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The Wisconsin farmer-bakers involved in this project are (from left to right): Kalena Riemer (Riemer Family Farm),
Dela Ends (Scotch Hill Farm and Innisfree Farmstay), Anastasia Wolf-Flasch (Riemer Family Farm), LindaDee Derrickson (Bluffwood Landing Wool Farm), Ashley Wegmueller (Wegmueller Dairy Farm & “The Dairy” Farm Stay), Danielle Matson (Pastry Chef), Lisa Kivirist (Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B), and, Jen Riemer (Riemer Family Farm). Photo by John D. Ivanko Photography.

New, free toolkit helps farmers launch value-added baking business from home

By Lisa Kivirist

A diversified farm business mix makes strategic sense, rooting back to that advice from Grandma: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. But what if you have extra eggs along with more zucchini than you can sell at market? Think muffins, cookies or other bakery items made in your home kitchen that add diversity, increase sales, and improve your farm’s bottom line.

Thanks to expanding cottage food laws nationwide, we farmers have an easy on-ramp for income diversification: selling baked goods made in our home kitchens. Be sure to check your state’s laws and regulations on specifics, but this generally refers to “non-hazardous” baked goods that do not need refrigeration and meet a specific water activity level and food safety criteria. In Wisconsin, we can legally sell home-baked goods thanks to a judge’s ruling in 2017 that lifted the existing ban on these sales. Bake on!

New Toolkit for Farm Baking
Using up extra produce in baked goods or finding a use for imperfect produce, in theory, makes ultimate value-added sense—we’re taking something we have in excess and adding that to baked items that sell at a higher price point. However, two barriers exist here for farmers. First, many recipes that use items like zucchini are often too high in water content and do not qualify as non-hazardous. Second, taking small-batch baked goods to market can be challenging when it comes to packaging and display as too often our items resemble a bake sale filled with plastic bags and wrap versus looking like the high-quality, artisanal products they are.

These challenges inspired me and a team of southern Wisconsin area women farmers to find solutions that will help us all. We received a North Central SARE Farmer Rancher Grant to develop a toolkit with tested recipes plus ideas on packaging and displays to help farmers succeed when adding a value-added baking component to their farm businesses: Increasing Value-added Product Sales through Cottage Food Bakery Products Produced in Home Kitchens (FNC18-1130). Our farmer team (Dela Ends, LindaDee Derrickson, Ashley Wegmueller, Kalena Riemer, Danielle Matson, and I) spent over a year researching and testing these concepts.

The result is a growing database of recipes and resources at www.cottagefoodhomebakery.com, providing inspiration and ideas for both farmers and any home-baking entrepreneur to prioritize local ingredients, ideally those from your own field and gardens. We also created an online webinar that provides a detailed overview and our learnings from this project.

Tested Recipes
This new, free resource includes tested recipes that are .85 water activity (aw) or below. In many state cottage food laws, this water activity number defines what item can or cannot qualify for sales out of one’s home kitchen. It is vital that a recipe be non-hazardous and safe so it won’t develop mold and other hazardous pathogens.

Developing recipes that meet this .85 water activity criteria proved to be a challenge and took our farmer team into our local community college chemistry lab to understand the world of food science. We found that if we shredded a vegetable or fruit and squeezed out the water, we could achieve the safe water activity level. Of course, the end product still needs to taste moist and delicious, which is where the multiple recipe testing came in to adjust other ingredients to create a quality end product. Several of the recipes also include add-in items like raisins or chocolate chips that will absorb water and again keep the end product non-hazardous.

“In addition to incorporating what you raise on your farm in your baked goods, we also prioritized using other locally-produced ingredients from area farms such as flour, butter and anything else you don’t raise yourself,” advised project team member Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm and Innisfree Farmstay in Brodhead, Wisconsin. Ends was also a plaintiff in the successful lawsuit that lifted the ban on the sale of home-baked goods in Wisconsin (along with Kriss Marion and me). “I also run a bed-and-breakfast on my farm and can now add sales of my seasonal scones and hearty breads and other farm-fresh breakfast baked goods to my guests. This local deliciousness introduces the opportunity to talk about where our food comes from with guests.” Depending on your state’s law, you could also offer a baked goods add-on share through your CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

While we aimed to use high quality, local or sustainably produced ingredients, we realized we needed to keep costs in check as no one will buy a $20 muffin. Therefore, we tested and figured out cost-effective ingredient alternatives that still prioritized sustainability and fair trade. For example, using cocoa powder versus baking chocolate bars proved much less expensive and still tasty in our tests.

An important element of this project is that our recipes with produce and fruit are all officially tested by a certified laboratory to ensure the water activity level is below .85. We submitted samples to Diebel Labs in Madison and the exact test result paperwork for each recipe is available on the website for your own back-up. You will also find four tested frosting recipes that can be used in a variety of ways to add a decorative and sweet touch to any of the recipes.

We also looked at ways to add specific baked good items to your business mix that support sales of other farm items you are offering. For example, if your state’s cottage food law allows bread sales, we included recipes for buns that are an easy add-on sale if you also sell meat products like burgers or brats. Croutons are a nice compliment if you sell salad greens.

Try the recipe for zucchini-raisin muffins!

Display Ideas
“An important element of selling your baked goods is presentation, from the packaging to how it is displayed on your market table,” said Ashley Wegmueller of Wegmueller Dairy Farm & “The Dairy” Farm Stay in Monroe, Wisconsin. Wegmueller contributed her creative design expertise to this project and developed a detailed resource list of suppliers that sell key packaging elements in smaller quantities so you can experiment and see what works best. Importantly, the packaging on this resource list focuses on items made with compostable and recycled content.

“Attractive packaging does add a cost to your final product that needs to be factored in strategically,” Wegmueller explained. “But remember bakery items at farmers markets are often impulse purchases motivated by appealing packaging.” The easy thing about baked goods is you can readily experiment with small batches and different packaging styles to see what appeals to your customers.

Be sure to check your state’s cottage food regulations for specific requirements on what you must include on labels for your baked goods. This typically includes an ingredient list, date baked, your name and business name and address as the baker and some verbiage describing that this item was not made in a commercial facility subject to inspection and licensing. In Wisconsin, where we currently do not have a cottage food baking law nor regulations (but selling home-baked goods is legal via the successful lawsuit), we follow the labeling guidelines under the existing cottage food law that covers high-acid canned items, often referred to as the “Pickle Bill.”

Additionally, Wegueller developed ideas for how to effectively display baked items on a market table, including ways to use height and pops of color. On the website, she detailed four different display themes: Farmstead, Modern, Bohemian, and Whimsical.

SARE Grants
The core mission of SARE Farmer Rancher Grant projects like ours is the coming together of a farmer team with similar challenges to work collaboratively to compile learnings and create solutions. In our case, it was also an opportunity to cross-pollinate between farmer generations and learn together. Our farmer team ranged in age from 13 to 70. Thirteen-year-old Kalena Riemer of Riemer Family Farm in Brodhead, Wisconsin, dreams of one day running a bakery on her family farm. She contributed several recipes, including a lavender and violet shortbread.

“SARE Farmer Rancher grants provide opportunities for farmers to research challenging issues and find solutions that can then be helpful to other farmers,” explained Beth Nelson, Director of Research and Education Programs for North Central SARE, which covers the 12-state Midwest region. “This project is a great example of how farmers coming together to creatively and collaboratively solve a problem and share information adds up to a stronger future for sustainable agriculture.”

The 2020 North Central SARE Farmer Rancher Grant Program opens in August with proposals due early December and funding decisions made in February. To help farmers develop grant ideas and complete applications for grants like this, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute offers free grant advising. To sign up for the grant-advising listserv, contact Martin Bailkey at 608-698-9478 or martinbailkey@gmail.com.

Lisa Kivirist manages the MOSES In Her Boots project. She and her family run Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B near Monroe, Wis. She is the co-author of Homemade for Sale.

 

From the March| April 2020 Issue

 

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