Several years ago a friend held a holiday sale at her house showcasing local artists, crafters, and DIYers. We gathered and set up ‘shop’ around her living room offering wares. I was there selling jars of jams, scented sugars and fermented lemons at her request – I had extra stock so figured, why not? Little did I know at the time that I was operating an illegal underground store. I just thought I was being savvy and making a few extra bucks for holiday shopping. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one selling homemade goods.
“When I decided to take cake-making from a hobby to a business, I went through my county and contacted my health department and found out it was illegal to bake cakes out of my home,” said Felicia Hill, owner of FH Cakes based out of Vancouver, Wa. A mother of two, Felicia started baking cakes at home after her one-year old was tested positive for a severe peanut allergy. Her cakes were three dimensional creations that took dietary restrictions into account. Eventually, friends and neighbors started asking for cakes and a small hobby business was born.
At the time, it was not permissible by Washington State Law to sell food made in your home kitchen. All food products intended for sale had to be assembled, cooked, baked, etc in a commercial kitchen. These commercial kitchens are built-in to any food business like a restaurant or cafe, but for a dabbler in home-cooking, commercial space is a challenge to come by. There are churches, community kitchens, and the occasional shared-use kitchen space available to burgeoning entrepreneurs, like at Ballard Kitchen – a commercial space in Seattle where small businesses can rent occasional space.
As she got busier, Hill did some investigating on exactly what she needed to do to become a legitimate and legal business. “I had permitting fees and inspections, a kitchen rental, and I had to find childcare for my two small children,” while at the commercial kitchen, she noted. Hill quickly realized the costs were prohibitive to her being in business.
She had heard of other states implementing “Cottage Industry” laws to support small-scale home producers and decided Washington State needed one, as well. In the fall of 2010, Hill met with her local Senator and discussed the possibility of introducing a similar law. At about the same time, she learned another Senator was proposing the same bill (then-Senator Rockefeller) and quickly joined him in support.
In the early stages, the bill proposed for Washington state essentially copied the details of a recently adopted cottage law in Michigan, allowing private homes the ability to produce commercial food goods while assuming licensing and compliance with all details of the law. An early advocate, Hill followed the bill through the legal process, attending the first public hearing and meeting with Governor Christine Gregoire after the Cottage Industry Law (SB5748) was signed on May 5, 2011.
While the new law allowed for home-produced goods, there was one major problem – home kitchens have to be licensed in order to operate legally, but there was no budget to pay for an inspector to visit homes and conduct inspections. Licensing fell to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, and “they had to find staff and pull them from other projects for this,” added Hill. “We were supposed to see things wrap up three months after the bill was signed into law, but I kept getting the run around at WSDA,” Hill bemoaned. The law sat stalled with little movement.
There were other issues too — seemingly foreseeable, as the original law from Michigan was little-edited. The gross sales revenue was set low, at $5,000 a year, making it a challenge for anyone looking to build a viable business. Over winter, a group convened (including Hill) and made small amendments to the bill (including increasing gross sales allowable to $15k), hoping to improve upon it and correct formalities with the intent of reintroducing it this year.
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