Today we feature the personal story of a home baker from Kentucky named Connie. This is Connie’s story in her own words.
“I have lived in Kentucky since 1995. I was so excited when I moved here. However the longer I am here the more depressed I get. I was so young in my early 20’s didn’t think much of the little laws hidden in the fine print that would one day be the reason I would want to leave Kentucky. Kentucky is a great place to live if you have no ambition. If you want to work a minimum wage job and live paycheck to paycheck then by all means there is nothing wrong with Kentucky. However if you are a low to middle income person with a desire to branch out on your own, Kentucky will quickly kill those dreams.
My husband and I took a leap and borrowed $100,000 and against all odds in 1999, opened our 1st and only company in Kentucky. For the next 14 years we were still struggling. Now instead of living paycheck to paycheck we were living credit line to credit card trying to keep up. The red tape we had to deal with in Kentucky quickly took the excitement out of the American Dream. So we finally walked away after giving it everything we had, both emotional and financially. Now we are back to living paycheck to paycheck.
This brings us up to why I’m here. For my granddaughters 1st birthday, my daughter-in-law and I decided we wanted to make her 1st birthday cake. We worked so hard on that cake and with no training at all, were very proud of how our creation turned out. We enjoyed the process so much we signed up for decorating classes. It wasn’t long before we had invested hundreds of dollars into supplies and tools to continue our hobby.
When my children were little I always purchased my cakes from a local home baker. She did an amazing job and built up a large customer base. I remember walking into her home and the smell of the cake filled the room. She had a great reputation and people came from all over to buy her cakes. So after much practice and expense, people started calling and asking me to make them cakes. So in order to do that, I wanted to do it the right way. I called the local health department to see what I would need to do to be able to charge for my cakes. That’s when I was informed that I would have to have a full commercial kitchen no different than any local restaurant. I was floored, but I wasn’t willing to give up just yet. I researched what it would take to get a commercial kitchen. 1st off, my home is too small for a full commercial kitchen, so that option was out. So I said OK, “plan B”, I have a 2500 square foot office building. When I built the building, I had a full kitchen and bath put in it because when we had our company we were there 10 hours a day I knew it would be needed. Again, I called the health inspector to come and see what I needed to do to sell my hobby cakes. This time our local health inspector did not come alone. Both inspectors where in my building and were arguing over what I had to do to be able to sell my hobby cakes, but the end result was thousands of dollars in upgrades. I could not afford that, with no guarantee I would be legal, when even the inspectors could not agree on what was needed to be done.
On to plan C. Remember the home baker I told you about? She was able to open her own bakery because of the customer base she built doing cakes from home. She was able to take that leap of faith and open her store, because people came from all over to buy her cakes based on her reputation. When she opened her commercial doors, from day one she had an income. Having been in contact with her over the years I knew she was either looking for a partner or to be bought out, so I went to her to see what options I might have. After a short visit she offered me a part time minimum wage job to see if this was what I wanted to do. It wasn’t long before I realized I had no desire for a commercial business. We worked 12+ hours a day, with little if any time for breaks. We were on our feet the entire time. I would get 30-45 hours in a three day weekend. The thought of having a commercial bakery sucked all the joy out of what I was doing. I knew that I was a hobby baker who wanted to do a few cakes a week, not several cakes an hour. I had to walk away. Also, the thought of how many cakes I would have to make to pay off a loan was over whelming. What ever glimmer of hope I had to be able to do my cakes was gone.
A few years ago, there where bakers who were trying to get the Kentucky cottage food law changed. It wasn’t long before we found out that our hope was lost when the representatives decided not to bring the change to the table. 80% of states in the United States allow for home bakers. Kentucky is one of the harshest states when it comes to cottage food laws. Unless you’re a farmer, then you can sell your goods and your eggs without inspection, straight to the consumer. But, if we as home bakers buy our inspected ingredients from a local grocery store we are not allowed.
Here we are again in hopes that someone will understand and fix this issue. This goes way beyond me and what I want. My 80 year old mother-in-law who goes to the senior center, has her 80+ year old friends ask her to make them a batch of cookies. “I’ll give you ten dollars”, they say. She, not realizing, no matter how many times I tell her, that this is illegal. Her generation grew up making ends meet by baking a few extra loafs of bread a week. There are low income or single moms who can’t afford to work because they can’t afford daycare. So instead, people look down on them because they are on public assistance. There are also some women who make just enough money to not qualify for assistance. These people could make just enough baking a few cakes, cookies or breads to help pay for groceries, or put gas in their car.
I personally give my cakes away. I have no desire to break the law, but because it is the law I only have two options. One, quit and lose my talent I worked so hard for. Two, I give my cakes away, which costs me a fortune. Giving them away also hurts the licensed commercial baker. If I was allowed to charge I would not be cheaper than a bakery, in fact I would most likely charge more. I do a lot of work that my local bakery does not. I do not mass produce, and if the law changed that would also not change. I am a hobby baker, who just wants to be able to recoup my cost, and get paid for all the time I have invested. I get calls and referrals all the time that I must turn away. But these people don’t go to a bakery when I turn them away, they just find a home baker who flies under the radar or has no clue that it is even illegal in Kentucky. I was floored when I found out about the law! There are so many people who want or need this law changed, but they are afraid to step up. They are afraid of retaliation. I am not afraid because if the law doesn’t change, I will continue to give my cakes away. I will do this until the time that I am able to move out of Kentucky, to a state where I can make my cakes, a state which promotes small business and helps the little man make a life for themselves. I am tired of living paycheck to paycheck and I am tired of the hidden laws that prevent Kentuckians from making their mark.”
By: Connie, home baker from Kentucky