Support home-based food entrepreneurs


With so many out of work and stuck at home, allowing people to start home-based cottage food businesses and earn income for their families is more important than ever. 

Cottage food laws allow people to sell homemade food from their homes.  

Currently, all but one state (New Jersey) allows for the sale of some homemade foods. These operations are mostly governed by state laws, but entrepreneurs may be subject to outdated local zoning and permitting regulations that can make it difficult to operate.  

  • In DC, businesses cannot exceed 25% of floor space or 250 square feet, whichever is less. So, if a cottage food producer planned to use their kitchen for baking but their home office for managing orders, they would likely violate that rule.  
  • Cities like Boston, Boise, and Pittsburgh limit the number of non-resident employees for home-based businesses, even if those employees work remotely. These restrictions prevent home baking businesses from growing and creating jobs for neighbors who could help with baking in the home or work remotely on administrative duties like tracking orders. 
  • Many cities have restrictions on storing equipment or goods in the home, which could create issues for someone who wants to store baking equipment and inventory (like delicious cookies) in their home. 
Emily Annick spent five years trying to start her home-based bakery because of D.C.’s confusing cottage food laws and stubborn health department. Even after major reforms passed that repealed many of the burdens on cottage food businesses, the city’s health department continued to enforce the old rules. With more flexible rules for cottage food producers, Emily would have less trouble dealing with her city’s complicated rules and more time serving her customers.

Cities should reform these restrictions to promote entrepreneurship, foster economic recovery, and increase access to fresh food.  

To increase access to food and jobs, cities should: 

  • Eliminate the need for a home occupation permit to operate a cottage food business. If permits are required, obtaining a permit should be easy and require no more than completing a simple form and paying a small fee. 
  • Update outdated home-based business requirements that arbitrarily restrict cottage food producers—like square footage limitations and prohibitions on storing equipment. 
  • Some cities do not require inspections, but those that do should review procedures for inspections and other interactions with local health departments to ensure that these processes are simple and easy to navigate. Move processes online and eliminate required in-person visits, as those can be hazardous to entrepreneurs and agency staff during the pandemic.
  • Work with state officials to: 
    • Ensure that cottage food producers in your city can sell a wide variety of goods from a wide variety of venues without a revenue cap. 
    • Streamline onerous state registration requirements. 
    • Work to expand the list of goods that can be sold beyond non-potentially hazardous goods, to other common baked goods, like cheesecake and buttercream. 
    • Advocate for complaint-based inspections rather than pre-operational inspections. 
    • Protect the home addresses of cottage food producers by advocating for an ID labeling system in place of a home address labeling requirement. 

Download this PDF for more information.

Let’s get to work in your city.

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