'Cookie Bill' would allow home bakers to sell their goods

Tallgrass Kitchen

Anna Thomas Bates
Special to the Journal Sentinel

By this summer, Wisconsin may become the 49th state to allow home bakers to sell their cookies, muffins and cakes at farmers markets, bed and breakfasts and more.

Lavender Lemon Sunshine Shortbreads are a perfect spring cookie.

Regulations like this fall under the umbrella term “cottage food laws.” As of this writing, Wisconsin allows for acidified pickles and preserves crafted in a home kitchen to be sold, as they are considered non-hazardous foods. Proponents would like the bill to be expanded to include baked goods, similar to every other state except New Jersey.

They could come one step closer to their goal this week.

A quick history: with broad bipartisan support, this legislation, fondly referred to as the “Cookie Bill,” has passed the state senate twice. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) wouldn’t schedule a vote either time in the state assembly, where it was likely to pass.

Vos issued this statement to CBS News explaining why he doesn’t support the bill:

“As a small business owner, I appreciate the need to remove unnecessary regulations that don’t protect public safety or the environment. While it’s important that Wisconsin attracts new entrepreneurs, it should not be at the expense of our small businesses that are currently meeting the standards and regulations.

“The legislation that was proposed last session would have created an unequal playing field and undermine small businesses who make up nearly 98% of Wisconsin businesses, employing half of the workforce in our state.”

Vos owns his own small food business, Rojo’s Popcorn. The Wisconsin Grocers Association also opposes the bill.

The women championing the cookie bill weren’t going to go down without a fight, so with the help of the Institute for Justice, a lawsuit was filed. As early as April 27, the Lafayette County Court could hand down a summary judgment. The judge could rule that the current law, requiring home bakers to have a commercial license, is constitutional; rule that the law is unconstitutional; or let the issue proceed to a trial, already scheduled for June 7 and 8.

Lisa Kivirist of Inn Serendipity Farms in Monroe, Kriss Marion from Circle M Farm in Blanchardville and Dela Ends from Scotch Hill Farm in Brodhead are the plaintiffs, and on April 9 they were featured on CBS’ “Sunday Morning.”

A few of their recipes were posted on cbsnews.com. One of the producers emailed Marion to let her know that in less than 24 hours, her recipe for Lavender Lemon Sunshine Shortbreads had received more than 3,000 views, and “for a recipe added to the site late Sunday afternoon, this is a huge number.”

Marion said within a week of the segment's airing, she had received dozens of requests for the cookies, many suggesting creative workarounds to get around the current regulations. Marion is not taking them up on their offers; instead, she is waiting patiently for the judgment. She herself does not want to become a professional home baker — her goal is to create economic opportunities for residents of small, rural towns.

Kivirist said the reason they pursued legal action was to “set a legal precedent for other food entrepreneurs — laws can come and go, but a legal judgment stands.”

For small bakers, this expanded regulation could mean additional income of a few thousand dollars, enough to make a big difference in a single household or a small farm business. For Wisconsin residents, it would mean access to more baked goods from talented cooks.


Lavender Lemon Sunshine Shortbreads

Anna Thomas Bates is a mother and writer living in southern Wisconsin. Find more recipes and stories on her blog,tallgrasskitchen.com. Email her attallgrasskitchen@gmail.com.