Cottage Food Success
Launch a bakery business out of your farmstead kitchen
Launch a bakery business outof your farmstead kitchen
ARTICLE BY LISA KIVIRIST & JOHN D. IVANKO PHOTOS BY JOHN D. IVANKO
Good news: Just about every state in the country now has a cottage food law legalizing the sale of nonhazardous home-baked goods for public sale. That cooks up sweet opportunity for farmers to diversify income by selling fresh-baked goods at the farmers market, via CSA (community supported agriculture) shares or other ways direct to their community.
“A state’s cottage food law can open up easy diversification opportunities for farmers to add value-added products to their sales mix,” says Jan Joannides, executive director of Renewing the Countryside, a nonprofit that champions healthy and vibrant rural areas. “Keeping things local with farmers selling directly to their community enhances our rural economies and food system overall by providing tastier, farm-direct options for consumers. Farm-fresh-baked goods in particular offer lots of potential for expanding sales because they’re easy add-on sales and everyone loves an authentic home-baked treat.”
For farmers to truly create baked products that increase farm value, the items need to include ingredients raised on the farm. Sure, you can bring chocolate chip cookies to the market, but that doesn’t help support the items you are raising in the field. Zucchini or pumpkin muffins that use what you have in seasonal abundance? That’s a farm-fresh product unique to your farm. Read on for more on cottage food business basics and how to create successful farmstead bakery products for sale.
Cottage Food BasiCs
Cottage foods laws have largely come about as a result of the Great Recession of the late 2000s, as a way to encourage small, home-based entrepreneurs. Depending on your state, these laws enabling you to sell out of your home versus a commercial kitchen only apply to “potentially nonhazardous foods” — those that are either low-moisture products — cookies, cakes or breads — or high-acid foods — jams, jellies and preserves. Some states also include items ranging from candies to dry mixes. Your first step is to read your state’s specific law and see what is allowed.
Additionally, most states clearly define the venues where you can sell and how much you can earn each year. Each state typically also requires certain information be printed on your product label, often including a line that says something like “Not prepared in a state-approved commercial food facility nor subject to state inspection.” Our book, Homemade for Sale, goes into more details on cottage food business start-ups, and Forrager.com will connect you with your state’s legislation.
Home Bakery requirements
Baked goods in particular provide an easy on-ramp to diversify your farm business, given the fact that you probably have the needed equipment in your kitchen to get started and that baked goods are always an appealing sale. A key element to understand is what “nonhazardous” baked goods are.
“Nonpotentially hazardous food is food that is either dry enough — or high enough in sugar, salt or acid — that it does not allow disease-causing organisms to grow and reproduce in the food,” says Jane Jewett, associate director of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. “It’s important for cottage food producers to stick to nonpotentially hazardous food for the safety of their customers. Selling potentially hazardous food brings with it detailed and stringent requirements for sanitation, temperature control during storage and transport, and protocols for safe food production. In exchange for not having those requirements, cottage food producers are limited to nonpotentially hazardous foods.”
Check your state’s specific definition of nonhazardous; often this will entail a “water activity (aw) level”
below 0.85, meaning the amount of moisture is reduced to a point which will inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeasts and mold and is safe to sell. Some items such as cheesecake or a whipped cream pie are clearly hazardous and needing refrigeration while most basic breads and cookies are nonhazardous. However, when adding fresh vegetables or fruits that typically have higher water content to a baked good, the key is to make sure your water activity is below 0.85 or meets your state’s requirement. It’s best to have any recipes you are not sure of tested in a laboratory that does water activity testing, which typically costs about $35.
Note: The recipes in this article have all been lab-certified and under 0.85 water activity. These recipes are part of a larger project led by a Wisconsinbased farmer team under a North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Farmer Rancher grant to develop a toolkit for farmers interested in launching home kitchen bakery businesses. (Look for the full free toolkit download with more tested recipes in spring 2020 at www.homemadeforsale.com.)
“Selling baked goods out of my farm kitchen enables me to do true value-added products because
I can effectively and creatively use up extra ingredients
I have from the field,” says Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm/Innisfree Farmstay in Wisconsin. “I run a B&B on my farm which also provides a great opportunity for baked goods sales as I can serve different things at breakfast and then guests can place orders to take home.”
Ends also prioritizes supporting other local businesses to purchase the ingredients she does not raise on her farm, such as flour from Meadowlark Organics and Wisconsin-made butter.
In addition to your state’s requirements, check with your local farmers markets to see if they have any additional rules you need to follow to sell baked goods. While most farmers markets welcome new vendors and love having baked goods offerings as they are of high appeal to shoppers, occasionally markets require all products produced in a commercial kitchen.
attraCtive PaCkaging inCreases sales
“Packaging and display are important elements to make sure your farmstead baked goods look professional and attractive for sale,” says Ashley Wegmueller of Bo & Olly’s Produce and Wegmueller Farm. “Avoid using plastic wrap or baggies you would buy at the regular grocery store as this both doesn’t effectively show off your product and looks too homespun and informal.”
Cellophane bags, for example, come in various sizes and shapes to fit your product and look nice on the table. In addition to following any requirements from your state on what to put on the label, use your packaging and label as a marketing tool to encourage repeat sales and special orders by including information on how to order more.
new value-added oPPortunities
Adding baked goods to your farm’s sales mix positively cross-pollinates with other elements of your
business, including promoting other items you have for sale. “We see increased interest in cottage foods sold at farmers markets when the baker’s signage includes things like ‘Pumpkin Muffins, with pumpkins from Jan’s squash patch’ or ‘Monster Cookies, made with eggs from Lisa’s farm,’” says Kathy Zeman, executive director of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association and owner of Simple Harvest Farm Organics. “And then those farmers help cross-market the baker’s goods while selling their berries and eggs at market. Folks grocery shopping at farmers markets love to support their local food shed in multiple ways.”
“Baked goods that clearly highlight farm-fresh produce are a natural at farmers markets, and shoppers go wild for fresh fruit pies and tarts,” says Catt White, director and market manager at San Diego Markets and the founder of Farmers Market Pros. “Make a few hand pies while you’re at it, and shoppers will buy those too to tuck in lunch bags or just to nibble as they walk through the market. Granola and breakfast bars that use ingredients raised on your farm provide another opportunity to fill your customers’ needs all day long, while increasing your sales.” With food sensitivities top of mind nowadays, gluten-free options and desserts made without refined sugar are big sellers, White says.
Additionally, diversifying your farm sales mix to include baked goods may be the perfect launching point to involve older kids in the business and garner entrepreneurial training. Alicia Razvi of Wooly Thyme Micro Farm outside Stevens Point, Wisconsin, found a great opportunity to involve her teen daughter in the baked goods side as her daughter bakes her own items she sells alongside her mom at their farmers market stand.
“Beyond adding to our farm’s income, cottage-food baked-goods sales support family connections and give my daughter a fantastic real-world training in running her own business, from developing customer service skills to setting profitable pricing,” Razvi says. “Most importantly, selling baked goods gives a farm mom and her teen daughter terrific opportunity to share and do something together.”
By adding a baked goods element to your farm business, the benefits quickly blend together to reach way beyond the bottom line. “By bringing muffins to the market made with your zucchini, you are building deeper community connections and strengthening the direct ‘know your farmer’ connections, something only you can uniquely do,” Joannides says.
Lisa Kivirist and John D. Ivanko are the authors of numerous books including Farmstead Chef and Soil Sisters. The husbandand-wife duo run Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B in Wisconsin. Kivirist served as a plaintiff in the successful lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin that ultimately lifted the ban on the sale of home-baked goods and enabled home bakery business startups.