This week, farmers and food entrepreneurs across the state worked together to introduce the Home-to Market Act (HB 2615) sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi. The new act will remove restrictive regulations around sales avenues for cottage food operations and open up new sales channels, including fairs and festivals, home sales, pick-up and delivery, and online sales. The act supports small farms, home bakers, and artisan food makers across the state, while giving the public greater access to unique Illinois products.
Current cottage food law allows food entrepreneurs to prepare and package certain products in their home kitchen for sale at farmers markets. The law supports food entrepreneurs everywhere by providing a low-budget means to start and grow a home-business without the need to purchase a costly commercial kitchen or storefront. However, the law limits sales to seasonal farmers markets, with few exceptions. These restrictions prevent cottage food operations from reaching new customers and growing their businesses.
“We have so many folks asking to purchase our products,” says Derek Ervin of Glacier’s End Farm, who makes unique jellies, syrups, and sauces from ingredients foraged on his farm, “but we live in rural Southern, Illinois and we aren’t allowed to ship our products. My wife runs a farmers market, and we sell our products there, but there’s only so many customers we can reach at farmers markets. On top of that, space is limited in our winter market, so we aren’t able to attend every week. The ability to sell online would allow us to reach customers across the state on a regular basis.”
Ervin is a member of Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s newly launched Local Food Farmer Caucus, a group of 60 farmers that works to identify barriers to growing the local food economy, research solutions, and put forward legislation. The Caucus identified Cottage Food Reform as their top priority for 2021. Members of the Caucus partnered with the Institute for Justice and Illinois Environmental Council to draft the new legislation.
In 2020, the pandemic further exacerbated issues for cottage food operations. Many farmers markets delayed opening, shifted to online ordering, or changed their regulations, leaving cottage food vendors with few options to sell their products. At the same time, Illinois is seeing unprecedented demand for opportunities to start home-based businesses. Recent layoffs and restrictions, especially in the food and hospitality industry, have left individuals searching for ways to safely earn income from their homes.
“Now is the time to support home-based businesses,” says Kelly Lay, an aspiring food entrepreneur in LeRoy making pastries and hot sauces featuring locally-sourced ingredients. Kelly’s full-time job often requires weekend hours, making it difficult to participate in her area farmers market on Saturdays. Despite the challenge, in early 2020 she rearranged her schedule and was looking forward to launching her cottage food business. However, when the pandemic hit, she wasn’t sure if shoppers would continue to attend the farmers market. She couldn’t risk the $300 fee to participate in the farmers market without a guaranteed customer base. Her plans were derailed.
Kelly adds, “I have dreamed of owning a bakery most of my adult life but I have a poor credit score from medical issues early in my adult life. I believe that building up from a home operation would allow me the financial stability to create something despite my damaged credit score. I also know there are thousands of entrepreneurs like myself, who are not classically a choice banks would make, that would hugely benefit from reasonable home operation laws.”
In addition to expanding sales avenues for cottage food businesses, the Home-to-Market Act centers public health by updating food safety provisions. It also includes buttercream icing for sale under cottage food law, freeing home-bakers to make cakes, cupcakes, and other high-demand baked goods that customers desire.
“Illinois Cottage Food law is one of the most restrictive in the U.S. when it comes to sales avenues,” says Beth Kregor of Institute for Justice, which analyzed cottage food legislation in all 50 states. “The new regulations bring Illinois up to speed with the rest of the nation, and provide more economic opportunities for women, minorities and lower-income folks across the state.”
“Illinois imports 95% of the food we eat. This bill helps change that by giving farms and food businesses a no-cost hand up to get their products to more shoppers in Illinois. The Home-to-Market Act not only makes Illinois more delicious, but it keeps food dollars circulating in rural communities and building local economies. We hope the public will join us in advocating for it,” says Erin Keyser, a farmer in Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Local Food Farmer Caucus.