Home bakers in New Jersey stew over country's last ban

TRENTON, New Jersey — There's only one thing preventing baker Mandy Coriston from selling the Irish soda bread she makes from her great-grandmother's recipe inside her old cast-iron skillets: She lives in New Jersey.

New Jersey is now the only state in the U.S. where people can't sell home-baked goods after a Wisconsin court this month invalidated that state's ban.

Wisconsin officials have said they may appeal the judge's decision, but the state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow home bakers to sell without a license.

A push by a group including Coriston to overturn New Jersey's law has drawn plenty of supporters over the last eight years, but one state lawmaker has so-far blocked it from being considered because of concerns over public health issues.

The home-bakers group says they want the right to sell some of their goods to earn a living or just to make some extra money without having to open storefronts or pay to work out of commercial kitchens.

Coriston points out that it's legal in the state for people to sell baked goods at charity events, but not for those who want to run a small business using the same products.

"Same ingredients. Same kitchens. Same bakers that want to do this for profit," she said. "But the second you put a price tag on it, that baked good becomes illegal, it becomes contraband basically."

Erica Jedynak, who runs the New Jersey chapter of the conservative Americans for Prosperity, said that the ban is an example of special interests trying to "control competition and limit enterprise." The group is helping the home-bakers group lobby lawmakers.

"These women can give their baked goods away for free," Jedynak said, citing a lobbying day earlier this year where 500 cookies and cake pops were distributed at the statehouse. "No one was poisoned, there was no health issues. The lawmakers ate it all up down in Trenton."

State Sen. Joseph Vitale, a Democrat who has so far refused to bring the measure up for consideration in his Senate committee, said that he had a good meeting with the group and is waiting to hear back from another lawmaker about concerns over licensing, which he thinks should be stricter.

"I'm just trying to do this the right way," he said. "If these were individuals who are trying to be entrepreneurial, I'm just trying to make sure the public is protected."

Supporters of the measure point to a $50,000 cap on income and also to changes since the bill was originally introduced that would require home bakers to take food safety courses.

Coriston, who lives in the rural northwest part of the state, cooks artisan cookies and breads from recipes passed down by her grandmother and great-grandmother. She said she has modernized the recipes, including using higher-quality and locally sourced ingredients. She uses eggs from her friend's farm, and cans her own apples for her apple sauce cake.

Coriston makes her living as a pet sitter, but said that running her own small business with baked goods would allow her to spend more time at home with her 3-year-old daughter.

She said she hoped that Vitale could be swayed by their argument including data on food safety, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

"But we're not giving up," she said. "We're very encouraged (by the Wisconsin decision) and also a little disheartened because that does leave us alone."