Table of Contents
Sustainability Book Chat
It only seems natural that after you perfect a homemade delicacy for your family and friends, the next step is to start selling it. Until recently this was financially impossible in many states due to regulations that meant you would have to invest big bucks in infrastructure to start a business. However, now that all 50 states have cottage food laws, you can start selling food directly from your home kitchen.
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But before you start baking and selling, be sure to listen to this episode with Lisa Kivirist, co-author of Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from Your Home Kitchen. There are still some things you need to do to stay legal, but it is now so much easier than it was before the cottage food laws were passed.
In this episode we are talking about exactly what you can and cannot sell from your kitchen, as well as where you can sell your products. We talk about the difference between hazardous and non-hazardous foods, and we even get into what needs to be included on your product labels. Not sure how to price your products? We talk about that too.
Lisa Kivirist’ Other Books
- Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers
- Farmstead Chef
- Ecopreneuring: Putting Purpose and the Planet Before Profits
- Rural Renaissance: Renewing the Quest for the Good Life
Learn more about Lisa Kivirist
Listen right here…
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You may check out the review for the 2015 edition of this book on this post.
You may also see Deborah’s chat with authors Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko on this post.
Deborah Niemann 0:04
Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever size your living space, you can do more than you think to lead a greener lifestyle. In the “Sustainability Book Chat,” we are talking to authors and experts about all the different ways that achieving sustainability is within your reach.
Deborah Niemann 0:28
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. We are going to have a lot of fun today, because we’re going to be talking about selling your own homegrown and homemade products. And, we are joined today by Lisa Kivirist, who is one of the co-authors of the newly revised and updated Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from Your Home Kitchen. Welcome to the show, Lisa!
Lisa Kivirist 0:51
Hey! Thanks for the invitation. Deborah.
Deborah Niemann 0:53
It’s so fun to see you again, even if it’s just on Zoom. We used to be—
Lisa Kivirist 0:58
I know! We go way back.
Deborah Niemann 0:59
Yeah, like all the way back to, like, what? 2010? The very first Mother Earth News Fair ever?
Lisa Kivirist 1:06
Deborah Niemann 1:08
Yeah. So, it’s really fun to have you on today’s show, and to talk about your latest book. I remember when the first edition came out, and I was really excited about that. That’s when the whole idea of cottage food was still pretty new. Not every state even had a cottage food law. So, before we get any farther, there may be some people listening who don’t know what we’re talking about when we say “cottage food laws.” So, can you just explain that?
Lisa Kivirist 1:32
You bet. And, this is really the newest, oldest thing. Because, it is the oldest thing of making something on your homestead, on your farm, in your home kitchen, and selling it to your neighbor, right? It’s community commerce at its finest. However, in the United States, especially about 100 years ago, we started becoming more regulated as a food system—which in some cases is great. I want my meat regulated and other things like that, and no child labor, that sort of thing. But, in the meantime, we sort of made a lot of things illegal that are perfectly safe and should still continue for multiple reasons. And, one of those things are what are called “non-hazardous products.” So, these are the shelf-stable foods, the things that, imagine you could bring it to your farmers market and put it on your table all afternoon and it’s fine. So, we can go more into that, but these are the basics, you know, cookies, breads, jams, jellies, that sort of thing.
Lisa Kivirist 2:22
So, cottage food law: These are state-specific laws. So, wherever you may be in the United States, you will have a law. That’s a difference than when the book first came out in 2015; not all states allowed cottage foods, but now they do, and more opportunities are growing. So, every state has their own law. And, that will specifically say what you can sell; how much money you can make; where you can sell your products—the products need to be sold within your own state borders, as things stand now. But, direct to your customer is an important aspect, so it’s not wholesale or retail. Small-scale businesses. Things that you can get started from your home kitchen. But, that’s the key, is your home kitchen. You don’t need a commercial kitchen, or commercial licensing, or all of the cost and time that goes into things like that. You can literally get started almost overnight with your business.
Lisa Kivirist 3:09
So, that’s what we talk about with cottage food products. And, we are talking about products in the sense of, you go to the grocery store and you buy a jar of pickles, right? That’s a food product. So, it’s something like that, that someone would buy and then use in their home or however they decide to use it. It’s not food service. So, for example, that jar of pickles: I can sell you the whole jar of pickles, but if I crack it open and put one on a stick or—I’m from Wisconsin—let’s fry it, right, and sell it to you. That’s food service. Totally different category. Food products are generally, in this country, regulated by the Department of Agriculture in your state; food service by the Department of Health. Much different and more complicated in the sense that we’re talking, like, restaurants, you know? Catering companies. That sort of thing. So, basic food products, but a lot of opportunity again.
Lisa Kivirist 3:53
And, the most exciting thing—and what got my husband, John Ivanko and I jazzed for this second edition—is so much has happened in the last couple of years, with laws expanding, especially under the pandemic. It may be one of the few of blessings of COVID. But, because a lot of people were at home, and people lost jobs, particularly the foodservice area, people started thinking, “Hey, what do I really want to do? And, how can I do that?” And, discovered opportunity under cottage food. So, you saw thousands of businesses surging overnight from home kitchens.
Lisa Kivirist 3:53
So yeah, that’s it in a nutshell. But, it’s really something broader and bigger than just making money out of your home kitchen. As I was saying, selling items to your local neighbor, it builds community. Starting your own business, and going from giving away those cookies every holiday season, right, to selling them, goes from hobbyist to food entrepreneur overnight. And, you know, Deborah, the value of running your own business, right? And, there’s a lot that goes into that, and a lot that comes out of that, even more importantly, so it’s a real, real exciting new path for folks to consider.
Deborah Niemann 4:58
Yeah. And, could you talk a little bit about what hazardous foods are, and things that you can’t sell from your own kitchen? Because, I know a lot of people who have goats want to sell cheese. And, what’s the difference between, like, a custard pie and an apple pie?
Lisa Kivirist 5:14
Yeah, that’s a really good question. And, it can get into the science weeds quickly, the food science weeds. However, in general, like I was saying, it’s things that are shelf-stable. So, the majority of cookies, the majority of breads, anything that is dehydrated or dried—dried herbs, for example, roasted coffee, dried noodles. Those sorts of things are pretty obviously not hazardous. In general, things that would go in the refrigerator, obviously, would be. So, anything like cheese—or your question about pie is a really good one. Because, people often ask a general category, “Can I make pie?” And, I always say, “It depends.” It depends on the recipe itself, but also the ingredients.
Lisa Kivirist 5:53
So, it isn’t even a one-size fits all, like, you know, “Can I use sour cream in my baked good?” Well, maybe. If it’s in a bread, and it’s baked, and that item is still shelf-stable, great. But, sour cream pie, that kind of thing—or sour cream, cherry pie, which is delicious—would be hazardous. Same with a custard. But, you mentioned apple. That’s really interesting. Most traditional fruit pies, like an apple pie, a cherry pie, a blueberry pie, are perfectly non-hazardous because of the sugar in it. And, usually there’s a little bit of citric acid, too. Lemon juice. So, the sugar works as a preservative. So, it’s interesting because sometimes people look at it and they say, “Oh, it has to be dry.” And I’m like, “Ah…” You know, cherry pie is not dry. It’s not that. It’s just what’s the end product is.
Lisa Kivirist 6:38
There is a lab test folks can do if they’re ever wondering about something. There’s a water activity of .85 or less, and a pH level that makes these things work—and now I’m really in the science weeds. But, in most states, there’s great support with an extension or your Department of Ag, and just call them if you’re wondering about a product, and they can help assure that it’s safe. But, a lot of things, bottom line, are under that umbrella of products you can sell.
Deborah Niemann 7:03
Awesome. So, can you tell us a little bit more about where you can sell your products? I know in Illinois, when we first got our cottage food law passed, it was only at farmers markets—which sounded so ridiculous. It’s like, “Oh, so it’s legal to sell these things at a farmers market, but nowhere else?” So, can you talk a little bit about where it’s legal?
Lisa Kivirist 7:23
Yeah. That was a challenge in a lot of states. It’s changing pretty much now, where there’s no reason to restrict the market in the sense of, it’s the same product, right? My chocolate chip cookies are fine if I sell them 10 cookies or 100 cookies; it’s the same cookie, right?
Lisa Kivirist 7:39
So, one thing to keep in mind is that the sale needs to take place in your own state. So, not interstate sales. The sales take place in your own state, in that our farm is literally the first road over the border from Illinois. So, somebody could drive here and buy our stuff. But, I can’t, like, go to an Illinois market, for example. And, most importantly, it needs to be sold direct to the customer. So, the end user is your purchaser. So, no wholesale, retail, that sort of thing.
Lisa Kivirist 8:07
But, I say that with a caveat. And this, again, got us really jazzed with the second edition, is things are changing. There are a number of states that are allowing wholesale out of home kitchens. And, there’s this whole movement now called “food freedom,” where you see increasing numbers of states allowing items that would be hazardous. I know I said non-hazardous, and that’s the safe common denominator for all of us talking today, but increasingly, states are allowing that—Wyoming Montana, California—which clearly opens up a whole lot more opportunity. There may be more regulations. You may have a kitchen inspection. There may be more rules to follow, in that sense, understandably, but things are really moving in this direction. And, that’s super exciting, because that can open up—already has opened up, for some places—opportunity to do more foods, to do meals, that sort of thing. So, we can talk about the general things that everybody can do right now, but it’s a super exciting time.
Lisa Kivirist 9:01
So, directly to your customer—but, like you were talking about, farmers markets are a great opportunity to sell products. It’s a great opportunity to test products, in the sense of, if you’re getting up and running, and you don’t know what’s really going to sell, you can just make a couple of batches of something and say, “Hey, did this work? Did this not work?” So, they’re always a good opportunity. Winter markets especially are always, of course, lacking in fresh produce—at least here in the Midwest. So, these kinds of items are exceptionally sought out and valued. But, that’s the key to each customer. How your customer uses it. They can’t resell it. But, for example, if you’re a wedding cake baker, you know, and you sell the wedding cake direct to the bride, they want to serve it at their wedding—assuming the venue’s okay with that. Totally fine.
Deborah Niemann 9:43
Oh, very interesting about selling it to the bride and then she can serve it to other people.
Lisa Kivirist 9:47
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of creativity in the cottage food space. Still perfectly legal. I mentioned, like, you can’t do food service, for example. Okay. You couldn’t take your cake to the market, and slice it, and put on a plate with a fork, and serve it. Fair enough. But, you’re putting a couple of cookies in a bag and selling those, or cake pops, or something as a single serving? Sure, I would bet money that none of those make it home from the market, but that’s, again, totally fine. Anybody could eat it anywhere. It just can’t literally be food service.
Deborah Niemann 10:19
Okay. So, you mentioned earlier something about 10 cookies or 100 cookies. And, that made me think about the fact that I know, like, with eggs—which are hazardous. But, when we sell eggs up to a certain amount is one kind of license, and once you’re selling more, it’s another kind of license. Are there some states that do limit how much you can sell before you are no longer under the cottage food law?
Lisa Kivirist 10:46
Yeah, that’s a great question, Deborah. So, that’s what’s referred to as your “gross sales cap.” So, it’s your total amount of money you bring in, right, before you deduct expenses or anything like that. And, interesting when the book Homemade for Sale first came out in 2015, there were a lot of states that had a gross sales cap of $10,000, $5,000, $15,000. But, it really doesn’t make a difference when you think about it, in that it’s the same product, right? And, whether I sell one jar of my pickles or 100 jars, it’s not a food safety issue. So now, increasingly, over 25 states do not have any gross sales cap, meaning you can earn as much as you want out of your kitchen. Now, Florida just increased their gross sales cap to $250,000. That’s a lot of pickles. And, I don’t know anybody who has honestly reached that. But, the point is, you really have a lot of room to expand.
Lisa Kivirist 11:36
And then, when I say “expand,” it’s interesting, because the majority of cottage food businesses are A) women-run, B) they’re small scale—and intentionally so, right? So, you could dial it up, you could dial it down, whatever you want. You’re not investing in anything; you’re not paying rent for a storefront every month, right? So, a lot of times, folks will amp something like this up at the holiday season, where people might be looking for baked goods, for example, or specialty items. Or, you could be doing canning of your produce the whole summer long, your high-acid items—and by “high-acid canned items,” I mean, the safer canned items. So, these are things like the pickles, the salsas, jams and jellies, that sort of thing. Typically, states require to use approved recipes for your canned items, which basically just means tested recipes. Anything from extension. Anything from, like, the Ball canning book. But, just because it was Grandma’s salsa recipe doesn’t necessarily mean it meets safety standards by today, because she probably had totally different tomatoes, right? But, you could be making those during the course of the year and selling them into the fall or the following season. So, you really can experiment and see.
Lisa Kivirist 12:44
We write in the book—we have a whole section, though—on burnout, which is a bigger issue, because it’s very easy to take on too much, right? And to overcommit. And, these things take time to make. That’s sort of the whole point, too, is that we are selling handcrafted products, right? This isn’t mass-marketed; we’re not competing with the mass industrial grocery stores and what their pricing is on their shelf. These are specialty items made by you, and you have the right—and, I would argue, the duty—as an entrepreneur to try to keep things in balance, so that it’s both income-generating and also still fun and enjoyable for you.
Deborah Niemann 13:21
So, one of the things that popped into my head when you said that Florida now has a cap of $250,000 is that I can’t imagine how anybody could make that much in their home kitchen. So, did they define “home kitchen”? Like, does it have to be the kitchen in your house? Like, what if you built, like, a freestanding kitchen on your farm somewhere else? At that point, would it have to go and meet the rules for commercial kitchens, since it’s a separate structure?
Lisa Kivirist 13:50
Yeah, it depends. In general, it means your “home kitchen” in that sense; you can’t rent a kitchen and use cottage food law in there, for that example. But, there have been situations where people have built kitchens. Typically, by that time, if you’re gonna invest in building a kitchen, people do commercial kitchens, because their volume is that high. And, once you’re commercial, of course, there’s advantages. You can do wholesale; you can do other things, as well. There are people I’ve known who have, for example, done their cottage food operation, built a kitchen in their basement or something like that. Those would be questions for your own local health department on what their requirements might be, or if that is feasible, but there are a lot of cottage food entrepreneurs who are very good at organization and how to do that. There’s a section of the book on that as well. So, it’s really getting a different mindset.
Lisa Kivirist 14:38
And, this can be a bit of a learning curve—it was for me—is that your “home kitchen” is your home kitchen, right? It’s where you make supper. It’s where you do your fun baking and all of that, and all of a sudden, it is now your business space. So, in some states, there are specific courses you might need to take online on food safety. A couple of states do have a food inspection required. Really, no big deal. Just the fact that you are producing safely, you know, cleanliness, all of that sort of stuff. But, it often helps to get into a business zone when you are producing your cottage food products, in the sense of, don’t be combining with making dinner, or snacks for the kids, or other things. Go into your zone, use your time effectively, amp up all of your food safety procedures and all of that, and that will help create that separation.
Lisa Kivirist 15:26
But, speaking of that separation, that’s often a new challenge for folks, I know, even who are running homesteading businesses of any kind for the first time; or if somebody jumps into a cottage food business, and again, they’ve been giving away those beautiful cupcakes, and now they’re selling them, is to really start thinking like an entrepreneur in the sense of tracking your expenses, right? And, tracking your miles to do a delivery. Or, taking a class in cake decorating. Whatever it may be. All of those things that you used to save up or put on your Christmas/Santa wish list are now legitimate expenses. And again, that’s really empowering. But, it’s a whole other set of skill sets to learn in conjunction when you launch.
Lisa Kivirist 16:05
And, the book goes into that as well, Homemade for Sale, because in that case, it’s basically, you know, Business Startup 101, whether you’re starting a bookstore or a cupcake business, right? It’s how you run your business, how you manage your accounts, making a profit. And that’s key, because, again, if you’ve always been giving something away, it may feel different, even uncomfortable, to charge for something. But, that’s super important. And, we as cottage food entrepreneurs, our community, again, we’re not competing with the mass market. Charge fairly. And, that is often a real struggle for cottage food entrepreneurs, because it’s often not valuing our own products enough—which I could argue against. It’s trying to be more accessible and affordable. This isn’t necessarily going to be for everybody. Don’t get nickeled and dimed. Stick with your pricing, especially in today’s era of inflation, with ingredient costs that you do need to purchase going up, it needs to be tracked and make sure it’s all worth your time.
Deborah Niemann 17:03
That’s awesome advice. I know, somebody posted on our Facebook Group a couple of weeks ago; she was trying to decide what to price a product. And she’s like, “I don’t want to make a ton of money. I want to be fair to people.” And I responded and said, “You know, that sounds really nice on the surface. But, at some point, you’re gonna get tired, and you’re gonna start to feel resentful for not getting paid, you know, for all the work that you’re putting into what you’re selling.” So, thank you for mentioning that.
Lisa Kivirist 17:33
That is really good advice. No, and good for you for giving that out, because it doesn’t help anybody if we as a community of farmers, of homesteaders, of cottage food entrepreneurs underprice our products, because it’s only hurting, again, other people who are selling things, right? And, you and I both know, we so undervalue, as a society, food in our country. And, we are so used to cheap food, and that has to change if we’re going to be sustainable in any matter. And, it starts with how we treat ourselves as a business and how we price things. We do have much more detail in the book on pricing; there’s different approaches, people can take—input calculators. There’s different ways, depending on what you’re doing, to really look at those costs and your time and make sure it’s a profitable item.
Deborah Niemann 17:33
Right. Yeah. Now, if you buy a jar of pickles at the store, or a bag of cookies or something, there’s gonna be a label on there with ingredients and nutritional info, and it’s super-complicated. So, can you talk a little bit about what kind of packaging and labeling is required for people who are selling under the cottage food laws?
Lisa Kivirist 18:40
You bet. Yep. Super simple and important. So, every state will have its own regulation. So, check with your state. Every state will have some form of line, literally a couple sentences, that you need to put on your product that says something to the effect of, “This was not made at a commercially licensed kitchen.” And that, I think, is really good. It’s transparent, right? It sometimes sounds a little legaleae-y, or not particularly pretty, but I say celebrate it, because everything else people are buying is so industrialized and out of factories, this is really the one last option, right, to truly buy something homemade.
Lisa Kivirist 19:17
Labels will also typically require your name, the business name, and some way to contact you. Sometimes it’s your address or a website or something like that, and that is really, again, going back to the transparency aspect, because true, even if you buy something off the shelf—that jar of pickles in a grocery store—there’s a tracking mechanism if anything was ever wrong with that. Or, you know, we’ve seen peanut butter outbreaks recently. Things can be tracked back. So, it’s there for food safety purposes, but I would argue even a better reason is marketing. So, hopefully they love whatever they bought at market, and, “I want to get more of these.” How can they get in touch with you? How can they find out how to do more with that?
Lisa Kivirist 19:57
And, your label could also look pretty. I’m always off on, like—especially we bring things to farmers markets—it just shouldn’t look like it came off of your dot matrix printer and taped on, right? So, there are a lot of programs out there; we talk about some in the book, be it through Avery labels or others, where you can easily, graphically—even if you’re not a graphic person, like me—design something really interesting and pretty that enhances your product.
Lisa Kivirist 20:20
There’s all sorts of interesting ways to really showcase the fact that it’s homemade. One thing that I do when I do our jams and jellies and pickles and bread—I do a Latvian rye bread—is, I’m making a finite batch, right? There’s not that many. And, to look at your product really as a fine art product, a fine piece of art. So, if I’m gonna have six loaves of bread I’m bringing to the market, I’ll have my labels, but I’ll literally hand-write on it, “1 out of 6. 2 out of 6. 3 out of 6.” Just, like, that print, right? Because it’s true. There’s a limited batch. There’s only so many.
Lisa Kivirist 20:54
And, it’s interesting, because I feel like with cottage foods, the more authentic we are about what we’re making and the stories behind them, the better we can market them, because that’s what people want, right? So, I’ve mentioned my Latvian sourdough. Latvia is where my mom’s from. Estonia is my dad, in the Baltics, where rye bread is like a religion, right? So, I just grew up with this. I make these sourdough rye breads. I guess it’s a good bread, but it’s also a very unique bread. I don’t know where you could buy those, period. And, that’s where you see a lot of interesting cultures represented in cottage foods. You know, those recipes have been passed down that would never make it into a mass market store. But yeah, you could make small batches and you could sell those, and that uniqueness goes a long way. Sharing your story. Where did this come from? Why is it important to you in selling your product?
Deborah Niemann 21:43
Awesome. So, I happened to notice that your book also mentions that you should do a zoning check. Which kind of surprised me, because I’m like, “What?” If you have a cottage food law, that means you can do this out of your home kitchen. So, what does zoning have to do with it?
Lisa Kivirist 21:59
Well, most of your listeners, probably—like you and I—live on farms. And, we’re like, “Zoning? What?” You know, I mean, either it’s ag or rural or whatnot. But, for folks who are particularly in urban areas, or suburban areas, there can be some regulations on home-based businesses. They can’t legally isolate cottage food and say, “Well, you can’t do your cupcake business.” But, there might be some restrictions on home businesses in general. It’s just something you want to check out, make a couple phone calls, before you get up and running and anything could be an issue there.
Lisa Kivirist 22:32
So, what’s interesting is, increasingly—not surprisingly, since COVID—there have been some really old laws on the books that restricted home businesses of various sorts, even in ag places, ag areas. But, since everybody was doing this during the pandemic, and a lot of people are still doing it in various capacities, that these laws are finally catching up. My own county here, very rural, very dairy county in southern Wisconsin, just updated their zoning code last year to legally allow home businesses on farms that are unrelated to agriculture. And, in this case, in most places where you live, if you live on a farm, it’s pretty conventional agriculture. When they say “agriculture,” they don’t mean making pickles out of my cucumbers, you know? It’s, like, acres of soybeans or alfalfa, right? So, things are catching up, most definitely. But again, a couple of quick phone calls just to double-check.
Deborah Niemann 23:24
Okay, great. Another thing, too, that I think some people might be not clear on is that this doesn’t just give you free rein to do it all, without getting any additional license or training or certification or anything like that. I remember a few years ago, a friend of mine wanted to have a cottage food business. And so, she had to do the Food Manager Certification in Illinois to be able to do that legally.
Lisa Kivirist 23:53
Deborah Niemann 23:54
So, is that kind of typical for most states that you have some training?
Lisa Kivirist 23:58
Yeah. Most states will have a registration meeting; you just need to register with the state so they have a list of all the cottage food producers. Not a big deal. There may be a small fee with that, but it’s not an insurmountable thing. To your point, there may be some training that you need to go through. So, in most cases, not literally something you can, like, start overnight, but there are few barriers—and I’d argue there really should not be barriers. And, if you encounter barriers, ask questions, because that’s not what it’s intended for, you know, in the sense of, there shouldn’t be exorbitant fees. They shouldn’t be treating this like commercial licensing, because it’s not. So yeah, definitely ask some questions.
Lisa Kivirist 24:37
And, I think something that’s pretty obvious, but it sometimes gets lost, is you still are a legitimate business. Sometimes people—again, if you’re just so used to making something in your kitchen and giving it away—you are a legitimate business, as we were just talking about. You know, you need to be tracking your expenses and your income. Think about insurance. Because, even though we are talking very safe products, that’s still a smart thing to have, or at least consider and research. Do you want to be a sole proprietor, or an LLC, or a Subchapter S? All of these things do take time in that sense. So, it’s important to look that through. So, hopefully, the Homemade for Sale book will be a resource.
Lisa Kivirist 25:16
And, some other things, too, that will help folks is coming up, I’m excited, next April—April 10 to 13—is the second now Home-based Virtual Food Entrepreneur National Conference in the virtual space. So, that is being hosted by the nonprofit Redoing the Countryside, who did the pilot back in 2021. And, we had over 900 people attend. So, there’s definitely a need and an interest, and that’s really a great forum to learn from people in other states. It’s interesting, because it’s really grown to a super collaborative community within cottage food entrepreneurs, because we’re not competing against each other, really, you know, in the sense of, we’re all spread out geographically. We’re spread out in different states. We’re all focused on our own local community. So, you see a lot of recipe sharing, marketing-tip sharing, etc., and support and rallying, and saying, “You can do this!” So, yeah, the National Conference is a great way. We’re gonna create a forum for people to come together and really, really share.
Deborah Niemann 25:24
Oh, that sounds like so much fun! And yeah, you’re totally right. That’s why I tell people, like, I’ve always been more than willing to teach people how to make goat milk soap, and to make their own cheese, and that kind of stuff, because there’s no way that any of us are going to have a market big enough to cut into each other’s business. Like, we’re just not gonna get that huge.
Lisa Kivirist 26:13
I love it. And, it’s so funny, because that really defies traditional business models, right? If you went to talk to a business professor at the university, and you’re like, “Why would you give your recipe to somebody starting out? Why would you share your top tips?” etc. But, it’s really because of that sharing that this whole community of cottage food entrepreneurs nationally has grown so much.
Lisa Kivirist 26:55
And, one thing we haven’t talked about—this is not necessarily everybody’s dream or should be your dream. But, there are a fair segment of cottage food entrepreneurs where their dream is to go retail, go wholesale, and a lot do, if that’s where you want to go. But, to do it in such a way, with such training wheels, if you will, that you could have a successful business up and running, and then go to brick and mortars with rents and staff and all sorts of other expenses? You’re really setting yourself up to succeed much better. So, that is an option and opportunity for anyone, as well.
Deborah Niemann 27:30
That is super exciting, yeah. One of the things, too, I wanted to share a quick story, because I noticed in your book, you also mentioned “Get a state sales tax license.” I mean, there may be people who read it and think, “Oh, I probably don’t need to do all these things right away.” But, you never know. You just never know who might get mad at you.
Deborah Niemann 27:49
And, I have a friend who has a farm down the road. And, she was selling goat milk soap at farmers markets and crafts fairs and stuff, and somebody got mad at her for some reason. We don’t know why. But, they call the state and said, “This woman is selling goat milk soap and not charging sales tax.” And, she had someone show up on her farm from the State Revenue Department to investigate this complaint. Like, I don’t understand why they had to come to her farm. Because, I mean, they nearly gave the poor woman a heart attack to have to go through, like, this hour-long interview. You know, I mean, she was charging sales tax. Like I said, I don’t know why they couldn’t have checked that online, you know? But, you just never know when something like that could happen, so you got to make sure you’re dotting all your I’s and crossing the T’s.
Lisa Kivirist 28:39
You bet. You bet. But, you raised a really good point, Deborah, and this is actually a new section of the new edition of that community aspect, and for us not to be what I was writing as “the cottage food police.” Right? In the sense of, we’re all in this together, you know? And, most of the time—I’d argue all the time—probably your friend’s time, it was just having conversations and asking questions, right? But, we don’t do that. We don’t report our neighbor for doing something. We talk to them; we educate; we go through other means, because by doing that, it only hurts the whole community, right? It’s just another thing that, whatever, “We can’t do this right, because da-da-da-da-da.” So yeah, keep asking questions. Don’t narc on each other. It’s not helping.
Lisa Kivirist 29:24
But, to your point, like, about sales tax and things. Yeah, there’s a lot of those kind of logistics that need to go into your business. You don’t have to necessarily have every T crossed before you start, but have your basics. Talk to other people. Talk to other cottage food entrepreneurs. Sales tax is an interesting example, because it varies so much; it varies by state if your product is taxed or not. It varies by category. Like, for example, sometimes the high-acid canned items, the pickles and the baked goods, the bread, don’t have sales tax, but candy would, as a confection. And even then, there’s sort of categories within that that are or aren’t. So, it’s a constant learning process.
Lisa Kivirist 30:02
And, I often say to folks, like, “It’s all of this we’re talking about.” If you read Homemade for Sale, and it really makes you overwhelmed and nervous, just take a step back for a minute, you know, in the sense of, this is kind of like running a business, you know, right? And you need to approach it in a careful-but-moving-steady-forward sort of way, right? And, to get excited about it. To get excited about the fact that you are in control of these aspects. But, you’re also responsible. And, too many times I see—particularly with mostly cottage food businesses run by women—we tend to, you know, want to make sure everything’s in line, and everything’s perfect. You’re never gonna have that with a business, right? We can do our research; we do the best we can. And, if something wasn’t done perfectly, we fix it, right? I mean, I realize it’s a broad net there. But, there’s a lot of things to learn and keep learning. I am for sure. Keep learning—and new products to try. Who knows? Your state law may expand and allow more things, so that’s another opportunity. So, it’s a constant, good evolution.
Deborah Niemann 31:05
Yeah. Well, I want to make sure we end on a positive note, because before we got started, one of the things you said to me that really stuck was that you wanted people to know just how easy it is to be able to start and run a business from your home. So, I want to make sure that nobody feels overwhelmed by all the little things we mentioned here. And, just give you this last opportunity to let people know, like, how easy it is to do this.
Lisa Kivirist 31:30
Totally, Deborah—and especially with your listeners, who are already most likely homesteaders. You are on your land. You are doing a lot of these things already. Running a cottage food business is really a natural next step in that it is small-scale. Again, I keep going back, but it’s in your home kitchen. There is no investments. You probably have all the equipment you need already to do this, right? So, you’re hitting the ground still running successfully. You’ve probably been already making the product, so you have that skill set down. And, even if you’ve been giving it away to your families and friends locally, they’re going to be your Number One customer once you put out your shingle and start charging for that.
Lisa Kivirist 32:10
And, it’s also a really practical way to diversify your income source. We all realize that homesteads, we don’t do just one thing, right? And, we typically don’t have just one set of income coming in. And, that’s the whole point of modeling Mother Nature, right? She doesn’t plant one seed. It’s the same thing with cottage food. It’s a nice way to diversify your homestead income package. Experiment. If it doesn’t work out for you, or it’s just not working for whatever reason, we’ll be okay, you know?
Lisa Kivirist 32:41
I always joke about it, but I’m like, my one rule is, “Never sell something as a cottage food product that your family won’t eat.” Because, worst case scenario, you just end up with leftovers, right? So, I don’t know, my boys are not too big of fans of my Estonian pickled pumpkin. It’s a little bit of a unique taste. But, I’ll eat that. And, by the way, that always sells out at the market, because it’s such a unique product. But, especially during the winter months, and when you have a little bit of time to think and experiment a bit, do some research. Hopefully Homemade for Sale will help there. I also have a longer, five-hour Udemy class that goes into more of the detail on this type of food business startup.
Lisa Kivirist 33:19
So, there’s a ton of resources, and a growing number of resources. Check with your state. Some states have wonderfully embraced this and have all kinds of training and resource people as well. So, there couldn’t be a better time to step into cottage food, because a lot has been brewing over the last couple of years—the last five years, especially. And, it’s only getting better.
Deborah Niemann 33:41
That’s awesome. Thank you so much for joining us today!
Lisa Kivirist 33:45
Thank you so much!
Deborah Niemann 33:46
Can you let people know where they can find you online?
Lisa Kivirist 33:48
Sure. Yep. So, it’s all off of our main site for the book: HomemadeForSale.com by myself and my husband, John Ivanko.
Deborah Niemann 33:56
Awesome. Thanks again for joining us.
Lisa Kivirist 33:58
Deborah Niemann 34:00
And that’s it for today’s episode. You can find show notes at ThriftyHomesteader.com/BookChat, as well as a transcript. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. You can also find Thrifty Homesteader on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. See you next week on “Sustainability Book Chat.”