We Need to be Able to Make a Living Producing Food from Home Kitchens

Anders Zorn - Brödbaket - 1889 - Oil on Canvas - Wikimedia Commons

Anders Zorn – Brödbaket – 1889 – Oil on Canvas – Wikimedia Commons

I follow a Facebook page that is maintained by one of the lead advocates who was able to get the Washington Cottage Food Law (CFL) passed seveal years ago. The Cottage Food Law provides for people to produce a very limited selection of foods in an inspected home kitchen for sale to the public. The text of the law can be viewed HERE. This is a concept I wholeheartedly support namely, the ability of people to produce food at home on a small-scale for sale to the public with limited, if any, regulation and licensing. However, I’m only a tepid supporter of the Washington State cottage food law. The law does not do much to help farmers. It’s primarily geared to home baking operations and I consider its gross annual sales maximum of $15,000 to be ridiculously low.

A recent post to the Washington Cottage Food Facebook page stated “Good news everyone. The WSDA has moved forward on increasing the Gross Sales limitation for the CFL. There will be a public hearing on 1/16 @ 10am. Since the WSDA is involved in it this time, this revision should go through without any problem.” The WSDA is proposing to increase the gross sales limitation for the Cottage Food Law (CFL) from $15,000 annually to $25,000. I am disappointed that WSDA is considering only a $10,000 increase in the annual sales cap. The income cap needs to be such that income potential from a home kitchen is more than a tiny supplemental income. A small, home business is doing well if it can net 15% – 20% of its gross. A cap of $25,000 limits it to generating an annual pocket income of $3750 – $5000 on average. For some, that is a significant chunk of change, and I don’t want to minimize that, but it should not be the cap. Instead, a formula, not a set number, whereby a home-based sole proprietor can have the option to achieve an annual salary that is above the federal poverty line, should instead be enacted. See the table “United States Department of Health and Human Services figures for poverty in 2013.” in this Wikipedia article.

A cap of even $25,000 tells me the state is not serious about creating opportunities for people to make a living from their homes in these times of very high unemployment. Furthermore, there are many compelling reasons why the state should encourage people’s ability to make a living from home. It’s better for family cohesiveness; it allows young children to stay home with parents which is preferable to farming kids out to daycare; it cuts down on traffic, gas consumption and pollution. The list goes on. Politicians and bureaucrats who think allowing someone to take home only a small amount of money from a home-based food enterprise are not living in the real world and seem not to care about those of us who are. Why don’t they want people to make real money? That’s not to say that at some point of scale a successful business should make the transition to the world of commercial-scale regulation and facilities, but come on, let a family make a reasonable living before forcing them either out of business and into the “workforce” or forcing them to scale up to meet commercial licensing requirements which they may never have the means to do. For WSDA to propose raising the annual gross sales cap for cottage food producers from $15,000 to $25,000 translates into giving them a raise in “take-home-pay” of roughly $1500 – $2000 per year, but it still only allows them a maximum yearly salary of $3750 – $5000. Working quarter time at a home business such as this, it pencils out to a wage that barely meets Washington’s minimum wage. If more time is spent by a home businessperson, it drops below minimum wage. In these times of poor employment prospects, the state should propose a formula whereby producing cottage food is an employment opportunity, not a hobby with benefits.

I believe we should demand a cottage food law that allows someone to make a living from their home kitchen, not a pittance. Contact your Washington State legislators if you agree with me about this.

And while we’re on the subject, as I mentioned, the law does not do much to help farmers who would benefit immensely by being able to perform more value-added processing of their farm produce in their farmhouse kitchens, as was Washington State law until only very recently. Yes, it’s true a farmer producing fruit, and perhaps even vegetables, could benefit if s/he can incorporate that produce into the very limited number of food items that are allowed under the Cottage Food Law. But this is important: If we want to make a difference for farmers in WA and increase our ability to generate income from our trade, we need to model a Washington law on the Oregon Farm Direct Bill. Here’s an Oregon Department of Agriculture website that does a good job spelling out what it allows.

Take special note of “Attachment A & B” in the Oregon law. Note that there are some categories for which there is no sales limit, including, and this is very important, dried fruits and veggies. As I understand it in WA, only herbs dried for tea can be processed and sold without a Washington State Food Processor license (and all the expensive facilities requirements that goes along with that). Being able to dry fruits, vegetables and culinary herbs without expensive facilities and a Washington Food Producer’s license would not only open up vast revenue generating potential for WA farmers and gardeners alike, it would cut down on food waste, it could improve the wintertime diets of many.

Though I would support raising the gross sales limit for the cottage food law, as well as having an achievable and streamlined method for adding new foods to the allowed foods list, I suggest that a better approach for Washington farmers would be to agitate for a WA version of the Oregon Farm Direct law that’s not tied to the Cottage Food law. There is not time to enact such a measure in the current legislative session, but I think if we worked very hard in 2014, we might be able to do it for 2015.

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4 thoughts on “We Need to be Able to Make a Living Producing Food from Home Kitchens

  1. I wrote the following to my Legislators. If this is what you want to say, feel free to use it.
    Cottage food law changes do nothing to raise people our of poverty level income

    Please tell the WSDA that people who produce food under the Cottage Food Law (CFL) deserve to make a livable income. In a time when people need to make a living from their labors, the WSDA is proposing to increase the gross sales limitation for the Cottage Food Law (CFL) from $15,000 annually to $20,000. This is too little. This still leaves the people who produce food at home on a small-scale for sale to the public below the poverty level. Being able to produce food under the regulations of the CFL is both expensive and time consuming. The work is difficult, and success depends on the person’s ability to do this well. Given the physical limitations of the production area, it is highly unlikely that anyone permitted to do this would turn into a factory, so let’s not imagine some horrible production line scenario. Give the people who do this the ability to earn a living that raises them to a middle class income. There is no reason to artificially cap these people’s income.

  2. There are two issues with this WA cottage food law> 1) the indefensible yet arbitrary, annual gross dollars sales limit ; and 2) the treatment of cottage food licensee recipes as public information. CONVERSELY: Food processors in Washington do NOT have to provide the Ag department recipes for their products, just the ingredients list for products. Why would anyone with a valuable recipe and specific prep process risk its value starting a cottage food business with no protections of such proprietary property provided by statute? The BIG guys can hire anyone to make public records requests of every cottage food licensee’s recipes and then have their product designers pick and choose recipes with real MARKET value to put into production on mass scale and grocery store shelves. Probably before the cottage food baker even gets inspected or makes their first cookie with that great recipe that was handed down from grandma!

  3. On a different note: Whitman County Health department is still promoting that publicly advertised potlucks are not allowed without health department approval under some kind of temporary permit or such, and WHD created their informational bulletin in 2006 that promotes this policy to county residents/visitors. Check out the linkhttp://www.whitmancounty.org/ssi.aspx?ssid=93#Temporary > , which takes you to the policy document at this link> http://www.whitmancounty.org/EnvironmentalHealth/pdfs/What_is_a_temporary_food_event.pdf and I quote> ” What is a “potluck dinner”? The Whitman County Health Department defines potluck meal as one in which food is generally prepared in private homes, is then shared with a PRIVATE GROUP OF PEOPLE, and is NOT OFFERED or ADVERTISED to the GENERAL PUBLIC..” Why is this policy beyond the authority of the County Health Department, read this article from a decade ago, and it lays out the problem involved > http://www.thefigtree.org/oct04/100104potlucks.html . I would like to know what Chrys thinks about this ONGOING OFFICIAL Whitman County “potluck” policy..

    • Well Ms. Paradigms2watch, I’m not an expert on law, and certainly not an expert of the pretzel-logic utilized by bureaucrats. Here’s my take: One thing I did learn dealing with the state when they re-wrote the WA Food Code was that, in WA because of our state constitution, local gov’ts have a lot of power. They can make ordinances that are stricter than state law if they want (that is supposed to mean, if the people in those localities want). I’m sure there are some legal limits to this. So, perhaps on the face of it, Whitman County is within its rights to ban advertising of potlucks. Then again, maybe not, since this involves a free speech issue. As far as I am aware, a locality can’t abridge free speech rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. What it boils down to is this: Are there enough people in Whitman County who are willing to challenge the county on this? If there were, I believe they would prevail. Unfortunately, most people aren’t motivated enough. Ah, but it only takes a few who are.

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