cottage food industry

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s Cottage Food Law has been in place for four years, since July of 2015, and each year the number of Minnesotans that produce and sell food under its umbrella has grown dramatically.

“We have a total of 5,420 people registered for 2019,”Alida Sorenson, Response and Outreach Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Food and Feed Safety Division, said.  “These are registrants in ‘good standing,’ which means their registration is not on hold, and they are considered active, registered producers.”

The number of Cottage Food Law registrants increased by nearly 2,000 registrants between 2018 and 2019 and has been growing by more than 40 percent each year, according to MDA statistics. A majority of the registrants, from year-to-year, are recurring registrants. 

The Law gives registrants the right to make and sell certain types of homemade food products without obtaining a food handlers license if they take a food safety course every three years; agree to follow food handling safety measures; and register each year with the Department of Agriculture. Producers are also required to label their products according to MDA guidelines and to only sell in certain retail venues such as from their home or at a farmers market. Wholesale sales are not allowed. Food labels must include the name and address of the producer, the date the product was produced, and the ingredients — including potential allergens. Only individuals can receive the Cottage Food exemption.

There are two tiers, or levels, for Cottage Food producers. Tier I is for individuals that sell no more than $5,000 worth of Cottage Food products per year. Registration with MDA for Tier I producers is free and the food safety course for that tier can be taken at home on-line. Registration for Tier II producers is $50 per year and they are required to take a written test. Tier II producers may sell from $5,001 up to $18,000 per year. That is the maximum allowable under the program.   

The types of food which can be produced and sold under the Cottage Food exemption are as wide-ranging as the imagination of food entrepreneurs. They can include home-canned pickles, vegetables, or fruits with a pH of 4.6 or lower. They can also include jams; jellies; preserves; fruit butters; dried or roasted items such as beans, herbs and seeds. If you know how to make tasty and attractive icings, frostings, or sugar art, you can do that as well.

What’s not allowed under the exemption are foods that are from an animal or aquatic species — whether they are raw or cooked. Foods that are from a plant and are cooked, such as rice or steamed green beans, are not allowed. Food which consists of raw seed sprouts, cut melons, cut fresh tomatoes, cut leafy greens, or garlic, or herb-based oil mixtures are also not allowed under the Cottage Food exemption.

Angie Welmers, of Redemption Acres near Belle Plaine, Minn., has been a Tier I Cottage Foods producer for several years. 

“I've been making jams for my family for about a decade and selling for a bit less time than that,” she said. “I really enjoy canning, so it will always be a part of my summers. Any extra work involved is absolutely worth it when I open that jar of fresh and delicious jam in the middle of a January snow storm.” 

Angie calls her Cottage Food Enterprise “Homespun Edibles” and sells her products from home and at markets in Savage, St. Peter, and Eden Prairie, Minn. She and her husband also include canned products in Redemption Acre’s CSA subscription. Angie lists fourteen different products for sale at her website (redemptionacres.com) and proudly states that her rhubarb barbecue sauce took first place at the Scott County Fair this year.

Angie has taken Homespun Edibles to a new level through teaching canning classes at Redemption Acres. At a canning class in September, her students learned by canning Plum Cardamom Jam and Dilly Beans.

“Making jam is my creative outlet,” Angie said. “Life on the farm is full and sometimes challenging, but making creative and delicious jams lightens my load and makes me feel proud.”

A large majority of Cottage Food producers are Tier I producers and, like Angie, have less than $5,000 in sales. Angie says she’s “aiming high” and aspiring to increase her sales. The average Cottage Food producer is fairly close to breaking through that Tier I ceiling and, likely, has similar aspirations to Angie’s.

“Respondents who took the course in 2016 and 2017 and responded to a survey in 2018 reported a total of $187,767 in sales, or an average per participant of $4,204,” Suzanne Driessen of the University of Minnesota Extension said.

University of Minnesota Extension teaches food safety courses and provides educational resources to Cottage Food Producers, according Driessen.

“This law affords cooks the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and share delicious, locally produced food,” she said. “This might be known as the pickle law but we've had an interesting variety of products being prepared by people taking the course — including kombucha and cupcakes.”

People interested in finding delicacies produced by Minnesota’s creative Cottage Food producers can get started in their search by going to the Minnesota Department of Agricultures’ Minnesota Grown Directory at minnesotagrown.com.