New Home-to-Market Act to grow small food businesses

New legislation passed by the General Assembly will bring more jams, jellies, pickles, baked goods and artisan products to Illinois. The Home-to-Market Act SB2007, sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi and Sen. Dave Koehler, creates new regulations for cottage food operations, enabling them to reach new customers, while giving the public greater access to unique Illinois products.

“Illinois has an estimated 500 cottage food businesses, most of them small farms and women-owned businesses,” says Molly Gleason, spokesperson for Illinois Stewardship Alliance and lead organizer for the bill. “Improved cottage food regulations will not only support these existing businesses, but potentially help grow thousands more, at the same time providing shoppers with more opportunities to buy local and support their neighbors.  It’s a big win for the local food economy in Illinois and one step closer to our goal of helping Illinois farmers feed Illinois.”

Cottage food laws exist in varying degrees in every state of the nation to provide farms and food entrepreneurs an avenue to produce and sell certain low-risk products from a home kitchen without the need for a costly commercial kitchen or storefront.

In Illinois, the current law limits sales of cottage foods to seasonal farmers markets, with few exceptions. Illinois is one of just three states in the nation with this restriction, which prevents cottage food operations from reaching new customers and growing their businesses.

The Home-to-Market Act addresses this issue by expanding sales avenues for cottage food producers to include direct-to-customer sales avenues such as fairs and festivals, home sales, pick-up, delivery, and shipping. Not included are sales to retailers or distributors.

“Our farmers don’t do this as a side-gig, they need this opportunity to have other outlets to sell their products,” says Liz DeRuntz, operations manager for the LEAF Food Cooperative in southern Illinois, which organizes 18 small farmers to collectively market, package and sell local products. Many of those farms produce cottage foods, ranging from dried noodles to herbal teas and hot sauces.

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