LAFAYETTE COUNTY – Three entrepreneurs are challenging the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, who state it is against the law to sell their baked goods to the public without a commercial license.
Kriss Marion, of Blanchardville; Lisa Kivirist, of Browntown; and Dela Ends, of Brodhead, filed a civil suit in circuit court Jan. 13, 2016 to change the law that prevents them from selling bakery goods made at home to consumers.
They are a part of a larger group of women who have been working with the Wisconsin Farmers Union and partnered with state staff for the past three years to pass the “cookie bill” after the “pickle bill” was passed.
The “pickle bill” allows limited sales of home-canned foods without a license. Homemade pickles, salsa, jams and jellies can be sold to consumers at farmers markets and other venues. Fruits and vegetables that are naturally acidic or are acidified by pickling or fermenting can be sold directly to consumers, including applesauce, jams, jellies, chutneys and salsa. They must be sold only at community or social events, such as bazaars or farmers’ markets, and sales must not exceed more than $5,000 a year. But muffins, bread and other baked goods need to be made in a commercial kitchen or they could face six months in jail or up to $1,000 in fines.
Kriss Marion, owner and operator of Circle M Market Farm and Bed and Breakfast just outside of Blanchardville, was proud of the support they have received from Sen. Janis Ringhand and Rep. Mark Spreitzer and for their hard work and dedication to this bill.
“Janis has been working really hard,” Marion commented. “It sailed through the Senate but at the Assembly, they basically didn’t allow it to come to a vote. So her and Mark had to start over again.”
Sen. Ringhand “fine tuned” some of the issues by lowering the amount of money made in sales over the course of a year from $10,000 to $7,500.
“It’s important to note that this is not about a competition with local bakeries. It’s to see if you really like it, if your friends like your food and if you have decent recipes.”
The Institute of Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm has helped the women file a lawsuit in Lafayette County Circuit Court. The Institute of Justice has been following food freedom issues all over the United States. They had a victory in the neighboring state of Minnesota for a similar “cookie bill”. Kriss stated that the Institute of Justice approached their group and has helped circulate pressure on the Legislature.
“It’s crazy. When you picture Wisconsin you think of small farms. Tourists want to go to farmers markets and buy from mom and pops but we have one of the most restrictive laws in the nation.”
Only Wisconsin and New Jersey have laws against selling home baked goods.
If breads and cookies were made in a commercial kitchen then it would be legal. But, outfitting a commercial kitchen can cost approximately $40,000 to $80,000. Renting space in an existing commercial kitchen is expensive as well; monthly rates can often exceed $1,000, making it difficult to start a small baking business, especially in this rural area.
“Raising the ban on cookies is unique and would really help drive economic opportunity in small towns,” Marion suggested. “People have asked me to start a farmers market and I have. People would love to come but we can’t get vendors to come if they can’t make a big investment.”
A proposal to allow the sale of baked goods without a license has failed to pass in the Legislature in previous years.
“I love the small towns but the small towns need help. That is why I’m doing this.”
Recently, CBS Sunday Morning picked up the story for their Money addition. The story has generated lots of buzz and many have contacted Kriss with some wanting to buy cookies, stay at her B&B and some just showing support.
“Farm to table is so big that it is a huge missed opportunity to get people out to the farm.”
She believes that the reason the news station picked up on the story because it shows the inconsistencies in the legal system and that the one person against the bill is a Republican, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has not allowed the bill to come to the Assembly floor. Vos has connections to the Wisconsin Grocers Association, who oppose the bill. They state that it is a safety reason.
“They say this is a safety concern. Clearly that is not the states concern because the state allows non-profit organization to have baked sales twelve times a year or once a month. If it is a safety issue then why would it be safe for them to do it once a month?” Kriss questions.
She argues that the home made baked goods are quite a bit safer than anything produced in a factory because the consumer can go directly to the person that made the goods. Kriss gave the example of Fresh Express, a company, which produces and distributes packaged salads, and their recent “bat salad” incident, where a decomposed bat was found in a packaged salad in Florida.
“In a factory, the person putting on the lid or label is not directly responsible for that product. We expect there to be regulations where humans don’t have their eyes on the product all the time. When you have a small baker, they have their eyes on everything, touching and inspecting everything.”
Kriss is pretty sure they will win the lawsuit, with Wisconsin only being one of two states that has the ban and all the support they have received. She hopes that after their court date on April 27, they will be making cookies, but not right away as they will need to work with the Legislature to craft a fair and equal law.
“I don’t want to bake Lemon Lavender Sunshine cookies all day. I want my bed and breakfast, my farm and to be on the county board. I just want to bake cookies around the edges and bring people to the farmers market. When people come to my farm, they are eating the countryside and that is exactly why they came here. Why would we not provide that in Wisconsin? That is what we are all about; bringing people out to our countryside.”