For Kelli Eaton and Sara Main, owners of Fizzy Bread and Dips, Michigan’s Cottage Food Law has meant the difference between dreaming of success and obtaining it.
The Cottage Food Law, enacted in 2010, makes it possible for people to produce food products within their homes to sell. There are guidelines, of course — producers have to sell face-to-face so they can answer questions about their products, and they can’t sell any products that require time or temperature control for safety, for example — but the law allows people to start a business selling foods without taking too much of a financial risk.
Eaton and Main sell their bread and dip mixes at local craft shows. Under the law, they can produce these products without having to undergo the same kinds of licensing and inspections required by the Michigan Food Law, potentially saving the pair and their fledgling enterprise thousands of dollars.
“When we started looking into selling at local craft shows, we figured we better get legal about it and so we started researching,” Eaton explains. “There’s a lot of good info on the State of Michigan website about the Cottage Food Law which saved us a lot of money when we were starting out, so we learned as much as we could and then started complying.”
Eaton and Main also took advantage of the Can-Do Kitchen, an offering of local organization Fair Food Matters located in the People’s Food Co-Op building, on Harrison Street in Kalamazoo. The Can-Do Kitchen routinely offers workshops on the Cottage Food Law presented by representatives of Michigan State University.
“The Can-Do Kitchen ties into the Cottage Law for us because that’s where we’ve learned a lot about labeling, food safety and licensing,” Eaton says. “We’ve also been able to use the kitchen to make food samples for shows. It’s an amazing resource, and we’re blessed to have it right here in our community.”
The Can-Do Kitchen, in addition to hosting workshops and classes on community nutrition, food production, gardening and canning, provides a certified kitchen that can be rented out — a must for Main and Eaton, who need to prepare their sour-cream-based dip samples in a certified kitchen in order to serve them at craft shows.
Lucy Bland, manager of the Can-Do Kitchen, looks at businesses like Fizzy Bread and Dips as indicators of the success of the Cottage Food Law.
“I can’t think of any drawbacks of the law,” Bland says. “It’s really positive in that it gives people a chance — you don’t need a lot of start-up money to start producing food at home, and money can be a big challenge for people.”
Bland says that since the law was enacted, she’s seen it enable many small providers to sell their products at farmers’ markets, fairs and craft shows. The State of Michigan and MSU have had a huge hand in helping people become more educated about the law and how to meet its requirements, she says.
Joanne Davidhizar, who works with the MSU Extension in running the workshops, explains that the workshops are a part of the MSU Product Center’s mission to support and provide public education.
“As part of the MSU Product Center, we provide both education and counseling to those who are thinking about starting a business,” she says. “We work with other specialists in food safety, and we talk about how to support a good business. When going into business, most everyone wants to make money, and we help people think about things they have to take into account. We cover the basics.”
Bland emphasizes that the Cottage Food Law helps establish local food sources and thereby helps communities function in greener and more healthful ways. And the law often leads small, part-time businesses to become full-blown successes, thus boosting the local economy.
“Cottage Food Law producers often start looking to expand,” Bland says. “The Can-Do Kitchen can be a next supporting step for those producers. We love to talk to people who are looking to branch out, and we want to support as many local food producers as possible.”
Eaton and Main have already started looking toward the future of their business. They’ve moved beyond the confines of the Cottage Food Law, becoming certified to sell more types of foods thanks to direction and support from the Can-Do Kitchen, so be sure to check their Facebook page at FizzyBreadFB to learn about their latest offerings.
“We have full-time jobs, so this is a fun side job we do,” says Eaton, who is a buyer for an automotive company while Main is a college instructor. “But if we ever get to a point where we could get into a retail store, then the Can-Do kitchen has helped us evolve where we can do that. We’re a small business that has turned from doing it for fun to expanding into a bigger business. It’s all possible because of the Michigan Cottage Law. We wouldn’t be where we are today without it.”