Is the aroma of sweet victory coming from the ovens of Wisconsin wafting your way? Here in our state we can finally – legally – sell homemade, non-hazardous baked goods. Or more specifically, it took over five years, three cottage food bills that never passed and a successful lawsuit so that here in Wisconsin we can at last act on our dreams to start baking business out of our home kitchen like every other state in the country (except New Jersey).
Specifically, after years of legal maneuvers and grassroots organizing, Wisconsin bakers can sell homemade baked goods thanks to a judge’s ruling in 2017. What does this mean? Anyone in Wisconsin can now bake non-hazardous baked goods in their home kitchen and start selling them to neighbors and other community members in the state. For us, the victory is extra sweet as our book, Homemade for Sale, the authoritative guide to cottage food startups nationally, can finally serve as a resource for baking start-ups in our own dear home state!
Lisa is one of this trio of the “freedom to bake caucus” that successfully sued the state of Wisconsin on behalf of home bakers, alongside our farmer friends Kriss Marion and Dela Ends. We first 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 and include baked goods via the Cookie Bill. While this bill has broad-based support, passing in the Senate multiple times, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos continues to still snub putting the Bill on the Assembly floor for a vote, resulting in our state having the distinction of being a restrictive state when it comes to supporting cottage food baking entrepreneurs.
When the Legislative branch bogged down, because it was clear Speaker Vos would never put the Cookie Bill on the agenda for a vote, we successfully took things to the Judicial branch, suing the state in partnership with the Institute for Justice. Our point (and Judge Duane Jorgenson 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) argued that the ruling was limited to just myself and Dela and Kriss. Fortunately, Judge Jorgenson officially disagreed and clarified in October 2017, that his ruling applies to all home bakers like us in the state of Wisconsin.
What’s unprecedented and legally unique in Wisconsin now is we have a Judge’s ruling authorizing the sale of not-potentially-hazardous baked goods made in home kitchens, but no law. This means that until our legislature passes an official law, we do not have specific regulations to abide under. The bottom line: As start-up 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. We’ve set up an informational site with the Wisconsin Farmers Union to help Wisconsin bakers navigate: www.wisconsincottagefood.com.
New Jersey, unfortunately, remains the only state in the country still with a ban on the sale of homemade baked goods. Interestingly, New Jersey allows home bakers to legally sell for charity and nonprofit bake sales, but the moment 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 Bakes Homemade Bakery.
Our Wisconsin story reminds us once again that this cottage food movement is flourishing across the country thanks to grassroots democracy and activism by home bakers and food artisans like all of us in the Forrager community. Remember just about all of the forward thinking cottage food laws across the country came to life because of citizens like ourselves calling our elected representatives with ideas. Together we form an inspiring, cooperative kinship that together works toward ensuring that small businesses thrive in our nation. Remember, too, if the legislative branch bogs down like it did here in Wisconsin and now New Jersey — knock on the door of the judicial branch.