Industry estimates show U.S. local food sales grew from at least $12 billion in 2014 to $20 billion in 2019. As consumer interest in eating local and supporting local food economies grows, the cottage food industry — people making and selling food from home — is expected to continue to grow at a fast pace.
One way to tell that the cottage food industry has grown? This year, the first industry-wide conference will take place: the Home-based Food Entrepreneur Virtual National Conference, hosted by Renewing the Countryside. The conference, which will take place April 6-9, 2021, will help both new and veteran home-based food entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
Below, cottage food operators Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko share a preview of what to expect from next week’s conference. They also share their predictions on what’s to come for the cottage food industry over the next year.
Why is 2021 the year to start a home-based food entrepreneur conference?
Lisa Kivirist: A convergence of two key elements make spring of 2021 the ideal time to launch the first Home-based Food Entrepreneur Virtual National Conference. First is the surge of new cottage food businesses during the pandemic. While national data is very hard to come by, some states have found more than a 50 percent increase in new cottage food businesses. Second, there is a flurry of new legislation in over a dozen states aiming to expand one's freedom to earn out of their home kitchen. Two of our conference keynote speakers, Erica Smith, lead attorney with the Institute for Justice, and Alexia Kulwiec, Executive Director of Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, will address all the cottage food law changes taking place in many of the states.
John Ivanko: What better time to launch a food product business from home, when many of us are spending more time at home, perhaps with the kids? Some of us are scrambling to generate cash flow to pay the bills still coming in, despite the pandemic or economic downturn. We have the culinary skills and recipes, we just needed a little nudge to start a business and make a little — or a lot — of money. Technology, another topic being covered in a conference keynote by David Crabill of Forrager, has made it so easy to reach out to customers via social media, set up free or low-cost websites, and even process credit cards for orders.
Who should attend the conference?
Lisa Kivirist: This conference is the first time the cottage food movement has gathered nationally, with an emphasis on supporting home-based food entrepreneurs — both those who are currently operating cottage food operations and those who want to launch a business. We have numerous workshops that will be relevant to artisans with varying levels of experience, addressing such practical topics as product pricing, social media marketing, insurance, business finance basics, and options for structuring your business, many taught by successful cottage food operators.
John Ivanko: We also feel the speakers and presentations will appeal to cottage food state educators and others involved in the industry, like extension agents. Home-based businesses can be an engine for economic prosperity and strengthen local communities and economies. What better than getting back to a time when neighbors sell delicious items to each other again, instead of shipping in loaves of bread or jars of jam from 1,200 miles away? If not now, in a pandemic and a time of increased awareness of the impacts of climate change, then when?
Join the Kitchen, Castiron’s growing community of cottage cooks, food artisans, and all food entrepreneurs. Share knowledge, find inspiration, and meet other cottage cooks who are building successful food businesses in the Kitchen. Join today.
What conference highlights should attendees look forward to?
Lisa Kivirist: The conference is an exciting gathering of key national cottage food leaders and some successful home-based food entrepreneurs. They will share tips on how to achieve success, as well as address the state of the cottage food movement and their future visions. We have a truly national diversity of speakers and, based on the over 500 registrations so far, cottage food operators from all over the United States.
John Ivanko: Besides the amazing lineup of speakers and the opportunity to join in for live Q&A sessions, the Whova conference platform provides a robust selection of activities and ways to interact virtually with the speakers and attendees, without ever having to leave home. We have live polls on various topics, state-based community rooms, and the opportunity for anyone at the conference to create their own meet-up session on a topic of their choosing. We also have some fun contests, like where attendees can enter and vote for the “Most Instagram-worthy Food Photo.”
Thanks to New Society Publishers, we’re giving away copies of our Homemade For Sale book to prize winners. Additionally, we’re excited that the University of Wisconsin-Stout will be conducting the first-ever national Cottage Food Operator Assessment at the conference, providing insights into the rapidly increasing movement of home-based food entrepreneurs.
How did you get started in the cottage food industry?
John Ivanko: I’m all about building a vibrant, sustainable and local community and economy. For more than twenty years, my wife, Lisa Kivirist, and I have operated a completely solar-powered Inn Serendipity B&B and farm, selling fresh organic vegetables. So selling cottage foods was a natural way to diversify income. We started with pickles, sauerkraut, pickled garlic and salsa, then expanded into baked goods. Our experiences led my wife and I to write Homemade For Sale, now the national leading resource for cottage food business startups. We’re busy at work on our updated and revised second edition of the book.
Lisa Kivirist: I first learned about cottage food when Wisconsin passed the "pickle bill" authorizing high-acid canned items back in 2010. I could quickly see the potential, along with the need for educational opportunities. When I discovered it was illegal to sell baked goods in our state, I joined with two other farming friends and worked with Erica Smith and the Institute for Justice to successfully sue the state of Wisconsin and get the baking ban lifted. Now I’m allowed to sell a wide selection of baked goods as well. Besides co-authoring Homemade For Sale, I just launched an online course, How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from your Home Kitchen, now a Udemy best-seller.
"Most cottage food operators are culinary artists. Their products are tasty — and beautiful. We love what we do, and do it well."
What cottage food topics do you think will be big in 2021?
Lisa Kivirist: Expanding state laws in a way that support new home food business startups, especially the growing food freedom movement of the opportunity to serve prepared meals and more. The Food Freedom Act in Wyoming and the Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation in California may be harbingers of what’s to come.
John Ivanko: When it comes down to it, most cottage food operators are culinary artists. Their products are tasty — and beautiful. We love what we do, and do it well. But we need to make what we’re doing profitable so that we can stay in business. I see more cottage food entrepreneurs embracing the freedom to earn and renewing the focus on how to make their business profitable while also keeping it fun and avoiding burn out. To this point, we have a conference workshop specifically focused on managing stress.
The Home-based Food Entrepreneur Virtual National Conference takes place April 6-9, 2021. Register for the conference here.