Two years ago, I opened my dream business selling homemade breads, cookies and candies from my home in Weston. I was eager to use the new income to help support myself, as well as my daughter and grandson who recently came to live with me. But before my baked goods even had time to cool, my enthusiasm crumbled. I found out my home business was illegal under West Virginia’s “cottage food” laws.
West Virginia has some of the most restrictive cottage food laws in the country. Cottage foods are safe homemade goods that don’t require refrigeration, like cookies and jams. They can be legally sold in 49 states but, in West Virginia, you can’t sell them from your home or even online. Instead, you can sell them only at farmers markets and community events. This means that home bakers like me can make money only seasonally and sporadically, and can’t legally take custom orders for even simple items like birthday cupcakes or wedding cakes.
But this may be about to change. A new bill would catch West Virginia up to the rest of the country by allowing sales not just at farmers markets and events, but also from home, online and at retail shops. The bill does not change the safety controls already in place, such as requiring all foods to be labeled as homemade and allowing inspections and investigations in response to any complaints. The bill already has over 30 co-sponsors. It is also supported by the Department of Agriculture.
We need to pass this bill and live up to our motto, “Mountaineers are always free.” Here are four reasons why:
First, it would bring much-needed job growth by giving home bakers the opportunity to start small, without the massive expense of a commercial kitchen. Home bakers include stay-at-home moms, retirees, the disabled and veterans. For aspiring bakers who are on public assistance, a home business could be the first rung on the ladder to self-sufficiency.
Second, it is not fair to restrict these businesses to farmers markets and events. There are many advantages to selling at farmers markets — it creates name recognition and a reliable customer base. But not everyone can spend their weekends selling from an outdoor stall, especially moms with young kids at home. In addition, most markets are only open four to six months of the year. This means that home bakers often miss the opportunity to supplement their income during the most profitable time of the year — the holiday season. This makes it near impossible to sustain a business.
Third, these homemade foods are completely safe. They are already sold in every state but New Jersey, and there have yet to be any reported safety problems. In fact, West Virginia is one of only four states to restrict cottage foods to farmers markets and community events. Maryland used to have the same law but changed it just last year so that cottage food producers could sell these goods from their homes and online.
Fourth, allowing more sales would be good for customers, too. West Virginians want to buy fresh, local food from members of their community. This allows the customer to know what they are buying and who they are buying from. This would be especially good for rural West Virginians, who don’t have a lot of food options. Don’t you want to be able to order a fresh apple pie at any time during the year?
By modernizing West Virginia’s cottage food laws, the door would be opened for personal and statewide economic growth.
If you like to bake or buy tasty treats, please join us in telling our representatives to vote yes on the cottage food bill. Also, please like our Facebook page, West Virginia Cottage Food Bill, for important updates.