Growing interest in local food demonstrates need for Legislative Bill 304

By Katie Jantzen​

I am a cottage food producer in southeast Nebraska. I bake bread as a part of my farming operation. However, because of existing Nebraska regulations, the growth of this aspect of my business is restricted by the limitation to only sell at farmers markets. This restriction limits sales by time and by location for both the cottage food producers and for potential customers, either of whom may not be able to be at a farmers market. Many cottage food producers live in rural areas without a local farmers market. It is unnecessarily restrictive to require these producers to drive long distances in order to be able to sell their products. Likewise, because many rural farmers markets operate, at most, weekly for 2 to 3 hours, it can be challenging for consumers who want local, homemade food to be able to arrive at a specific location during such a small time frame.

In recent years, many other states have expanded their cottage food laws to promote small business development and local food access. Nebraska is the only state that restricts cottage food sales to farmers markets. In the past, concerns have been raised about food safety of home-baked products. Somehow, in the 48 other states that allow cottage foods, nobody has ever gotten sick from buying a cookie outside of a farmers market. Given that excellent track record, it makes sense to remove this restrictive regulation and allow cottage food producers to sell their products to other Nebraskans seeking out local, homemade foods.

As consumer interest in local food continues to grow, it would be wise for the state of Nebraska to catch up with other states that have eased cottage food restrictions, thereby providing opportunities for largely rural, largely women-owned, home-based food businesses to contribute to the economy.

Katie Jantzen submitted this letter into the official record of the hearing for Legislative Bill 304, which aims to update Nebraska’s cottage food laws. Jantzen is a member of the Nebraska Food Council.