Skip to main content
Know How, Know More

Home Cook to Small Business: Start your Side Hustle as a Cottage Food Operator

Various breads spill out of a bag

Grandma’s blue-ribbon apple-pie recipe may still be winning awards and your secret ingredient BBQ sauce never has any leftovers, but shifting from being a home cook to a small business requires a leap of faith and a big financial investment not everyone can make.

Luckily, Illinois’ Cottage Food laws allow entrepreneurs and foodies looking for a side hustle to test their product by selling it on a smaller scale at farmers markets. Under the law, individuals can skip prohibitive start-up costs while still following food safety regulations in a home kitchen.

Illinois has the 3rd most farmers markets in the nation

Illinois Department of Agriculture 

In a few short months, more than 300 farmers markets will open across the state. And the popularity of farmers markets is only growing as consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and also explore unique local offerings you can't find in the grocery store.

In support of local agriculture and small business development, the Illinois Cottage Foods Operation law was enacted in 2012. The original list of allowed foods, primarily specific baked and canned goods, grew in 2018 to include chilled foods, canned tomato items and more.

Steps to becoming a Cottage Food Operator in Illinois

  1. Review list of products that can be sold under the Cottage Food Act
  2. Register with your local county health department
  3. Get your Food Service Sanitation Manager's Certificate
  4. Package and label all items for sale properly
  5. Submit original recipes to a food lab for testing
  6. Get a Food Sampling Certificate if you want to hand out samples

University of Illinois Extension has a great website, From Garden Gates to Dinner Plates, for people interested in or just getting started in Cottage Foods. Local Extension offices also periodically offer the required Certified Food Protection Manager class and exam.

And of course, you can always reach out to your local University of Illinois Extension office to talk to someone in person and learn more! 


Want to get notified when new posts are available? Sign up here!

Know How Know More University of Illinois Extension is the original go-to source for growers, DIYers and jacks of all trades. For more than a century, Illinois Extension expert educators have shared university research in communities across the state. Get advice you can trust on horticulture, agriculture and nutrition in the Know How Know More blog. Build your best life. Trust Extension to help.

Caitlin Mellendorf is an Illinois Extension Nutrition and Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon and Piatt Counties in Central Illinois. She is a Registered Dietitian and her work focuses on helping community members gain the knowledge, skills and tools to live healthier, more nutritious lifestyles. This includes providing programs and answering questions about heart health, diabetes, food safety, food preservation, grocery shopping and cooking. You can reach Caitlin by email at or call 217.877.6042.