Baking at home: Homesteading laws help hobby bakers make it a business

  • Sherry Packard of Rindge decorates a cake in her kitchen as part of her homestead bakery business, Frosted Bear Bakery. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/5/2021 3:56:15 PM

When Sherry Packard, owner of Rindge’s Frosted Bear Bakery, learned the secret to baking the perfect cookie at her uncle’s knee as a little girl, she didn’t think it was a skill that would leave her home kitchen – and in fact, it hasn’t.

Packard, like many other New Hampshire small business owners, runs her bakery under the state’s homesteading laws.

In New Hampshire, food manufacturers can sell shelf-stable products they produce from their own home kitchens, with a few caveats.

The products have to be sold from the creator’s own residence, farmstand, farmers market or a retail store, the goods must be clearly labeled with ingredients and allergens, and the business cannot exceed a maximum annual gross of $20,000.

There is a homesteading license that business owners can apply for if they make more than that $20,000 limit, which allows sales to restaurants, over the internet or to wholesalers.

New Hampshire’s laws put restrictions on the kinds of goods that can be sold – breads, rolls, muffins, cookies, dry goods, jams, jellies, candy and fudge are all approved, but foods such as cheesecakes, pumpkin pies, custards, soups, pickles and relish are not.

Even with restrictions, it’s the perfect opportunity for homesteaders looking to earn extra money, or to kick-start a small business.

Mary Ann Kristiansen, executive director for the Hannah Grimes Center in Keene, said local start-ups are crucial to the New Hampshire economy, and that laws such as New Hampshire’s homesteading statute that “lower the bar” for entrepreneurs to get a start on a small business only encourages people to take the plunge.

“It makes it easier to try,” Kristiansen said. “It allows people to try without having to surmount this huge bar.”

About 44 percent of jobs in the state are a result of the sale of local products to the local community, Kristiansen said, and the homestead laws encourage just that sort of exchange, because sellers making under $20,000 are required to sell from their property or farmers markets or small retailers, and can’t take the step of shipping or selling to wholesalers until they reach that threshold.

Kristiansen said if its a supplementary or side business, it is going to be the most obviously beneficial for low-income families.

“The number one way out of poverty for people is entrepreneurship, and a supplementary income can make a world of difference,” Kristiansen said.

And for those looking to start a full-time business, an established brand can open doors to financing the next step, Kristiansen said.

“Banks often want to see a track record. It positions you to get the financing you need, and it gives that time to prove the business out, both to yourself, and people who might be financing that next step.”

Packard, for example, has been baking since she was 11, and has an artistic passion she’s poured into decorating her cakes and cookies, but works a day job as a research librarian. Her specialty sugar cookies and snickerdoodles are a sideline business that started when she began to make some baked goods for family, and it grew from there.

It’s a way to indulge her passion for baking and decorating, as well as generate some extra income, Packard said.

Packard said because her business is small, she can take the time to carefully craft her client’s requests. She takes as much pride in her products as if she were selling from a storefront, she said.

“Nothing leaves this house unless it tastes good, and looks good. There’s nothing worse than biting into a beautifully decorated cookie, and it’s as hard as a rock,” Packard said.

Packard said she may devote more time to her bakery in the future, or after her retirement, but for now, she said, it’s a hobby that helps earn extra income through something she loves.

“Since I was a little girl, making food, giving it to someone, and watching them be happy while eating it, that’s what I love,” Packard said.

For others, it’s might be a transition step towards a full-time business.

Stephanie Woods, owner of Teacup Baking in New Ipswich, said she too has turned her home kitchen into a side business. Woods, who has worked in the culinary industry for 12 years, currently works a day job in an Amherst bakery, but said she’s always dreamed of running her own, and she’s like to see Teacup Baking grow into a full-time endeavor.

A homesteading business, she said, is the perfect intermediary step.

“I wanted to start slow, and see if it was something I’m capable of. See if I have what it takes,” Woods said.

Bakeries, like restaurants, Woods said, are businesses that often don’t make profits in the first few years of operation. The key is building a loyal clientele. Homesteading seemed to her the perfect way to kickstart the business without the overhead of a retail space or commercial kitchen, while gaining some loyal customers and finding what works.

New Hampshire’s homesteading law, she said, strikes the perfect compromise in reducing risks to consumers and allowing enough freedom for homesteaders to make a profit. Woods, who bakes artisanal breads, breakfast pastries as well as sweets and cakes, which she sells at local farmers’ markets or takes orders for through her Facebook page, said the restrictions on shelf-stable foods still leave plenty of room for home bakers to have a variety of products for their market.

“I think New Hampshire has the right balance. It’s the right way to go to allow shelf-stable foods, which is safer for the public, while still leaving so much that can be done,” Woods said. “I would invite anyone looking to earn some extra income to look into the laws and start a homesteading business. If you’re someone like me, who has had this dream for a long time, it’s a good way to see if you have what it takes.”

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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