By Kirsten Adshead/motherbility
Alisa Hooper walked in ready to present her case … and walked out empty-handed.
That was a good sign.
When Hooper testified before a state Assembly committee last week against the “cookie bill” — legislation that would limit home bakers’ sales to $10,000 a year — she brought along some of her artisan bread to pass out to the legislators.
As Hooper left the public hearing, holding her remaining baguettes and rolls, Republican Rep. James Edming asked to buy everything she had left on hand.
“It was really encouraging and exciting,” said Hooper, who is planning to start selling bread from her Stoughton home soon. “I got home from that day and I was really pumped up.”
Will it mean anything legislatively, though? Hooper’s not so sure.
Home bakers in Wisconsin have experienced a complete reversal of fortunes over the last nine months. Yet, in other ways, they’re exactly where they’ve been for years: in limbo, waiting to see what happens next.
Wisconsinites have long been forbidden from selling their home-baked goods; state law required that any cookies, breads, etc., be made in a commercial kitchen and that bakers first obtain a special license.
That’s kept many Wisconsinites out of the baking market. When you only want to sell a few cookies or cakes, renting commercial-kitchen space and jumping through administrative hoops, such as state inspections, just isn’t worth it.
Home bakers pushed the Legislature for years to overturn the ban. When those efforts failed, a trio of women asked the courts to rule that the ban was unconstitutional.
Last spring, Judge Duane Jorgenson overturned the ban, so for now, home bakers can sell without limits.
Key words: “for now”.
The state is asking Jorgenson to set a $5,000 sales cap. And the Assembly, which ignored previous versions of the “cookie bill” when the ban was in effect, is considering a $10,000 cap.
“I’m so fed up with all this I could just scream,” Naomi Veldt Dvorachek wrote in a Facebook message to motherbility this week.
Caps of $5,000 to $10,000 might seem like a lot, but it’s important to know those are caps on sales, not profits.
Veldt Dvorachek said that her her ingredient costs consume 40 to 50 percent of the retail price for her specialty granola.
Selling $5,000 of granola annually brings in $2,000 to $3,000, before taxes and not including any salary for her.
“When I figure in my time, I’m really not making much at all,” she said. “If they did a 5000 (dollar) cap on retail sales, I can’t even consider it a business. Even at 10K, it’s questionable if it makes sense to even bother.”
Those who support a ban on home-bakery sales, or at least a cap, argue that home bakers should have to meet the same health and safety requirements as commercial bakers. They also worry that, without restrictions, home bakers will have an unfair competitive advantage.
A Wisconsin Restaurant Association representative told the Assembly committee that many restaurants have bakeries as a way to diversify their business, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
“Our restaurant profit margins run from anywhere from 2 to 3 to 4 percent here in Wisconsin. That’s pretty razor thin. So they’re looking at ways they can branch out and diversify,” WRA Executive Vice President Susan Quam said.
Home bakers counter that reality creates a natural cap: Home bakers can only make so much in their own kitchen.
“If you do get so big as a home baker, you’re going to go commercial anyway,” Hooper said. “It’s letting people kind of decide what amount (of sales) that is.”
“We’re just a small group of people that want to contribute to our families or just make a living for ourselves,” she said.
Motherbility asked the office of cookie bill-sponsor Rep. Jim Ott if or when there’d be a committee vote on the bill, but did not receive a response.
The parties of the lawsuit also have sought information from Jorgenson on when he might rule.
For now, Wisconsinites will keep hoping. And waiting. And baking.
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