this, nor would I have even ever thought of it!

I’m not too proud to admit that I was crushed. I called my husband with this news and yes, there were some tears. I said, “Honey, I can’t bake my cakes anymore!” and he said, “Well, you aren’t going to want to hear this but if you don’t like the law you have to change the law.” And so, I who had never been particularly interested in politics of any kind, set out to do just that.

I started doing lots of research into how people legally sell baked goods from their homes in other states. At that time only twenty-five states even had a cottage food law. (Now every state has one except New Jersey.) I discovered that the Cottage Food Law had been amended and passed in Michigan just a few months before I started my quest, which gave me a perfect starting point on how to proceed.

Then I found out that a lady by the name of Christy Stefanick had already gotten things rolling in Minnesota by creating the first petition and Facebook page to generate awareness of the fact that selling baked goods from your home was illegal in our state. I took over managing these two things for her not long after. Together with my friends Joleen, Amanda, and Marianne we continued to fight the battle. A lot of people did not even know such a law as the “cottage food law” existed or that it needed to be amended.

I spoke to my district Representative Jim Newberger about amending the bill and he immediately went to work on it. Our group sent 100’s of letters, spent hours on the telephone talking to states reps, people like Denay Davis who had already passed this law in two other states, and the Harvard Legal Food Division. We reached out to the local newspapers, and even tried to get the television news channels involved. We did hours of research comparing the different state laws and how we could best implement them here. A friend of mine created a logo for us and we made up flyers to hand out at the fairs and other local events. We tried to get others in Minnesota involved. We set up centralized meetings inviting everyone interested in amending the cottage food law to attend. We sent out a survey asking the people of Minnesota to respond with their suggestions, ideas and how they could assist with this quest and that is when Karen Peterson and Jennifer Carriveau joined our little group.

In 2015, we had finally got to the place where things were lining up. Kathy Zeman from the Minnesota Farmers Market Association had begun working with us, all of the Departments such as the MN Dept. of Agriculture, the MN Dept. of Health and the MN Food Association, were on board and we had bipartisan support in Representative Newberger and Senator Dibble. Finally, it looked like we were getting somewhere. We had to make a few concessions at that time but we decided it was a good beginning.

The decision was made but the battle wasn’t over yet. We still had to get it through two committees in both the House and Senate. I don’t remember who all attended these meetings but I know Kathy and Marianne were at every one of them, sitting for hours to testify on our behalf.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Some of the Representatives and Senators were just plain rude.  Believe me, Kathy and Marianne are saints for sitting through all of that. But finally, after one last hold your breath moment, Governor Dayton signed the bill and we were legally allowed to become home-based cottage food producers.

Guess what? That was just the beginning of a whole new adventure. Now the fun began as Ben Miller and his team at the MN Dept. of Agriculture rushed to set up a cottage foods website, registration processing and how to best implement food safety regulations. Suzanne Driessen & Kathy Brandt at the University of Minnesota Extension and their team had to set up a cottage foods website, food safety classes, and many other things they do for the cottage food industry. Kathy Zeman and her people at the Minnesota Farmers Market Association updated their website to add the cottage food laws, links and regulations to it. I continued to author the Facebook page, blog and twitter accounts in an effort to keep everyone updated on everything that goes on concerning Cottage Food Producers and answering questions. All of this had to be done before July 1st, 2015 and I think everyone did a really good job with the amount of time we had.

Throughout the past few years, we have continued to work to get the law amended, to fix other small things that come up here and there, to continue the fight to become LLCs and to increase our income cap. We have tried to work closely with the MDA to re-evaluate some of things. As with anything new it is an ever-changing process and new variables occur as you go. There are always unforeseen questions that arise and we appreciate working with the MDA on these things.

Working with the University of Minnesota Extension has been wonderful. They have done a fabulous job of educating us on food safety, holding classes both in person and online to make it easier and easier to comply with registration regulations. The food safety classes, cottage food website, and FAQS blog have been great resources. There is even a quarterly newsletter email called the Cottage Food Connection.

By the end of 2015 we had 500 registered cottage food producers, as of now we have over 4,000. In these five years we have had cottage food producers begin their businesses from home and go on to become nationally known businesses such as The Cookie Cups, Sailor Mercy and Fruit & Grain.

On January 22nd, 2020 we established the Minnesota Cottage Food Producer’s Association. We are the only official Cottage Food Producer’s Association operating in the United States. Unfortunately, we have had a slow start because of Covid-19, but we are getting there. We provide all of the resources we can on our website and have been offering monthly educational classes on marketing, decorating techniques and anything else that would be of interest to cottage food producers. If you would like to become a member of our association or just check out our new website and resources there you can find us at mncfpa.org. The cottage food industry has become increasingly relevant. In particular this summer when there were food shortages in many neighborhoods. The cottage food producers were able to help provide bread and other important staples. 

We worked closely with the MDA and Kathy Brandt and Suzanne Driessen at the University of Minnesota Extension to create a Covid-19 preparedness plan specifically for cottage food producers. We also created a plan for safe delivery practices and many other important safety helps. Our hope is that in the future all cottage food information and resources will be translated into languages other than English.

It’s been so exciting to watch this industry become recognized and evolve all over the United States. Forty-nine of the fifty states recognize the cottage food industry now with the exception of New Jersey. Cottage food producers are more than just a food source for their state’s residents, they contribute to their local and state economy through the items they purchase to create their delicious products.

We’ve accomplished a lot and we aren’t done yet. In 2021, we will continue to work on legislation that will allow us to raise the revenue cap to at least a livable wage. In addition, we are working to change MDA’s policy on disallowing cottage food producers from filing their business with the Minnesota Secretary of State as an LLC or LLP. On January 7th and 8th, we will hold our Third Annual Cottage Food Producer’s Conference. This year it will be a virtual conference so stay tuned and watch our pages and websites for more details.

The future is what we make it and we have so many ideas and plans to further the cottage food industry in Minnesota. We’re definitely going to need everyone’s help so please be sure to make today the day you get involved…your voice counts!

 

Shelley Erickson

MNCFPA