State Policy Network
Will your Thanksgiving dinner come from next door?
Three benefits of homemade food production.

By Gabriel Green, Marketing Assistant at State Policy Network

Growing up in Wyoming, I have been spoiled by an environment that allows entrepreneurs to sell foods they make and grow themselves. My father is fascinated with “urban farming” and producing his own food. He has everything from chickens and rabbits to a sprawling garden. Many of my neighbors have similar, albeit often smaller, homegrown food productions.

Most Americans don’t share that same food freedom. Almost all states have “cottage food laws,” which regulate how, where, and when you can sell food made in the home. While the core logic behind cottage food laws revolves around safety, these laws don’t have much impact on public health and instead limit Americans’ ability to make an honest living. They also prevent the sharing of good food among neighbors and friends.

As states look for ways to strengthen local economies in the months ahead, changing the rules around homemade food production is one opportunity. Here are three benefits that lower restrictions would bring to communities:

1. Allowing the sale of homemade foods expands economic opportunity to American families.

The most obvious benefit of relaxing restrictions on food production is increased economic opportunity. If the government allows people to sell something, they often will. In Minnesota, deregulation of baked goods alone led to more than 3,000 new businesses. Furthermore, allowing the sale of homemade food is particularly beneficial to women who may want flexible job opportunities that enable them to care for their families while growing their craft and their careers.  

2. Local food is good for the planet.

If you’re like me and you worry about the carbon footprint of what you eat, an easy way to help reduce this footprint is to localize your diet. At the very least, local food travels a shorter distance to get to you, necessitating less freezing, trucking, and jet fuel. Allowing homemade food sales gives more freedom to local entrepreneurs too. This can lead to fewer mass food production operations like concentrated feed lots—which often pollute the air and water with their runoff.

3. Local food production helps communities and families struggling with poverty.

Local food sales boost local economies. When neighbors trade with neighbors, the money stays close by. Localized food production also helps prevent food instability. Take Detroit, a city widely regarded as a “food desert,” especially for those living in urban areas. Cottage food laws prevent impoverished individuals from growing, making, and selling their own food. But when food is locally produced and neighbors are allowed to sell to neighbors, the market itself corrects gaps caused by failed urban planning, and food deserts are eliminated.

States should review restrictions on the sale of homemade food

Although well-intentioned, cottage food laws often hurt more people than they help. States should review the effects these laws are having on American families in their communities. Many organizations, such as the Institute for Justice, have put together model legislation like the Food Freedom Act, which would ensure that safety regulations don’t get in the way of food entrepreneurs trying to provide for themselves and their families.

As I sit back for Thanksgiving dinner this year, I will be thankful for all of the homegrown veggies and locally sourced meat that my family bought from friends and neighbors.

When you sit down on Thursday, ask yourself where everything on the table came from. What could your state do to change your answer to “It came from next door”?

Related resources

Defending your right to sell homemade food
Institute for Justice

Food Freedom Act
Institute for Justice

Categories: State News
Organization: State Policy Network