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.