In 2017, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service reported farmers markets in the U.S. are increasing in popularity since it began tracking them in 1994. USDA’s Local Food Directories listed 8,687 farmers markets in 2017, an increase of approximately 42 percent from 2010. USDA estimates farmers markets in the U.S. contribute annual sales of around $1 billion.
In the U.S., foods made in the home and other venues not considered a regulated commercial kitchen (also called a “food establishment”) go by different names such as cottage foods, farmers market foods, homestead foods, home processed products, home foods, home caterer products, or homemade foods. For purposes of this article, “cottage foods” is used to denote those foods not prepared in a regulated commercial facility. As of this writing, all states, except New Jersey, legalized the production and sale of foods produced in the home. New Jersey restricted the sale of cottage foods to religious and charity
bake sales only, but in 2019, legislation was introduced to expand the types of food and the venues where they may be sold.
By supporting cottage foods, farmers market shoppers demonstrate their support for local farmers, which is especially relevant for about one-fourth of all U.S. farmers markets vendors who depend on those sales as their sole source of income. Shopping at farmers markets also encourages local businesses to be successful and stimulates the economic development of the local community.
At the downtown farmers market in Salt Lake City, for example, Jorge Fierro started selling homemade refried beans when he could not find an acceptable product. Shoppers liked his refried beans and his success encouraged him to introduce other new products. With a micro-loan, he opened a small market to sell his refried beans and 40 other products. Today, his products are sold in different retail venues in Utah. He also recently opened an upscale restaurant.
According to the Farmers Market Coalition, growers who sell locally create 13 full-time jobs for every $1 million in earned revenues compared to three full-time jobs created by growers who do not sell locally. Farmers markets with locally owned retailers give back more than three times as much of their sales to the local economy as chain competitors do. About 60 percent of farmers market shoppers in low-income areas also reported those prices were more attractive than prices at their grocery stores. Shoppers further enjoy the pleasant social environment found in farmers markets, where about 15 to 20 interactions occur per visit, creating a strong sense of belonging that improves community life.
American Cottage Food Laws
Cottage food laws in the U.S. are not all the same. Although states have sovereign power on all matters affecting the public health and safety of their residents as well as commerce within the state, the federal government provides guidance to the states through the Food Code (also called the Model Food Code) that is the best advice of FDA on the safety and protection of food at retail and in food service. The Food Code is updated every four years, and as of this writing, the most recent version is Food Code 2017. It contains a uniform system of provisions that are non-binding unless the state or local government adopts it by enacting it into a statute, by promulgating it as a regulation, or by adopting it as an ordinance.
Some states have stand-alone cottage food laws to make the rules convenient and clear to cottage food producers. Although the resulting state or local statutes, regulations, and ordinances are different in scope, design, specificity, and degree of completeness, U.S. food safety laws look similar to one another because of the Food Code.