New report details Illinois cottage food industry impact and needs

Carla owns and operates Wild Hare Farms , a farm and cottage food business in northwest Illinois. She and her son Corey prepare baked goods, hand pies, jams, pickles, and salsas to sell at the Morrison Farmers Market.

She grows most of the ingredients herself. What she doesn’t grow, she buys from neighboring  farms and businesses, right down to flour from a local mill. She believes in using only fresh, wholesome ingredients to feed her customers.

For Carla, the ability to run a business from her home kitchen means everything to her and her family. Carla told us:

“My cottage food business allows me to not only expand our farm-based business, but also be present to meet personal family needs and provide meaningful vocational and learning opportunities for our disabled adult son.”

Carla is not alone. She’s one of hundreds of farmers and cottage food startups, primarily women-owned, that have launched or grown since the passage of the first cottage food laws in Illinois in 2012.

According to results of a recent survey of cottage food producers compiled and distributed by Illinois Stewardship Alliance, cottage food producers like Carla are building rural economies, supporting other local businesses, feeding their communities, and keeping food dollars local.

For a summary of the report findings, including demographic data of cottage food producers, their future plans, where they buy products, how they spend their earnings, and their biggest barriers, Download the 2019 Cottage Food Report. For our list of recommendations to support the Cottage Food Industry, read on.

RECOMMENDATIONS TO SUPPORT THE COTTAGE FOOD INDUSTRY

  1. Explore expansion of cottage food legislation to open up additional direct-to-consumer sales avenues.
  2. Bring regulating bodies up to speed on cottage food regulations. This could include distributing existing cottage food resources, such as the Cottage Food Legal Guide and the Garden Gates to Dinner Plates website link to county health departments and market managers (through Illinois Dept. of Public Health and the Illinois Farmers Market Association), and hosting webinars and workshops specifically for regulators and market managers.
  3. Translate cottage food resources into Spanish and other languages in order to insure these resources equally serve non-English speaking populations.
  4. Increase the availability of resources for cottage food producers. This could include targeted partnerships and distribution of resources through University of Illinois Extension, the Illinois Farmers Market Association, Faith in Place, the Institute for Justice, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, as well as organizations that serve diverse populations—including but not limited to Enlace, Black Chambers of Commerce, and the Food Chain Workers Alliance.
  5. Develop additional resources around labeling and food safety to insure that cottage food producers have every opportunity to understand and access food safety information after completing the food safety training courses.
  6. Develop email newsletter content and templates for the above organizations to use. Cottage food producers regularly communicate through email.
  7. Distribute cottage food resources through Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest—the primary social media platforms used by cottage food producers.
  8. Explore the development of resources to help cottage food producers find and rent commercial kitchen space, including a directory of shared kitchens and commercial kitchens for rent.

Download the 2019 Cottage Food Report