If you’re like most homesteaders, you’re always on the lookout for creative ways to make money from your homestead. Do love to be in the kitchen? Do your friends and family rave about your baking skills? If so, starting a cottage food business just might be for you!
From preserves to cupcakes and spice rubs to homemade pies, the cottage food industry is becoming increasingly popular throughout the country. In many states, you can sell certain types of homemade goods with very minimal licensing. The laws do vary by state, however, and many states will require you to have an inspection of your kitchen, while a few others may even require a separate commercial kitchen.
Step One: Research Cottage Food Laws in Your State
Since cottage food laws can vary significantly by state, and sometimes even county, the first thing you need to do is research cottage food laws in your state. In most states, you will be able to sell your non-refrigerated homemade goods to individuals, but not businesses. As mentioned above, an inspection of your kitchen will probably be required, as well as a business license.
Most states will have a no pets in the kitchen during preparing and processing rule; some will have labeling requirements, as well. Some states will have a limit on the amount of foods you can sell each year, too, usually somewhere between $5,000 to $45,000. Contact your state’s Department of Agriculture to begin researching the cottage food laws in your state.
Step Two: Apply for Your License and Schedule Your Kitchen Inspection
Nothing ever moves fast with government agencies, so you’ll want to get the ball rolling by applying for your license and scheduling the inspection of your kitchen if required. Make sure you are complying with all regulations so that the process goes as smoothly as possible.
Step Three: Decide What You’re Going to Sell
While you’re waiting on all the red tape, you can decide what you’re going to sell and fine tune your recipes. The food items you are allowed to sell will vary by state, but generally, cottage food operators can sell baked goods that don’t require refrigeration, jams and jellies, dry cake and cookie mixes, nuts, dry cereals, granola, dry herb, and spice mixes, popcorn, and certain candies. You may be able to sell pickles and other preserves, as well. Perishable foods that require refrigeration will be forbidden pretty much across the board.
Step Four: Create Your Labeling and Packaging
Next, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to package each product. Cute packaging can go a long way toward attracting attention for your product, so spend some time on this step. When creating your product labels, be sure to follow your state’s guidelines. Many states will require you to inform customers that foods were created in a Cottage Food Operation where inspections are not required. Others require detailed nutrition labeling as well as the address where the food was produced. Be sure to include a full ingredient list and highlight potential allergens, even if it’s not required by your state.
Step Five: Decide Where You’re Going to Sell Your Products
In most states, Cottage Foods can be sold only to individuals, never to businesses for resale. That still gives you plenty of excellent opportunities though. Farmers’ markets would be the obvious first choice, but you could also take orders by phone and hand deliver your products or have your customers pick them up. You may be able to sell your products at your roadside farm stand, too. Bake sales and charity events offer more possibilities. In some states, you can even take orders online and then deliver your products whatever way works best for you and your customers.
Tips to Help You Get Started
Here are some additional tips to help you get off to a great start.
- Be professional right from day one. Once you start charging for your creations, it’s no longer just a hobby, it’s a business. It’s important to treat it like one right from the start.
- Consider your pricing carefully. This is usually the hardest part for new entrepreneurs. Know the worth of your products and don’t be afraid to charge accordingly. Consider the value of your time in addition to the cost of utilities and ingredients. Pricing will vary depending on the market in your area, too. For example, you will be able to charge more for your product in larger cities than you can in small towns or rural areas.
- Whenever you’re at a market, offer samples of your product and ask for feedback. You should always be willing to tweak your recipes if needed.
- Grow it yourself! If you’re growing a garden anyway, why not grow extra berries and cucumbers that can be made into jams, jellies, and pickles to sell at the market alongside your fresh produce?
- Take advantage of the social media craze. Set up a Facebook page and show pictures of your yummy creations, your cooking process, or even your homestead. Be sure to make announcements about which markets you’ll be at and what products you’ll have available. Ask friends and family to share your posts. Share your posts in local groups, too. Get the word out however you can!
- Holidays provide a prime opportunity for selling home baked goods! Consider offering special occasion items and baskets around the holidays for folks that don’t have time to bake their own. You could do a la carte or consider selling holiday baskets that include homemade rolls, cookies, and pies, so your customers don’t have to worry about baking around the holidays at all.
- Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. You will find that many customers will purchase your product over something from the grocery store simply because they like you and your mission. Spend time chatting with your clients. Include your photo on your labels and website. Tell your story. That’s what people love most about purchasing from a small business!
There’s really no limit to what you can do if you want to put the time in. You could just sell some of your home canned jellies alongside your produce each week, or you could offer freshly baked breads, pies, and more at your weekly market. Many cottage food producers have gone on to become caterers, bakery owners, and even restaurant owners. It’s all up to you!