Food Policy

Food Freedom vs. Regulatory Busybodies

From the legalization of cottage foods to the rise of right-to-farm laws, the future of food freedom is looking brighter at the state level.


While national stories like the multi-pronged assault on energy drinks and the FDA's proposed Food Safety Modernization Act rules rightly grab headlines—and often my attention—it's perhaps too easy to overlook the fact that much of what's good and bad in the area of food law and policy is taking place in our backyards (and front yards, something I noted here last summer).

Cottage food laws, state laws permitting people to sell some foods prepared in the home, are one such development. In California, the state's new cottage food law (which I wrote about previously here) appears to be a huge hit just a month into its existence.

The law has already helped formerly illicit sellers to enter the legal food market, a fact revealed during a recent cottage foods panel chaired by KCRW food columnist Evan Kleiman.

Cottage food laws aren't perfect—as I noted here—but when done right they can help budding culinary entrepreneurs escape often crushing regulations faced by restaurants and other food sellers.

State laws permitting cottage foods are quickly catching up with the demand for looser regulations. Nearly three-dozen states now have cottage food laws in place. And advocates in other states—including Minnesota and Alabama—are pushing to add their states to the growing list.

While cottage food laws benefit home cooks and their customers, another important development at the state level is the ongoing struggle for food freedom for small agricultural producers. Significant recent developments are centered in Virginia—a state boasting both lots of lawyers and lots of farmers.

Perhaps the most noteworthy development in the state is Virginia's proposed farm freedom law—also known as the Boneta Bill. The bill is named for Virginia farmer Martha Boneta, who was fined last summer for having hosted a birthday party for her friend's pre-teen daughter on her own farm without first obtaining a permit.

As Katherine Mangu-Ward noted in an August post at Hit & Run, local zoning officers fined Boneta $5,000 for that alleged infraction and added on another $5,000 for "advertising a pumpkin carving."

Disgusted by the clear assault on Boneta's rights as a person and farmer, supporters drafted a farm freedom bill that would expand the definition of the state's existing Right to Farm Law—including providing farmers like Boneta with a private right of action against busybody regulators and "assert[ing] that any ordinance directed at persons, property, or activity on land that is zoned agricultural or silvicultural that seeks to restrict free speech or the right to assembly, among other rights, is null and void."

"Burdensome rules, regulations and inspection requirements—many of which are indecipherable except to lawyers and bureaucrats—now impede the ability of health-conscious individuals and small farmers to raise and produce their own food free of corporate contaminants," says John W. Whitehead, constitutional attorney and president of the nonprofit Rutherford Institute, which is based in Charlottesville, Virginia, in an email to me this week.

"That growing numbers of home gardeners and small farmers are being prosecuted for such inane 'crimes' as keeping chickens or making cheese speaks to a growing problem in America today, namely, the overcriminalization and overregulation of a process that once was at the heart of America's self-sufficiency—the ability to cultivate one's own food, locally and sustainably," says Whitehead.

Meanwhile, in another case championed by the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia homeowner is facing criminal charges for raising chickens in her yard. In a case now before the Commonwealth's Supreme Court, Rutherford lawyers argue on behalf of Virginia Beach resident Tracy Gugal-Okroy that their client should not be facing a possible $1,000 fine for violating a zoning ordinance prohibiting the keeping of poultry on private property.

"Our constitutional rights have been buried in a thicket of federal, state and local regulations," says Pete Kennedy, attorney and head of the nonprofit Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which is also based in Virginia and supports the Boneta Bill, in an email to me. "The Farm Freedom bill[ would] restore our right to obtain the food of our choice from the source of our choice."

Whether in the form of cottage foods or farm freedom, it appears that the state of things is looking up.

NEXT: Secret Service Director Stepping Down

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  1. Cottage food laws, state laws permitting people to sell some foods prepared in the home, are one such development.

    While the state allowing us to do things on the surface appears like a good thing, I worry about the victims of increased voluntary commerce.

    1. If just one child is saved from an unlicensed hair stylist, it will all have been worth it.

    2. …state laws permitting people

      Oh, thank you very much, glorious state, for allowing me to freely conduct business with other willing participants.

      And thank you again for making sure you get a cut of it.

      Buncha motherfucking leeches.

      1. Geez Ken. Read my comment below. We were both of the same mind, my brother from another mother.

        1. And I bet we are both thinking: Fuck Michigan!

          1. O-H

            1. N-O!

            2. You forgot to say “duh” before Ohio State Univ.

    3. just as Debra responded I am taken by surprise that a mother can earn $6092 in 4 weeks on the computer. did you look at this web link

  2. Even though it’s more or less driven by the wrong motives (we should let nice small organic food producers off from the regulations we apply to the big evuhl corporate food producers), cottage food laws are a step in the right direction.

    1. I’m just amazed that we went so far in the wrong direction that the state “permitting” people to trade with willing participants s a “step in the right direction”. It’s disgusting that we have to view a small step toward what should be a natural right as a step in the right direction.

      1. “The law permits only “non-hazardous” types of foods to be sold, which are foods unlikely to grow harmful bacteria or other toxic organisms at room temperature, according to the Sustainable Economies Law Center.

        According to Bloomberg Businessweek, cottage food operators must attend a food safety class and pass an exam developed by the California Department of Public Health in order to sell their goods. Sellers must label their products, pay a small fee and submit to an annual kitchen inspection by health officials, according to Bloomberg.”


        In other words, you can sell crap like homemade cookies and candy, but not real food like tamales, after you pay your fees. So very much a baby step.

  3. The Green Acres pic makes me think of the bit they did where each appliance was assigned a number and they couldn’t go over or they would blow the fuses to the house.
    The kitchen of my first house was like that. You couldn’t run the clothes washer, dryer or microwave at the same time. If the fridge kicked on while you were running any of them, the fuse would pop.
    Nobody understood why my wife was so thrilled when I put in a new receptacle on another circuit behind the fridge.

    1. Arnold Ziffel was completely underrated as an actor.

      1. Perhaps, but he was definitely awesome, and highly rated, in his role as a pile of pulled pork sandwiches.

    2. Eva Gabor was all that She was in her late 40s when they made that show

  4. I won’t be satisfied until I am free to raise freakishly huge genetically modified bumblebees, that I may shear them of their luxurious fur coats.

    1. I’d so wear bee fur.

      1. It was all the buzz at Milan Fashion Week.

        1. What you did there…I see it.

      2. I’d so wear bee fur.

        I used to date a real bee itch.

    2. I first read that as “freakishly huge genitally modified bumblebees” and nearly broke out in cold sweats.

      1. Freakishly huge modified genitalia?

    3. Your ideas intrigue me, and I wish to invest in your genetically modified bee business/mad scientist lab.

  5. The gopher says early spring.

    1. Yep! I did not see my shadow when I got up this morning. (My birthday is Feb. 2nd.)

      1. Happy Birthday! Are you the gopher?

        1. Damn you, damn you, damn you!

          I had almost forgotten all about that stupid show! Now I’ll need to go another 20 years.

          Love, exciting and new…

  6. Thank you Baylen once again for writing such excellent pieces and keeping Reasonoids up to date on issues of food freedom.

    Cottage food laws, state laws permitting people to sell some foods prepared in the home, are one such development. In California, the state’s new cottage food law… appears to be a huge hit just a month into its existence.

    Thank you most benevolent State for permitting such a lowly serf as myself to prepare food in my own home and sell it. And for such a decent and compassionate act, I would like to humbly submit to you 9.3% of any monies I should earn, so your shining light may shine from Eureka to San Diego.

    1. I guess I should have read all the comments before I said basically the exact same thing upthread. Sorry, brother.

      1. It is a point worth making twice.

        1. Sarcasm. Yeah, that’s real helpful.


    I know we get a lot of nut punches on here, but sometimes justice is served. And if I am not mistaken civil rights judgements can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. This will make you smile.

    1. Make sure to check out the “threatening” collage and expulsion letter.…..pdf?direct

      Re-admission contingent on a psychiatrist saying he’s not a danger AND despite the psych’s ok, mandatory therapy by a certified mental health professional while attending the school.

      $50K is too light for that shitbird president.

      1. Well, the picture of the inhaler was a clear indication that he was threatening the college president with bronchitis, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

      2. Wow, that’s straight out of the Soviet playbook. The Long March really did succeed.

      3. I just lurrrve the “Including, but not limited to” weasel words. Yup, there’s other evidence out there. Suuuuure.

    2. former Valdosta State University President Ronald Zaccari

      Emphasis added. I guess ol’ Ron couldn’t find a shrink to say he’s not a danger.

  8. The gopher says early spring.

    Global warming strikes again!

  9. OT: Concerning the Alabama hostage situation:

    Dykes has been described as a self-styled survivalist with “anti-government” views, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch.

    Is it wrong that the the odious SPLC’s “description” of Dykes makes me want to cheer him on?

    1. It’s those anti-government views, not his threatening his neighbors and beating a pet dog to death with a lead pipe, that should have tipped off authorities that he was dangerous.

    2. I’m more irritated that the media apparently have the SPLC in their rolodex to go to for anything like this.

  10. Morning links? Sure looks like it.
    “Federal gift of land to schools went awry”
    Don’t leave your cash on the bar when Moonbeam’s around:
    “In addition, about $60 million was set aside from the trust’s profit to be used for further investment. But that small pot of cash was raided to nearly nothing by Gov. Jerry Brown to help balance the budget.”
    And those teachers only care for the childrunz:
    “California deposits all revenue into the teacher pension fund, as directed by the Legislature in the mid-1980s.
    Why support the pension fund rather than schools directly?
    “My guess is political muscle,” Porter said, noting the pension fund needed financial help from the state. “You’ve got to get the money from somewhere.”…..245077.php

  11. “Her majesty’s” British peasants, oops, I mean subjects, aren’t quite so lucky: Big brother to log your drinking habits and waist size as GPs are forced to hand over confidential records.

    -Data includes weight, cholesterol, BMI, family health history and pulse rate
    -Doctors will be forced to reveal alcohol consumption and smoking status
    -Privacy campaigners described it as ‘biggest data grab in NHS history’
    -Part of new Health Service programme called Everyone Counts
    -Officials insisted data will be anonymous and deleted after analysis (and if you believe that, you probably believe in Santa Claus!)

    Everyone keep in mind now that the British N.H.S. is what Block Yomomma and the lefty cretins who worship him and work for him think is the ideal system that we need to aspire to here in America. Anyone who thinks that freedom is on the agenda around here these days is living in a dream world.

    1. No way! That could never happen here!

    2. Never, ever tell a health care professional whether you smoke, drink, eat meat or have sex.

  12. The only reason we’re getting this food freedom back, is because foodies, front lawn gardeners, and craft farmers, are nearly all progressive liberals. If it was just the 4H kids of redneck farmers trying to sell some corn at the rural corner no one would care.

    1. They’re fighting teh ebul KOCHporashuns! so they get a pass.

  13. Groundhog day stories about groundhogs are stupid. Why does the media perpetuate it?

    1. Hey, hey…

      …don’t drive angry.

      1. and don’t mention the movie.

  14. That sounds like some pretty crazy stuff. Wow.

  15. What so many fail to appreciate is that Oliver Wendell Douglas went back to the land AFTER a successful legal career, catering to the rich and famous. He was clearly on the leading edge of an agricultural revolution: as we can see in retrospect, a farmer also NEEDs to be a savvy lawyer, in order to stay one jump ahead of the regulatory busybodies. We thought it was a sitcom, but it was actually a “how to” video, years before DIY cable channels and YouTube.

  16. Food Freedom vs. Regulatory Busybodies
    who is winner …

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