A Holiday Gift that Keeps Giving: Launch a Business from Your Home Kitchen

by: EJ on 12/11/2015

It's day 11 of our 12 Days of #Giving annual holiday sale - there are just two more days to get your books at 50% off.

Today Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko are encouraging us to think of the new year and of how we can put some of those holiday baking skills to good use.

Is your favorite spot over the holiday season your kitchen, that spot where tempting aromas fill the air and you spend hours happily baking away?  Do you have a holiday cookie or baked goods recipe that everyone anticipates every year?


Photo credit: Jessica Fiess-Hill

Now in true holiday spirit, you’re probably kindly giving away those cookies on plates of cheer to neighbors and friends.  We’re all about building community with homemade goods given with love this time of year.  But ponder the upcoming new year for a minute, once the holidays wrap up and 365 fresh days of opportunity open up.  Have you harbored a secret dream of one day running your own food business?  To be an entrepreneur and earn part of your livelihood with that bread recipe Grandma passed down or a shortbread cookie recipe you tweaked to perfection?

The New Year gifts us with the perfect opportunity to do exactly that with minimal, if any, start-up costs involved.  Thanks to the cottage food laws on the books in most states, cookies and other baked items are among the "non-hazardous” foods many states allow us to make in home kitchens and sell to the public with little governmental regulation. This freedom to earn translates to more diverse, vibrant, local and sustainable economies.

Cottage foods laws have largely come about as a result of the Great Recession, as a way to encourage small, home-based entrepreneurs. Depending on your state, these laws only apply to "potentially non-hazardous foods”—those that are either low-moisture products (cookies, cakes or breads), or high-acid foods (jams, jellies and preserves). Other states also include items ranging from candies to dry mixes.  Additionally, most states clearly define what the venues where you can sell and how much you can earn each year. Each state typically also requires certain information be printed on your product label, often including  a line that says something like "Not prepared in a state-approved commercial food facility nor subject to state inspection.”  Download our map of the United States showing which states have the best cottage food laws.

What’s not covered by cottage-food laws are products that involve refrigeration, food service (including catering) or, in most cases, wholesale goods. Like selling fresh produce at a farmers market, your cottage foods must be sold directly to your customers. Check with your state’s law for specifics before you begin to sell, which are typically regulated by your Department of Agriculture.  Our award-winning book, Homemade for Sale:How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from Your Home Kitchen  provides the tools and background you need to navigate and understand your state’s law, as well as a blueprint to take you through each step of the start-up process, including marketing, business structure and potentially scaling up one day to a commercial kitchen.

Inspiring cottage food start-up success stories are popping up everywhere.  Farmer Regina Dlugokencky, of Seedsower Farm in Centerport, N.Y., for example, has used baked goods to diversify her farming operation, boost her bottom line and provide a way to express a passion she’s always had for baking. Download her whole story in this free excerpt from Homemade for Sale here. Dlugokencky sells both sourdough breads and collection of jams she makes from various fruits grown on her farm.

If you choose to start a cottage food business that includes baked goods, simple family recipes that don’t need refrigeration -like your grandma’s sourdough recipe or your famous blueberry scones - are great to use. Many cottage food operators find success with sugar cookies, especially hand-decorated ones. Dig through your recipe box and search for that one recipe that sets you apart, and remember, it doesn’t have to be showy.

We discovered Erica Roth’s shortbread cookies at an annual holiday cookie swap organized by our local Wisconsin Farmers Union chapter.  They were a huge hit at the swap and are the perfect example of baked good you can sell out of your own kitchen: The recipe is short and easy to make, but it makes a desirable end product.

"The shortbread recipe is directly from the lips of the sweetest Scottish lady you'll ever meet, Lily Graham,” Erica Roth shares. "She’s a friend of my Mom's, and it is her family's recipe that she brought with here when she came to the United States after World War II.”

End your year on a sweet note by baking a batch of these.  Share some in holiday spirit with your neighbors.  Then make a cup of our hot cocoa (recipe in our Farmstead Chef cookbook), savor a few yourself, and start envisioning your fresh food business future in the new year.



Shortbread Cookies

By Lily Graham via Erica Roth

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies


  • 1½ pounds butter
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 5½ cups flour


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Mix butter until creamy. Gradually add sugar, then flour.

Spread mixture into a 12-by-17-inch jelly roll pan. To achieve traditional look, pierce repeatedly with fork tines.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until very lightly browned, which may take 45 minutes or more. Cut in diagonal strips (parallelograms), roughly 1½ inches wide and 2 inches long.

All of John and Lisa' books are part of our holiday sale at 50% off

- but only for 2 more days!















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