June 12, 2024

New legislation benefits small food businesses

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — 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 Senate Bill 2007, sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, and Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, creates smart new regulations for cottage food operations, enabling them to reach new customers, while giving the public greater access to unique Illinois products. The legislation awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature.

“Illinois has an estimated 500 cottage food businesses, most of them small farms and women-owned businesses,” said 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.

“In October, in my neighborhood, we have a festival that’s called Autumn Drive, and people from all over the Midwest come. I would like to be able to sell my jam and jelly during Autumn Drive to lots of people who are coming here. I also make a raspberry tea that I’d like to sell online. The Home-to-Market Act will allow me to do that,” said Ann Chaney, owner of Grace Farm Studios, Woodstock, where she raises primarily raspberries and sells a variety of cottage food products.

“I’m in favor of this legislation because it makes farming more efficient and helps me sell all of my products to people who want to buy my products.”

“Our farmers don’t do this as a side gig. They need this opportunity to have other outlets to sell their products,” said 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.