“I want to gather with others to champion more things we all care about. That’s why I’m a part of the Alliance. I see now that bigger change happens at the policy level. And I know I need to be involved – we all do.”
— Danielle Robinson, Dottie’s Kitchen
It was a cow patty in a field in France’s Normandy region that changed the course of Danielle Robinson’s future.
20 years later, with help from Alliance supporters like you, Danielle’s dream to start a small bakery is now reality. But hundreds of small farms and businesses still need your help to shift power and change policy.
We all have a Danielle in our lives– someone who is trying to grow their business and their dream in a way that serves their community.
Make a contribution today to support the Danielles in your community, and read her full story below.
She recalls the mild, overcast afternoon like it was yesterday.
Walking through a small pasture in the softly rolling landscape of France’s Normandy region, she looked down and took note of a large cow patties laying at her feet.
It was 20 years ago, but she remembers something striking about that moment: the cow patties had no odor.
Back home, the foul stench of being in close proximity to farm animals was part of the experience. But this one had no odor, she noted. No flies to speak of.
“I had already begun my food journey at that point,” Danielle Robinson, then a young adult on a World War II history trip with her father, says of the moment. “What happened that day was the beginning of my food exploration – really starting to understand food, the food system, and its full cycle.”
Several days before the cow pie incident, the then 25-year-old had arrived in France. One of the first things she recollects eating was butter. “It was so good, so pure, so wonderfully delicious. Like no other butter I’d eaten before.”
Standing in the pasture days later, she wondered why this meadow muffin was so unlike those she’d encountered back in the U.S.
And slowly she began to connect the dots – cows like those around her had produced the delicious butter she’d eaten days earlier. It was so good because they were eating the luscious grass all around her. The grass was fed nutrients in incredibly healthy soil beneath their hooves.
Suddenly the food ecosystem came into focus for her. And her place in it got a whole lot more exciting.
Danielle Robinson’s food journey had begun in her Grandma Dorothy’s small but tidy Chicago kitchen 16 years earlier. Called Aunt Dottie by her nieces and nephews and Dear-Dear by her grandchildren, Danielle recalls visiting Grandma Dorothy during summers and holidays.
“As my cousins would play video games in the back room, I’d pull up a chair to work beside her,” Danielle recollects. “Dear-Dear would pull her yellow KitchenAid mixer closer to me and the measuring cups and pans so I could reach them. Then we’d get to work.”
Danielle was in elementary school at the time, working side-by-side with her dad’s mom to make Dottie’s scrumptious pound cakes, other baked goods, and a few savory dishes.
“She really knew the recipes by heart but would still pull those cards from her recipe box for me to follow along and learn,” she fondly recalled. Those recipes – and the box – now live in Danielle’s suburban Chicago kitchen alongside Dottie’s faithful yellow KitchenAid mixer. The cards are well-worn and also now sprinkled with updated notes that put Danielle’s personal touch on Dottie’s traditional recipes.
Fast forward to 2010. Danielle, now with a young daughter and deep into a corporate job in HR benefits administration, allowed herself to begin dreaming of making her passion for baking a career goal and not just hobby baking for friends, family, and co-workers.
Excited by visions of opening her own cupcake business, Danielle designed business cards and dusted off Grandma Dottie’s cupcake recipes.
She quickly hit a roadblock, though, when she found that Illinois cottage food laws at the time required her to use or rent a certified commercial kitchen. It was an overwhelming financial commitment for someone with a young child seeking to launch a new venture. Crushed, she shelved the cards and returned to work.
Then in late 2019, Danielle lost her job. Not missing a beat, she allowed herself the space to dream big once again.
And this time, she was met with good news.
Two years after Danielle encountered the cottage food law obstacles, she learned that Illinois Stewardship Alliance members successfully fought to have the state’s restrictive laws eased.
Now home-entreprenuer bakers like herself could use their own kitchens to produce foods like breads, jams, syrups, and more to sell at local farmer’s markets. She was elated.
With Dear-Dear’s yellow mixer whirring away in her tiny Arlington Heights kitchen, Danielle cranked out brownies, pies, cookies, quick breads, and streusel bars.
With a nod to her grandmother, she named her new operation Dottie’s Kitchen, and in January 2020 began to sell her homemade goodies each Saturday morning at the local indoor farmer’s market in Elk Grove Village.
Then the pandemic hit. The market shut down and her customer base dried up. And so did her income.
Danielle realized that while progress had been made in 2012 with cottage food law updates, those changes hadn’t gone far enough. Without the ability to sell goods anywhere but farmer’s markets, she was stuck.
She circled back to the Alliance in April this year for guidance and found us working on the Home to Market Act to broaden where and how home-entrepreneurs like herself could sell their homemade products.
She quickly joined the crusade, banding together with like-minded food entrepreneurs, sustainable ag supporters, and local food lovers LIKE YOU from across Illinois. Together they lobbied, Zoomed, and in Danielle’s case, even plied legislators with baked goodies.
“There was something David-and-Goliath about it,” she remembers.
The effort paid off when the Home to Market Act passed overwhelmingly and was signed into law just weeks ago – opening kitchen doors across the state to incredible new opportunities.
“This new law is going to have a huge impact,” she told me. “Not just for me, but for so many others like me around Illinois who also have big dreams.”
And dreaming big she is – she’s launched a new website and will be developing an e-commerce site to allow for online sales in addition to market sales. The Home to Market Act allows Danielle and others like her to begin selling online January 2021 and she intends to ring in the new year ready to ship.
While the new law moves her closer to her dream, Danielle says she’s not done fighting for more change.
“I want to gather with others to champion more things we all care about. That’s why I’m a part of the Alliance. I see now that bigger change happens at the policy level,” she said. “And I know I need to be involved – we all do.” ”
Back in her kitchen with Dottie’s recipes at her fingertips and the mixer whirring away, a light dusting of flour fills the air.
Danielle allows herself to return to that field in France in her mind and the butter pat and cow patty that helped her connect her past with her future.
“I love baking and I know that means I also must care about living soil. About regenerative agriculture, cover crops, supporting farmers, and promoting healthy school lunches.”
“This is so much bigger than just Danielle or Dottie’s Kitchen,” she says. “It’s all connected. We are all connected. And we are all part of this great ecosystem. The more we take care of our soil, our farmers, and the environment, the more they’ll take care of all of us.”
Like Danielle, the Alliance is also growing some big plans in the coming months. We’re also cultivating fresh opportunities and relationships. And we’re planting seeds for exciting new programs.
We want you to be a part of making it all happen. Become a member of Illinois’ most powerful statewide alliance of local food and farming advocates! Join us – and Danielle – and together we will transform Illinois by fighting for family farmers, small businesses, and making good food available for all.