Earlier this fall, New Jersey became the final state to lift its ban against the sale of home-baked goods — a major victory for home bakers in the Garden State.

But here in Pennsylvania, some residents have not been so lucky.

Despite the fact that all 50 states and the District of Columbia now allow for businesses that sell homemade food, local governments across the commonwealth are still blocking them from opening. And they’re relying on absurd reasons to do so.

Take Abington Township, for example, which has told residents like Tim Sienold that they cannot operate a home-baking business. Tim, an architectural-rendering services provider by day, recently decided to open a small, home-based cookie business with his wife — an opportunity for quality time together and a little extra income. Before getting started, Sienold checked the commonwealth’s rules on home baking and saw that his cookie business is perfectly allowable. He then checked the township’s zoning ordinances for a “No-Impact Home-Based Business” and saw that he satisfied those rules as well. Yet, when he reached out to Abington officials for a zoning permit, he was told he could not have one.

The zoning official told Sienold that the oil used to bake cookies would cause issues with the township’s sewage lines, even though baked goods use only a small amount of oil —barely enough to line a bowl or pan — and there is nothing abnormal about baking cookies in a home kitchen. When Sienold pressed further, assuring the zoning officials that he would compost whenever possible and not harm the sewage line, the zoning official gave a surprising answer. As the zoning official told Sienold, “If [they] were to permit this use, then that would mean [they] would have to permit every type of home-based bakery that would apply,” and the township says it doesn’t have the resources to conduct inspections for those permits. But bureaucratic laziness is not a legitimate reason to stop Pennsylvanians from earning income.

By preventing Sienold and others from operating at-home businesses, Abington Township is keeping out a flourishing industry. When states and cities make it easier for home bakers and cooks to sell their goods, local economies benefit. For example, when Minnesota relaxed its home-baking rules, 3,000 new businesses popped up within two years. California, Texas and other states all saw similar results when lawmakers decided to ease the rules on home-based food businesses.

“When states and cities make it easier for home bakers and cooks to sell their goods, local economies benefit.”

Alexa L. Gervasi

Furthermore, Abington’s restrictions are hurting potential entrepreneurs, especially women and low-income individuals. A 2018 report by the Institute for Justice showed individuals who choose to work in the home-baking field have a median household income (including non-baking income) of just $36,000, compared to $59,030 for the national population. That means overly stringent restrictions hurt those who can least afford it.

Responding to the unnecessary burdens these restrictions impose, momentum across the country is on the side of letting people like Sienold operate home-food businesses. In just this calendar year, 12 states have passed laws making it easier for home bakers to sell their goods, as well as expanding what goods bakers are allowed to produce. And despite Abington Township’s concerns otherwise, I have not seen any reports that suggest the sewer systems in any of these states have failed to accommodate these expansions.

With New Jersey and other states making substantial progress on food freedom in recent years, it is crucial that local towns do not stand in the way of entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams, especially based on absurd explanations or abject laziness.

Alexa L. Gervasi is an attorney at the Institute for Justice.