Kentucky restricts low-risk cottage food sales

Jul 29, 2015 at 2:46 pm
Kentucky restricts low-risk cottage food sales

Despite the strength of our local food movement, Kentucky joins Delaware and Rhode Island as the three most restrictive states in the country for cottage food sales. Cottage foods include known safe items made in average kitchens, including jams and jellies, cakes and breads, doughnuts and candies. Outside of commercial kitchens and food businesses, in Kentucky the sale of low-risk canned foods and baked goods is restricted to growers.

Many of Kentucky’s growers promote their literal and figurative milk and honey with the state’s Kentucky Proud symbol. Farmers apply for this state-granted stamp of approval to help market their products, and to connect directly to consumers. These same farmers are allowed to produce and sell cottage foods from ingredients grown on their farms or elsewhere, but Kentucky law restricts the sale of low-risk cottage foods made in common kitchens, unless the homeowner grows the main ingredient themselves.

Many survival skills, including those involved in food preservation, are passed down through generations. My great grandmothers were all dynamic farmer ladies, considered mere farmer’s wives in their time, but each was no less a farmer in the kitchen than her spouse was in the field or garden. Each sustained her family through growing food, raising small livestock and canning and preserving harvests.

Their knowledge was lost with the convenience that came to the next three generations, and while I claimed that canning is a miserable task, I was compelled to learn the art of food preservation. I started collecting supplies, including books, magazines, jars, tools, et cetera. And then, with all my modern canning gear and instructions, I’ve taught myself their old-fashioned skills.

On the day I canned my first jars of jam, I launched a kitchen chemistry lab that my kids watched in awe. The kitchen — a home’s natural gathering place — is a lost source of science and math education. We have STEM education in the very hearts of our homes. And, even though the science is sound, and the foods low-risk, I couldn’t sell any of my canned goods or my crusty breads to my neighbors, only because I don’t grow the main ingredients, not because of my kitchen or my skills.

Kentucky has some reasonable regulations for selling cottage foods. Home-based processors must register for the program at no cost, they must follow specific kitchen guidelines (which are not publicly available), and they can only sell from their homes, at farmers markets registered with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and at farm stands approved by the Kentucky Farm Bureau. What’s not reasonable is requiring the home-processor to grow their main ingredient, intentionally restricting skilled people from launching businesses.

Technically, Kentucky’s restrictions do not make a true cottage food law — cottage food laws enable processing — and recent public interest to create a solid law have failed.

States with supportive cottage food laws provide simple and inexpensive ways for skilled people to begin safe and profitable businesses from home — businesses that can become sustainable jobs. Arguably, Kentucky’s lack of a cottage food law mostly affects women — ones who can and bake, but who might otherwise lack employment, garden space, access to commercial kitchens or capital.

Denver, Colorado passed an bill earlier this year boosting its existing cottage food law, encouraging even more gardening, allowing front-yard produce sales and supporting the sale of cottage foods produced in residential kitchens. Denver’s new law is meant to increase urban participation in personal food responsibility, to allow more self-employment, to keep more dollars local and to encourage more connection within one’s community.

Even in states that are chipping away at people’s right to farm, those same states have solid cottage food laws on the books to allow their residents to sell foods created from their farmers’ produce. But, Kentucky intentionally prevents home-based processors from entering the marketplace altogether, knowing that most people can’t grow enough ingredients to sustain a legal business.

Kentucky has proven to be a leader in some aspects of the farm-to-table movement, but we’re not doing enough. Skilled Kentuckians deserve an inclusive cottage food law that allows for legal participation in the marketplace alongside our farmer friends. Whether our cottage foods come from local harvests or just local hands, many gardeners, bakers, canners and other hobbyists have skills and generations of knowledge they crave to share with the community for a humble profit.

Rachel Hurd Anger writes weekly advice for urban chicken keepers at She’s been a regular contributor for Chickens, Urban Farm and Hobby Farm Home magazines.