Sugar cookies from Albuquerque baker Katie Sacoman are works of art.
She made a batch for her father-in-law after he ran the Boston Marathon, and he displayed one in his house like a trophy.
People who bite into the treats are pleasantly surprised.
“It think we’ve all had those royal icing sugar cookies from the grocery store that feel like you are going to chip your tooth,” Sacoman says. “But that’s not what you get from those of us who have been practicing and tweaking recipes.”
Neighbors have asked her to bake for special events. Unfortunately, she cannot legally sell even one cookie in Albuquerque because she makes them in her own kitchen.
The city enforces a ban on “cottage food,” homemade food intended for sale. People like Sacoman can share their kitchen creations with family and friends, but no money can change hands.
In other parts of New Mexico, people can sell cottage food, but first they must pass an onerous inspection and permitting process that often requires thousands of dollars in kitchen upgrades.
Once they clear the regulatory hurdles, they cannot sell from home or online. They must travel to farmers’ markets or set up roadside stands.
Sacoman, a former public school teacher who paused her career to raise a daughter, says the restrictions prevent her and many others from starting home-based businesses. The rules also limit consumer choice.
New Mexico lawmakers have a chance to boost the sense of community with House Bill 177. The bipartisan effort, which has cleared two legislative committees with unanimous votes, will next receive consideration from the full House. Passage would make it significantly easier for people to sell homemade foods.
The bill also would lift the ban in Albuquerque, allowing the city to join a nationwide movement toward greater food freedom. Nineteen states have passed cottage food reforms since 2015, and every state except New Jersey allows some form of cottage food sales.
Safety issues connected to cottage foods are virtually unheard of. Public-health officials in New Jersey, where policymakers are pushing for reform, looked at the data nationwide and found no issues.
The New Jersey’s proposed rules point to “scientific evidence that supports a finding that shelf-stable food prepared in home kitchens is safe for consumers.”
Evidence also points to economic growth when states relax cottage food restrictions. After Texas expanded its law in 2011, more than 1,000 new cottage food businesses quickly opened. Meanwhile, more than 5,000 cottage food businesses have emerged in Minnesota following 2015 reform.
Research from the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that fights for individual rights, shows particular benefits for women in rural, low-income areas. Sacoman, whose daughter is 3, says the proposed legislation in New Mexico would help.
“If this were to pass, that opens a whole lot of doors because I could slowly build my business in a way that fits my family’s lifestyle,” she said.
Aspiring entrepreneurs would win. Consumers looking for local food options would win. And art lovers who enjoy eating frosted masterpieces would win.
(Erica Smith is a senior attorney and Daryl James is a writer at the nonprofit Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va.)