My family and I have run Inn Serendipity Farm and Bed & Breakfast (www.innserendipity.com) since 1997, operating a diverse business that includes vegetables and a farm stay on 5.5 acres in south central Wisconsin. Committed to sustainable agriculture, Inn Serendipity is completely powered by renewable energy and considered amongst the “Top Ten Eco-Destinations in North America.” We host various on-farm educational events and farm tours throughout the year, including a regional women farmer tour launched via a 2012 SARE Youth Educator grant, Soil Sisters: South Central Wisconsin Women in Sustainable Agriculture Food & Farm Tour.
My roots and connections run deep in the sustainable agriculture farming community, particularly to Midwest women farmers. In 2008, I launched and currently direct the Rural Women’s Project (RWP), a venture of the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), providing training, resources and mentoring for women farmers. In this role, I have facilitated over 150 workshops and events targeting women farmers, resulting in the RWP receiving the Top Rural Development Initiative by Wisconsin Rural Partners. I served as a Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow specializing in the female farmer movement and continually work in strong partnership with various sustainable agriculture groups, including working with the Women, Food & Agriculture Network (WFAN) to launch Plate to Politics, a joint venture to provide leadership training and support for women in sustainable agriculture. These women farmer connections played an important role in development and outreach of this project as the vast majority of cottage food businesses are female-run.
We have always been strongly committed to sustainable practices, ever since we started Inn Serendipity Farm in 1997. Of course, sustainability is a journey and not a destination! We thrive on always learning and trying new things as opportunities and our own funding resources open up.
Key sustainable practices include:
- Organic cultivation and growing practices for vegetable production, primarily growing for B&B needs, value-added products under cottage food law and local sales.
- Farm completely run on renewable energy through a 10kw Bergey wind turbine and solar PV and thermal.
- Enhancing soil fertility through cover crops, crop rotation, compost/manure.
In 2014, after a bumper crop of cucumbers and cabbage, I started making high-acid, canned products: pickles and sauerkraut. Under Wisconsin’s cottage food law (known in my state the “Pickle Bill”), I produced these items in our home kitchen, following our state’s specifications on labeling and sales outlets. Operating under cottage food law enables me to readily diversify my farm income without immediately taking on the initial debt of a commercial kitchen. This SARE Farmer Rancher project built on this value-added production experience, addressing barriers both I and other farmers face in creating attractive, appealing products with limited budgets and small scale production.
On a positive note, 49 states now have forms of cottage food legislation in place, with most enacted post-recession in 2008 as a means to help support fledgling food entrepreneur’s start-up. However, while cottage food laws provide the legal authority to produce value-added items in one’s home kitchen, resulting in strong opportunity for farmers to diversify income and better manage risk, there are barriers to packaging, labeling and marketing because the business is intentionally small. As most farmers like myself make high-acid, canned items, we are producing a total inventory of most likely a couple hundred jars, versus the thousands needed for economies of production scale to kick in. This results either in a higher production cost and, as in my case, limited and boring packaging and labeling options that don’t draw the traffic interest and sales volume as more professionally produced items. Marketing value-added, canned products also have the opportunity to be purchased as gifts and used in holiday food gift baskets. As a food gift, labeling and packaging are even more important. As I, like most growers, don’t have a graphic design background or expensive computers and printers, I am limited in what I can readily produce at home.
This project researched and compiled a variety of low or no-cost options that farmers like myself can readily access and use to increase the overall visual marketing appeal of their value-added canned items, with a particular focus on farms processing under cottage food laws.
Topics that were researched and tested included:
- Label design (free/low cost template options, font choice, color, etc.) **
- Label production (format recommendations, adhesive options, labelers) **
- Jar Packaging (accessories to increase marketing appeal such as fabric toppers and ribbon) **
- Consumer education
- Co-packaging multiple products for gift baskets
- Market display ideas
- Marketing ideas specific to holiday sales
- Ways that value-added sales can boost other farm product sales
- Creating efficient methods of production
- Methods to transport to market
** Note: Priority placed on materials and sources that use post-consumer content and other forms of sustainable materials and recycled items.
Packaging ideas were photographed, including step-by-step demonstrations, and complied into a Toolkit, a 16 page pdf available as a free online resource.
This project involved a collaboration of research, experimentation and feedback in creating product samples that resulted in the eventual Toolkit. As with these types of ventures where one is creating something new and there really isn’t “one right answer” to it all, I found it important to continually test out and experiment with ideas and let the project evolve and get feedback and not get caught up in feeling like there’s some magic way to do it all.
The general steps for this project were as follows:
- Read & review past SARE and other related research projects
- Develop an understanding of good label design elements
- Research label creation options
- Research jar options
2) Develop prototypes
- Develop sample templates label, jar design, market display
- Create actual product samples prototypes
3) Garner feedback & adapt
- Gather feedback from farmers and Inn Serendipity B&B guests on product samples
- Adapt product samples and template as needed, per feedback on product samples and template as needed, per feedback
4) Develop Toolkit materials
- Photograph final product samples, including step-by-step demos
- Write explanatory text for Toolkit
- Create draft Toolkit pdf
- Have farmers read Toolkit; give feedback
- Adapt Toolkit based on feedback
- Finalize toolkit
5) Conduct outreach for toolkit
- Post Toolkit online
- Write template overview article for MOSES Organic Broadcaster
- Write additional articles/outreach for Toolkit (Mother Earth News, Forager, etc.)
6) Write final report/wrap up project
I am grateful to a supportive group of area farmers who gave feedback and ideas as the Toolkit moved along (note these farmers are acknowledged on the Toolkit webpage – their input much appreciated!)
- Erin Schneider, Hilltop Community Farm (LaValle, WI)
- Dela Ends, Scotch Hill Farm (Brodhead, WI)
- Betty Anderson, The Old Smith Place (Brodhead, WI)
- Gail Carpenter, Grassroots Farm (Monroe, WI)
- Molly Placke Silver (Monticello, WI)
- Jess Bernstein, Beginning Farmer (Klevenville, WI)
- Amy Barnes, Bahumbug Family Farm (Blanchardville, WI)
Thanks to various non-profit, agency and business people who provided feedback, advice and outreach support:
- Brett Olson, Renewing the Countryside (Minneapolis, MN)
- Audrey Alwell, Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service/MOSES (Spring Valley, WI)
- Kale Roberts, Mother Earth News/Ogden Publications (Topeka, KS)
- David Crabill, Forager
This project met its key goal to research and compile a variety of low or no cost options that farmers like myself can readily access and use to increase the overall visual marketing appeal of their value-added canned items, focused on farms like ours processing under cottage food laws.
These different options were tested and then compiled in a 16-page, 4-color, free-to-download toolkit: “Cottage Food Success: A Labeling Guide and Toolkit for Creating Canned Food Products that Sell.”
Low Res download: http://media.wix.com/ugd/4195f2_ae1ee3bb2124431d83507e04f31a061c.pdf
High Res download: https://app.box.com/s/wghfm7pi7c0nskxusmtn8glzfxpeley3
Topic outline for the Toolkit is as follows:
- How to design and produce labels efficiently, including ways to attractively adhere to your state’s requirements and branding your farm
- Ways to add simple, cost-effective visual appeal to jars
- Increasing sales through gift baskets, holiday targeting
- Managing your time: Label & package efficiently
- Manage your inventory: Safe transport to market
- Designing displays: Attractive point of purchase
Additionally, given the continued increase of farmer interest and momentum of value-added diversification opportunities under cottage food law, I found unexpectedly strong opportunity to share the topics covered in this project on enhanced packaging and labeling at multiple on-target workshops over the course of this project.
The original outreach goal of workshop attendees was 600, but actually over 1,300 on-target farmers attended workshops where elements of this project were presented. Interestingly, an estimated over 60% of these attendees being women farmers.
- Women, Food & Agriculture Network (WFAN) Conference (Nov. 6-7, 2015) Davenport, IA
Workshop: How She Does It: How Women Farmers Increase Income through Diversification
Value-added covered; 100 workshop attendees
EcoFarm (Jan. 21, 2016); Pacific Grove, CA
Workshop: Soil Sisters: Tools that Empower Women Farmers (covered farm diversification/value-added products), 150 workshop attendees (all women farmers)
MOSES Organic Farming Conference (Feb. 26-27, 2016); LaCrosse, WI
Workshop: Increase Farm Income via Diversification: Pizza Farms, Farm Stays, Value-Added Products, Winter CSAs and more! One of the conference’s top 10 attended workshops: 305 attendees
FamilyFarmed (March 25-26, 2016); Chicago, IL;
Exhibitor booth with resources; 5,000+ attendance (whole event)
In Her Boots: Sustainable Agriculture For Women, By Women (summer, 2016)
Value-added breakout session/table; Five on-farm workshops; Over 250 women total attended, primarily beginning farmers
June 3: Dorothy’s Grange (WI); July 15: Sandhill Family Farms (IL); Aug. 5: Inn Serendipity Farm (WI); Aug. 17: Clay Bottom Farm (IN); Aug. 23: Simple Harvest Farm Organics (MN)
Homemade for Sale Cottage Food Workshop (Inn Serendipity, WI); August 6, 2016; Soil Sisters weekend; 20 attendees
New Farmer U (Oct. 21-23, 2016); Lanesboro, MN
“Ask An Expert Session” providing resources and technical assistance answering farmer questions, including value-added products; 75 workshop attendees
Women, Food & Agriculture Network (WFAN) Annual Conference (Nov. 4-5, 2016);
Nebraska City, NE
Workshop: Farm Diversification Dollars: Farmstays, Value-Added Products, On Farm Food Service & More! 100+ workshop attendances
Pennsylvania Women in Agriculture Network (PA WaGN) Symposium (Dec. 6, 2016);
State College, PA
Workshop: How She Does It: Women Farmers Generating Income through Diversification
125 workshop attendance (all women farmers)
National Farmers Union: Growing for the Future (Beginning Farmer & Rancher Virtual Online Conference) (Dec. 5-8, 2016)
Workshop: How She Does It: Women Farmers Generating Income through Diversification
Estimated: Over 800 registered
Additionally, my husband, John Ivanko, and I presented at three Mother Earth News Fairs in 2016 on cottage food business start-ups (Asheville, NC; West Best, WI; Seven Springs, PA), reaching an additional 200 attendees, mostly beginning farmers/start-ups.
Much appreciation to North Central SARE for the opportunity to research and create this Toolkit. A couple key learnings I encountered:
- Strong farmer interest
This Toolkit came out at a time when cottage food business opportunities really started garnering national awareness. Farmers often have very strong opportunity to diversify income via value-added, high acid canned products produced under their state’s cottage food law, selling jams, pickles and other products at farmers’ markets.
This resulted in the project’s outreach and education going beyond the actual Toolkit as I found a need, particularly at the various workshop presentations outlined, to first cover the basics of cottage food business start-up opportunities before dialing into product and labeling ideas as this proved to be new territory for many farmers, but one they were quite interested in.
- Limitations due to Wisconsin law
While this project from its initial grant proposal specifically only focused on jarred product as that is all I can produce under Wisconsin’s current cottage food law covering high acid products, that fact still remains that my state has the most restrictive law in the country. While I, along with fellow farmer advocates, continue to advocate and educate for an expanded law that would include baked goods like all the other states, the outreach for this Toolkit focused on canned items and is by default limited to that audience.
However, there is much future opportunity to expand on this Toolkit to include ideas for packaging baked goods (particularly for farmers’ market sales) as this is a resource farmers outside of Wisconsin often asked for. Hopefully, someday when the “Cookie Bill” becomes law in Wisconsin, I can add to and update this existing Toolkit.
- Readily sharable end product
The Toolkit serves as an accessible and simple product that could easily be shared with others. It is a format that other farmers can readily use to take their data, ideas and learning on a particular Farmer Rancher project or other and package it in an easy-to-use form for other farmers to access. The collaborative spirit of farmers in the sustainable agriculture community indeed!
To this accessible point, originally I had planned and budgeted to print hard-copies of the Toolkit but, given today’s digital age, quickly received feedback from farmers that most would prefer a digital copy anyway.
Please see the answer to “Results” for a complete listing of outreach events and activities, including attendance numbers.
As this Toolkit proved to be a strong educational platform from which to talk about the business diversification opportunities under cottage food law, this resulted in strong on-target articles covering the project including:
MOSES Organic Broadcaster (Jan/Feb 2017):
Access new markets under cottage food laws; boost sales with improved packaging
By Lisa Kivirist & John Ivanko
- Specifically also gives a plug for the Farmer Rancher grant program and quotes Joan Benjamin!
Labeling Jars of Homemade Food Products for Sale
By Lisa Kivirist
Mother Earth News Print
Attractive Labels Boost Homemade Sale
By Lisa Kivirst
Forager Cottage Food Community
“Three Tips to Create Canned Food Products that Sell”
By Lisa Kivirist & John Ivanko
Additionally, Grit Magazine (print) is planning to run a sidebar on the Toolkit in a 2017 issue, also using photography generated from this project. This is a great media score as Grit’s circulation is over 150,000!
Big thanks to Joan Benjamin and everyone on the North Central SARE staff for all your continued enthusiastic support for our sustainable agriculture community! After working in various non-profits often under USDA larger federal grants (which can be rather burdensome and complicated to say the least!), the grant application and reporting process of these SARE Farmer Rancher grants was refreshingly understandable to maneuver. Much appreciated!
Problem: On a positive note, 42 states now have forms of cottage food legislation in place, with most enacted post-recession in 2008 as a means to help support fledgling food entrepreneurs start-up. However, while cottage food laws provide the legal authority to produce value-added items in one’s home kitchen, resulting in strong opportunity for farmers to diversify income and better manage risk, there are barriers to packaging, labeling and marketing because the business is intentionally small. As most farmers like myself making high-acid, canned items, we are producing a total inventory of most likely a couple hundred jars, versus the thousands needed for economies of production scale to kick in. This results either in a higher production cost and, as in my case, limited and boring packaging and labeling options that don’t draw the traffic interest and sales volume as more professionally produced items. Marketing value-added, canned products also have the opportunity to be purchased as gifts and used in holiday food gift baskets. As a food gift, labeling and packaging are even more important. As I, like most growers, don’t have a graphic design background or expensive computers and printers, I am limited in what I can readily produce at home.
Solution: This project will research and compile a variety of low or no-cost options that farmers like myself can readily access and use to increase the overall visual marketing appeal of their value-added canned items, with a particular focus on farms processing under cottage food laws. These different options will be tested in farmer and consumer focus groups via during our on-farm events, MOSES events and with our B&B guests. While my research will focus on my pickles and sauerkraut value-added items, the results of this research can be used in a variety of products and contexts such as baked goods. Topics to be researched and tested include:
• Label design (free/low cost template options, font choice, color, etc.)**
• Label production (format recommendations, adhesive options, labelers)**
• Jar sourcing & recycling (ways to increase customers return and reuse of glass canning jars)
• Jar Packaging (accessories to increase marketing appeal such as fabric toppers and ribbon)**
• Consumer education (ways to increase sales through educating customers through recipes, serving tips, etc.) • Co-packaging multiple products for gift baskets
• Market display ideas
• Marketing ideas specific to holiday sales
• Ways that value-added sales can boost other farm product sales (i.e., including contact info, coupon, etc.)
• Creating efficient methods of production (i.e. labeling/packaging most efficiently)
• Methods to transport to market
** Note: Priority will be placed on materials and sources that use post-consumer content and other forms of sustainable materials and recycled items.