Local farmers look forward to selling homemade baked goods

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Ashley McCallum
Saturday, June 17, 2017

As a U.S. Navy veteran and farmer, Betty Anderson of Brodhead always looks for new ways to serve her fellow veterans.

Now she can serve them by selling homemade baked goods.

A Lafayette County judge ruled May 31 that Wisconsin’s ban on the sale of homemade bakery is unconstitutional, so selling those items is legal for now, said state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls.

“It seems like Wisconsin has sort of been getting away from entrepreneurship and kinda crushing the little guy, so this is just very heartening to see a law like this get overturned or a ban be called unconstitutional," Anderson said. "That really makes my heart kinda sing.”

Anderson’s friend and fellow Brodhead farmer Dela Ends was one of three women who sued the state over the homemade baked goods ban.

The court's decision should go into effect at the end of June, Ends said.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has not decided whether he will appeal, a spokesman said.

Ends said it is difficult to make a living off farming, so many farmers seek supplementary income to make ends meet.

She plans to sell homemade bread baked with organic grains from her farm, particularly in the winter months when it is most difficult for farmers to earn money.

Harsdorf is sympathetic to home bakers such as Anderson and Ends.

She is a sponsor of Senate Bill 271, known as the "cookie bill," that passed the Senate on Wednesday. It now heads to the state Assembly, where it faces an uncertain future.

The bill, which was introduced before the court decision, would allow sales of certain homemade baked and canned foods without a license.

This is the bill's third trip to the Assembly in the last five years, Ends said.

This version increases the sales cap from $7,500 to $25,000 per year, Harsdorf said, making it similar to caps in neighboring states.

Provisions in the bill ensure the safe production and consumption of homemade food, Harsdorf said.

“This is something there has been broad support in -- trying to provide individuals the opportunity to start a business, to encourage entrepreneurs,” she said. “Right now, if you want to sell home-baked goods of any amount, you have to have a commercial kitchen, and that oftentimes puts it out of reach of some people.”

The bill has failed to reach a vote in the Assembly because of opposition from Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

Vos, a small-business owner, and Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, have introduced their own bill, the Bakery Freedom Act, which "levels the playing field, allowing every baker to sell their product under the same standards,” Kit Beyer, communications director for Vos, said in a statement.

The Janesville Farmers Market currently requires that baked goods come from licensed kitchens, said Stephanie Aegerter, board chairwoman for the farmers market.

The Janesville market’s board has followed the bill closely, she said. If it passes the Assembly and is signed by the governor, the board will have a “very active discussion” on whether to change the current policy, she said.

“We would be interested in knowing what the community wants,” Aegerter said. “We would have to be going through a process of consensus, where we’re really bringing everything to the table and discussing it in-depth to determine what is the best fit, what’s the best policy for our market.”

The board has to consider the current bakery vendors at the market, business and community concerns, and the market's standards, Aegerter said.

For her part, Anderson hopes to sell muffins and cookies to veterans at the Madison Veterans Administration Hospital’s Tuesday markets.

“People get together over food. It’s just really, really nice,” she said.

Ends said the Wisconsin Farmers Union helped support her efforts to lobby for change in Madison.

“You should never be afraid to speak out for what you believe in. We should never be afraid,” Ends said. “We live in a democracy.”

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