BEATRICE – A bill that would ease restrictions on home-based cottage food businesses was before the Nebraska Legislature’s Agriculture Committee, Tuesday.
Senator Tom Brandt of Plymouth sponsors LB 321, which proposes some changes to the original bill in 2019 that authorized cottage food businesses. Such businesses include those that sell items such as pastries, jams, jellies and pickles, sold directly to consumers.

"The changes this bill will make to the cottage food law, will allow producers to sell non-refrigerated foods like cheesecakes and other time-temperature controlled non-meat casseroles. The idea for these changes came from the cottage foods producers, themselves. Currently, our neighbors in Iowa, South Dakota and Wyoming have already expanded their cottage food laws to sell the products that are proposed in this legislation."

The changes would exempt cottage food producers from being labeled as milk distributors and list non-exempt foods. It would also add a full-time employee in the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to oversee the growing industry.  Such home-based businesses are important to stay-at-home parents, retirees or anyone wanting to supplement their income. There are over one thousand such businesses that have registered with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture since the original law was passed in 2019.

Nicole Fox of the Platte Institute, who testified in favor of the bill…said there are cottage food businesses in at least 83 of Nebraska’s 93 counties….operating under Nebraska’s Pure Food Act.

"During the 2022 interim, cottage food producers expressed to us their desire for an expansion of the cottage foods law and I appreciate Senator Brandt's willingness to make this happen. Cottage foods provides a means to earn an income and become an entrepreneur from one's own kitchen. For some individuals in our state, the ability to generate an income may be difficult. Rural areas may offer limited job opportunities, particularly for women. Family responsibilities may not allow for work outside of the home...and renting commercial kitchen space and having the collateral to qualify for a small business loan for a brick-and-mortar establishment...may be out of reach."

Fox says since 2021, about a dozen states have eased restrictions on foods made in home kitchens….with Wyoming having the least restrictive law.
Cindy Harper is a cottage food producer, who sells at a Farmers Market in Lincoln. She said sales have grown as the pandemic is winding down.

"My main product was decorated sugar cookies...that's what I always wanted to market. But, I have expanded into more of a small bakery, making all different kind of items. A lot of that is based on what the people who attend the farmer's market have told me they would like to have. One of the biggest things is kolaches. People of Lincoln seem to be a little kolache-deprived, so that has been a great product for me. In the last four years, I've seen my total sales really quadruple, so it's been a great thing for me."

Harper’s business is a sidelight to her full-time job, but she says she wants to build the business as an occupation in retirement. She says expansion to allow more items to be sold would be a huge benefit to meet customer demand.