CHARLESTON – A bill recently signed into law should be a good lesson in home economics.
Senate Bill 285 easily passed both houses of the Legislature this session, and Gov. Jim Justice signed it into law last month. Also known as the Cottage Food Law, it will allow individuals to sell homemade, non-potentially hazardous food items made in private residences.
Before, these entrepreneurs only could legally sell their goods at farmer’s markets and community events.
“As these items are now exempt from most fees and regulations, the hope is to reduce many of the barriers for creating new agri-business,” according to Crescent Gallagher, spokesman for state Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt’s office. “We believe the greatest impact will come from stay-at-home mothers or a family farms that wants to value add their own products for sale.”
The law eases restrictions on these cottage food producers, who can sell cookies, cakes, jams and other homemade foods without a permit or the need to rent commercial kitchen space. The passage of the law also brings West Virginia in line with almost every other state, with New Jersey being the only state with more restrictive laws.
Once the law goes into effect June 5, these cottage food entrepreneurs will be able to sell their goods from their homes, take online orders and sell at retail stores.
Sen. Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson) was one of the sponsors of the bill.
“I’m very much for entrepreneurship and for home-based businesses,” Rucker told The West Virginia Record. “And this type of business is the perfect example of that. But, I was shocked when I found out how restrictive our laws were. I knew we needed to do something to change this.
“For these entrepreneurs to go through all of the processes that were in place for selling foods – all of the inspections, renting a commercial kitchen – it was very expensive when they didn’t know if the business was going to be successful. So, this bill will make it easier for them to start their own businesses. It puts us in line with almost every other state.”
According to a recent survey by the Institute for Justice, the cottage food industry provides an “attractive avenue to entrepreneurship for women, particularly in rural areas.” It says these small business owners are “overwhelmingly female, live in rural areas and have below-average income.” The average cost to start a cottage food business is about $500, according to the survey.
The study also shows that the business allows owners to have flexibility, financial support and the change to be creative while being their own bosses. It also says cottage food businesses provide benefits to producers and consumers while posing no threat to the public.
Eric and Brianna Blend both have full-time jobs – Eric works for the state Division of Environmental Protection, and Brianna is a teacher. But the couple also operates The Blended Homestead farm in Wheeling.
A few years ago, they started raising pastured chickens and pigs as well as selling bacon, pork, whole chickens and half chickens at farmer’s markets. The business slowly has expanded to sell sweet breads such as banana bread and zucchini bread, granola and similar items.
Eric Blend said the passage of this bill will help businesses like The Blended Homestead grow or grow even more.
“There really is good value in this bill because before, it was illegal to sell to somebody,” he told The Record. “We could sell our goods at a farmer’s market, but we couldn’t sell the same things to neighbors. And, let’s face it, there aren’t too many farmer’s markets in January. So, it was seasonal.
“But, this bill makes it possible for businesses like ours to sell year-round. I think that’s why legislators were on board with this bill. It just expanded our selling opportunity. We still go through the same safety precautions.”
Blend said the West Virginia bill actually moved the state ahead of most other states.
“In addition to making it OK to sell to your neighbors, lawmakers also approved the retail and online sales as well,” he said. “So, they really took two steps ahead with this bill.”
Rucker said West Virginia lawmakers have been trying to make things easier for entrepreneurs.
“We should always try to encourage folks to fulfill their dreams,” Rucker said. “I know some ladies who are doing this. Now, they’re producing and selling their items commercially, even beyond the state. But, they needed to get a start somehow. I’m glad we could help them do that.”