Selling Cottage Food (a.k.a. Being Your Own Delicious Boss)

farmers market

Quick! Name an entrepreneur. Did you name Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Oprah? If so, you forgot someone–you. Yes, you can be an entrepreneur by selling cottage food. Read on to learn the ins and outs of this (sometimes) complex business.

First of all, what is cottage food?

It’s any food that you make at home to sell. Examples include bread and other baked goods, jams and jellies, salsa, and maple syrup. Cottage food is similar to value-added products that you may see at your local farm stand or farmers market. The difference is that value-added products include both edible and non-edible items whereas cottage food is all edible.

And this is where things get sticky. You can sell yarn from your sheep’s wool or your homemade lavender soap without concern of foodborne illness. But when it comes to foods, you don’t want to sell (or buy) anything that could make someone sick. Because, you know, it’s bad for business.

Cottage foods generally fall into two categories: low-risk and high-risk. As you may have guessed, low risk cottage foods have a lower risk of being contaminated by foodborne pathogens and high risk foods have a higher risk of pathogens. Bread, cookies, and granola are examples of low risk foods; meats, milk, and eggs are higher risk.

Let me tell you ’bout my bread…

I love to make bread. (It’s an obsession for me. Carb addiction is real.) And, pardon the brag, it’s pretty darn good bread. My friends and family love it, and I sell out at the PTG bake sale every year. Would you like to buy some? Well, I’d love to sell you a few loaves, but I can’t. You see, I’m not a licensed food seller.

I can give my bread to friends and neighbors free of charge and not have to worry about being a licensed cottage food seller. I can also “sell” my bread at the PTG bake sale as long as the money earned from the bread goes to the PTG (or other charitable organization).

In order for me to sell you my bread–and keep the profits–I’d have to comply with the laws of my state. So, this is where my dreams of bread-making glory come to an end. But many folks press on and go through the process of becoming licensed food sellers.

You can do it! Here’s how:

Your first stop should be forrager.com where you’ll learn all about the cottage food laws in your state. The site will also answer many of your questions including: Do you need a food label (and what should that label have on it)? Can you sell your cottage food to someone from another state? And how do you get liability insurance? Block off a serious amount of time to take in all of the useful info on this site.

Also, an on-line search of your state’s specific laws will give you some helpful info. Check out this information on Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. For legal questions, this site is a good place to start.

Bear in mind that state laws aren’t the only regulations that you may have to follow to sell cottage food. You may also be subject to federal, county, and municipal laws. Your local health and agriculture departments are good resources as well as your municipality’s planning division.

Where to sell?

Once you meet the requirements for your state you can sell your delicious goodies at a variety of places including farmers markets, craft fairs, school carnivals, and online market places such as Etsy. (FYI: I like this article about selling food on Etsy.)

That’s a lot of red tape to jump through. Why bother?

Why? Because you can make some serious change by being your own boss and doing something that you love to do. Game on!

Have you heard of a guy named Paul Newman? Chances are you’ve also heard of his food-stuffs sold at grocery stores around the country. In 1982 his now-famous business started out by giving homemade goodies to friends and family. Need more inspiration? Check out the full story on here.

Not ready to think about starting a food empire yet? I hear you. Take baby steps. Think about that patch of herbs in your back yard that’s grown out of control. Now think about clipping bunches, bundling them with ribbon and selling them. Since the herbs cost nothing you have a pretty high profit margin.

Start small but dream big!

Related on Organic Authority

Start Your Ovens: California Homemade Food Act in Effect

Home Chef Revival! California Prepares to Legalize Homemade Food

Delicious Homemade Bread Recipe: 5 Minutes of Labor, No Kneading Required

photo of man and woman at market via Shutterstock

Chris Hull

Chris is a gardener living in southern Maine.