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New W.Va. law a boon to home food businesses

June 30, 2019

HURRICANE, W.Va. (AP) — Jordan Dotson started her baked goods business, Sugar Momma Sweets in Hurricane, in 2016 after her son was born as a way to have some “me” time and to make a little extra money.

“Quickly, I realized if I wanted to continue this business, I needed to get a business license and rent a commercial kitchen,” she said. “The problem was I didn’t want to be away from my kids, so I would put them to bed at night and then go to the commercial kitchen at night to work.”

She said that routine left her exhausted.

“I was quickly losing passion for making cookies,” Dotson said. “I decided to change directions and take less custom orders and instead teach others how to make cookies. I began teaching cookie decorating classes, which combined my love for baking and teaching. This allowed me to work from home and only go a few days to the kitchen for prep work before each class.”

In March, though, the demands on Dotson and others in similar situations eased. That’s when West Virginia became one of the most welcoming states in the nation for homemade or “cottage food” producers after Gov. Jim Justice signed into law a cottage food bill that allows the sale of these safe, shelf-stable goods out of homes, online or in retail shops. The new law went into effect June 5.

“I prayed long and hard for this cottage food bill to pass because I knew it would allow me to be home with my kids, while setting my own hours and still be ‘legally baking,’” Dotson said. “I was at a crossroads before this bill passed as to whether I should put a commercial kitchen in my own home or open up my own bakery — both of which I wasn’t ready to commit to yet.”

Before the law passed, West Virginians were limited to selling their cookies, jellies and breads at farmers markets and community events. With most farmers markets closed half of the year and events popping up sporadically, it was difficult for many producers to make a profit.

“Since we couldn’t take custom orders from our home, my wife and I had to guess how much of what kind of goods we should make, package everything up, and drive to the market or event that was often miles away,” said Eric Blend, owner of The Blended Homestead in Wheeling. “Depending on turnout, we had to turn customers away or throw out product.”

Now, bakers, herb driers, honey makers and other cottage food producers can sell goods from their homes, take online orders and even have a spot in a retail shop — all throughout the year.

“Not only can I customize my goods for special occasions, I no longer have to miss out on the most profitable time of the year, which is the holiday season,” said home baker Michelle Carpenter, of Weston.

“This is a great change for West Virginia small businesses and for American small business generally,” said Institute for Justice (IJ) activism associate Melanie Benit. “Another state is realizing that over-regulation is harming everyday Americans and, by government loosening its grip, people are given the opportunity to try their hand at entrepreneurship.”

As shown in the IJ report, Flour Power, allowing the sale of cottage foods, results in new jobs with flexible hours and few startup costs for the growing industry.

“This is especially helpful for women in rural areas,” said IJ attorney Erica Smith. “Farmers and stay-at-home moms can bring in much-needed supplemental income for their families while providing local food options in areas that don’t have many choices.”

The law does not change what kinds of foods can be sold, and producers are still required to follow basic safety requirements like labeling the goods as homemade and listing the ingredients. The cottage food law specifically deals with homemade baked goods, makers of honey, jellies and jams or those who sell herbs. Meat and poultry do not fall under the new law.

“As more people start selling and purchasing these safe, local products, I see a bright and delicious future of food freedom for West Virginians,” Benit said. “It will create new jobs with flexible hours and few startup costs. More food options will be available to isolated communities while providing cottage food producers with much needed supplemental income.”

Dotson said now with the cottage food law, she wants to continue to teach others how to bake cookies so they can also start their own business from home.

“I’ve met so many mothers, teachers, military spouses who want to work from home and want to try to sell baked goods,” she said. “This cottage food law has opened up so many doors for anyone who is looking to work from home.”

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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com

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