March 13, 2014
It’s not uncommon for food lovers to dream of giving up their corporate careers to start a food business. That’s exactly what motivated Hope Lawrence of Hudson Henry Baking Co, maker of Good News Granola, to leave her finance career and, with her family, move to Virginia. Originally she had been looking to open up a brick-and-mortar bakery but with two small boys, Lawrence realized that she’d end up spending all her time in the bakery away from her children. “That wasn’t why we made this move,” she says.
So, instead, she started her company out of her home. Under Virginia law, food producers who make products that they sell at farmers’ markets or directly to the customer may legally work out of their home kitchens.
Virginia is not alone in this. Commonly referred to as Cottage Food Laws, currently all but 5 states in the US allow for some form of home-based food business. These laws are written on a state-by-state basis and each state has different requirements and permitting regulations. These laws, which are new in many states in the last few years, are proving popular with food artisans who want to try their hand at running a food business. While there is no national count on how many home food businesses are in operation, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reports that they have close to 1000 registered home food businesses while in the state of Washington, where the cottage food laws just went into effect in June of 2012, there are nearly 100 registered home food entrepreneurs.
Shana Fischer, of Phoenix, AZ, had dreamt of starting up a bakery for many years but found the costs associated with starting a food business in a commercial kitchen were cost prohibitive. Time constraints were also a major concern for her as she already runs her own production company and needed kitchen time that would be flexible with her busy schedule.
After talking about how she wanted to start a food business for many years, it was ultimately the death of a close friend that gave her the impetus to get started. “She told me that every year I needed to do something fearless in her honor,” Fischer says of her friend who died at 39. In December 2012, Fischer decided that her fearless thing would be to start Brilliant Sky Bakery and she dedicated it to the memory of her friend.
As a business owner, Fischer understands the need to watch costs carefully so she determined that it made the most sense for her to start her business from her home kitchen as permitted under Arizona’s food laws. “It’s significantly less expensive for a small producer like myself rather than renting a commercial kitchen space,” Fischer says, “and [the kitchen] available when I need it.”
In Virginia, Lawrence was in a unique position in that the home she and her husband purchased had a commercial kitchen in it that is separate from the home kitchen. Her kitchen has been inspected by state officials which enables her to sell wholesale to stores just like other commercially-produced products. Lawrence also finds support from the State of Virginia through the Virginia Finest program that is focused on helping small food entrepreneurs network and build their businesses.
“Our agency is unique in that we’re tasked with making sure these companies are off to a great start,” says Sarah Pennington, Public Relations Specialist for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Included in this is providing food artisans with the resources they need to ensure their products are being made in a safe manner as well as marketing and sales opportunities that bring food artisans and store buyers together. “We want these businesses to expand and grow,” Ryan Davis, Program Manager for Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Dairy and Foods, adds. “Ultimately it’s good for Virginia to help them become successful.”