New Cottage Food Bill Brings a Little Grace to the Market

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By: Annisa Kumerow

Grace Bandy, owner of Simply Grace Dessert House & Bakery, is attending her second year at the Old Capitol Farmers Market in the heart of downtown Springfield, Illinois. Grace is helped by her sisters and her mother, Kelly, in selling their dazzling array of baked goods to an eager public. They draw  a large crowd with their sweet, local goods such as gooseberry pies, chocolate chip muffins, and raspberry macaroons.

When asked how she got started, Grace exclaims, “I just really love good food. That’s how I got started here.” Since she was a little kid, she has enjoyed baking for friends and family, who encouraged her to hone her skills and open a bakery, but she wasn’t sure if that was a path she was willing to pursue. “I live at home,” she explains. “I love my family, and I just wasn’t sure if moving out and finding a place to start a business was really something I wanted to do.” Still, she continued her passion of baking and constantly experimented with her recipes, until her mother suggested a different avenue for selling her goods- at a farmers market. The family began to research options and found an answer in the Cottage Food Bill.

IMG_1570Illinois Senate Bill 840 or the Illinois Local Food Entrepreneur and Cottage Food Operation Act (commonly known as the Cottage Food Law) was enacted into law on January 1st, 2012. Illinois Stewardship Alliance helped to draft the language for the bill, and it was sponsored by Senator David Koehler and Representative Lisa Dugan. Prior to the enactment of the Cottage Food Law, selling homemade goods for public consumption was illegal. After it passed, it allowed people like Grace Bandy to make food in home kitchens and sell them at farmers markets. The bill allows non-potentially hazardous baked goods, jams and jellies, fruit butters, dried herbs, and dried tea blends to be sold, so long as they are properly labeled, the cottage food operation is registered, and the owner possesses a valid Illinois Food Service Sanitation Manager Certificate.

The bill creates opportunities for farmers and aspiring entrepreneurs, such as Grace, to start new, local businesses at one of Illinois’ hundreds of farmers markets. After discovering the Cottage Food Bill, Grace started selling at the Old Capitol Farmers Market in 2014, and she was surprised at how everything turned out. Her mother, Kelly, adds, “We couldn’t have done any of this without the Cottage Food Bill, we were actually the first to register within Menard County, and they were very helpful throughout the entire process,” she says. “And Grace is the real star of the show here, the amount that she’s been able to accomplish through the bill is incredible.”

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A new bill, HB 2486, sponsored by Representative Mike Tryon and Senator David Koehler and backed by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance was introduced this year to make some important updates to the Cottage Food Act. It would allow certain on-farm sales, permit a local health department add on to the allowed foods list, and increase the allowed gross sales threshold to $36,000 per year. The new bill would essentially improve the overall process of becoming a cottage food operation, and make it easier for local businesses like Grace’s to really thrive. The bill passed both the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate with a unanimous vote, and serves as a true testament to the power of bipartisan legislators working together for the betterment of the people. Currently, HB 2486 is awaiting Governor Rauner’s signature. When asked about the new bill, Kelly exclaims, “We’ve been following the bill daily. It’s passed both the House and the Senate now, and I think it’s just on the governor’s desk, waiting to be signed! We’re really excited for it.