By TIM ALEXANDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Reaction to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s signing of the Home-to-Market Act (ILSB-2007) was quick and supportive from the state’s cottage food producers, many of whom had been operating under an acknowledged shroud of secrecy before passage of the bill.
According to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA), restrictive regulations had prevented cottage food producers from selling their products outside of seasonal farmers markets. With farmers markets not available in all locations in Illinois, producers had also been shut out of home sales, fairs and festivals, home delivery or online transactions. The bipartisan passage of the Home-to-Market Act, sponsored by State Senators David Koehler (D-Peoria) and Will Guzzardi (D-W. Chicago), will allow cottage food entrepreneurs to reach new customers and grow their businesses.
“We have over 500 cottage food producers in Illinois registered in our database, and we estimate that to be just a fraction of all who are out there,” said Molly Gleason, communications director for ISA. ‘We estimate this will have a huge impact on hundreds of small producers across the state, and potentially thousands.”
Cottage producers had faced frustrating levels of bureaucratic red tape when trying to market their products in the past. Now, even more home-kitchen cookie bakers and pickle makers will be adding their recipes to Illinois’ eclectic roster of homemade food products, Gleason predicted.
“With the new law, all of these new sales avenues will open many more doors for these entrepreneurs to reach more customers and grow their businesses,” she said. “To be able to market their products online and on social media was a big sticking point for a lot of these producers. It’s just really hard to make a business go without having online sales, especially in a pandemic.”
Fledgling cottage producers must register with their county health department (fees can run from $0 to $50) and obtain a certified food handler’s certificate online through the Illinois Department of Health website. Food handler’s certificates can cost around $150 but are valid for multiple years, according to Gleason.
As part of the bill, statewide regulations and processes have been implemented to govern the cottage food industry. Previously, a hodgepodge of county regulations and ordinances (or lack of) governed home food producers in Illinois.
“This law standardizes regulations across the state, so every county will have the same registration forms and processes,” Gleason said.
The ISA promoted the bill, in part, as another tool in Pritzker’s playbook for stimulating financial growth and additional tax revenue within the state of Illinois. This is fine with cottage food producers Derek Ervin, a Johnson City, Illinois orchard operator and Kelly Lay, a specialty peppers grower from Leroy. The two ISA members are simply grateful to be able to significantly expand their brands and sales territories.
“In our county it is a very expensive upfront cost to use a commercial kitchen to produce your food products, so cooking in a home kitchen always made sense,” said Lay, who grows 55 varieties of hot and mild peppers for use in fine pepper mixes and pepper-infused food products under the “D20 Peppers” moniker. Past local and state regulations did not allow Lay to sell her products outside farmers markets, and commercial kitchen laws were vague on the production of pepper-infused products. She is pleased that the new law will bring clarity to all aspects of her cottage food production, including production, promotion, distribution and taxing standards.
“The cottage food law expands what I am allowed to make and where I can sell it. It takes the time-honored smalltown tradition of buying food from each other, and makes it legal and aboveboard,” said Lay, who, as an alderwoman for the town of Leroy, said she understands the value of unlocking access to previously untaxed food production avenues the bill allows.
In addition to growing berries for sale on his specialty farm, Ervin, along with his wife, Libby, produces maple syrup, pickles, jams and jellies from his farm’s assets.
“We kind of let the farm decide for us what to produce, and then we just try to make those things profitable,” said the former Chicagoan, who returned to his southern Illinois roots to open Glacier’s End Farm.
“This bill is going to be huge for us. Especially during COVID, we found our opportunities to sell were very limited. And we could not get into our closest farmers market until the end of last year, when it was getting cold, because of limited space,” Ervin added. “It will definitely open up avenues for sales, and on top of that add a little more of a safety net.”
Illinois’ Home-to-Market Act is effective Jan. 1, 2022.