Three entrepreneurs who want to sell their baked goods to the public are challenging a Wisconsin law that won't allow them to sell even one cookie without a commercial license.
Homemade pickles, salsa, jams and jellies can be sold to consumers at farmers' markets and other venues without that license. But, muffins, bread and other baked goods need to be made in a commercial kitchen, which is subject to inspections and fees.
Three farmers, Lisa Kivirist, Kriss Marion and Dela Ends want to sell their baked goods without breaking the law, which could subject them to six months in jail or up to $1,000 in fines.
Only Wisconsin and New Jersey have such laws, according to the Institute of Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm that is helping the women file a lawsuit in Lafayette County Circuit Court Wednesday. The Wisconsin attorney general's office, which represents the state in court, did not immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment about the planned legal challenge.
Plaintiff Lisa Kivirist owns Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast in Green County. She can serve baked goods to visitors, but can't sell muffins or other bakery items.
"We're heading into our 20th year as a bed-and-breakfast, so those are a lot of muffins that we could have sold," Kivirist said. "We should be able to sell baked goods out of our kitchens in Wisconsin. We look at what other states have. Wisconsin is open for business, but not in this category."
Attorney Erica Smith, from the Institute of Justice, said outfitting a commercial kitchen can cost approximately $40,000 to $80,000. Renting space in an existing commercial kitchen can cost more than $1,000 a month, she said, making it difficult to start a small baking business.
Homemade canned goods are treated differently. A state law, sometimes called the "pickle bill," allows limited sales of home-canned foods without a license. Fruits and vegetables that are naturally acidic or are acidified by pickling or fermenting can be sold directly to consumers, including applesauce, jams, jellies, chutneys and salsa. They must be sold only at community or social events, such as bazaars or farmers' markets, and sales must not exceed more than $5,000dg a year.
Kivirist said she and the other plaintiffs live within 45 minutes of each other and have been engaged in the farming community for many years. They are on a mission to change the law, she said.
"This issue unites us in that we share that missed opportunity," Kivirist said, "especially in rural Wisconsin where you have close-knit communities where you want to sell goods to each other."
A proposal to allow the sale of baked goods without a license has failed to pass in the Legislature in previous years. One such proposal that would limit earnings to less than $7,500 a year is pending before the Senate and Assembly, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau.
"It's not a legitimate government motive in having legislation that protects others from competition," Smith said, referring to commercial bakers. "This has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with economic protectionism."