A Decade In, Wyoming’s Food Freedom Law Opens Markets For Mom-And-Pop Producers

There are now 13 year-round farmer’s market-style stores in Wyoming since the state's Food Freedom law went into effect 10 years ago. Every one of them boasts dozens of producers, all with one-of-a-kind products that can’t be found anywhere else.

RJ
Renée Jean

March 03, 20248 min read

Fremont Local Market 3 3 24

RIVERTON — Walking into the Fremont Local Market is a bit like walking into a fantasy world.

On one shelf, Law of the Homestead has sourdough bread made from an ancient Wyoming-grown wheat called Einkorn and a sourdough starter that traces its lineage back to the Basque shepherds of pre-Columbian Spain.

On another shelf, Lost Cabin offers bags of single-origin coffee hand-roasted in the Big Horns, inviting buyers to get lost in their love for coffee.

Whitt’s End pie fillings range from peach and blueberry to sweet cherry, Yellowstone Spice Co. offers a Wyoming-inspired spice rub for steaks, and JV Essentials has a range of unique barbecue sauces like its sweet huckleberry.

The creativity is not limited to food products, though. There are “Unpaper” towels made of two-ply flannel cotton to replace paper towels, fruit-flavored smoking chips, and Papa Dave’s bath soaps in a range of clean, fresh scents that would make lemony-fresh Mr. Clean jealous.

In all, Fremont Local Market features 90 Wyoming producers with a range of different products, all under one roof in one store. It is an explosion of Cowboy State creativity, and it’s not just happening in Riverton.

There are now 13 of these year-round farmers markets offering local, Wyoming-made products to shoppers. They can be found in Casper, Gillette, Sheridan, Green River and beyond.

And every one of them boasts dozens of producers, all with one-of-a-kind products that just can’t be found anywhere else.

From Side Hustle To Main Hustle

Most of these producers start very small, store manager Morgan Doyle told Cowboy State Daily.

It was a couple of loaves of bread, a few bunches of basil, a handful of bath soaps — like a turtle just poking its head out for a quick peep at the sun.

But soon, most find their way out of their shells, and they’re back every day with an armload of new product to fill up their quickly emptied shelf space.

While many of the producers at these year-round farmers market-style shopping centers just want a little side hustle for some pocket change, some have found ways to move their side hustle into a much bigger main hustle, like High Country Fungus.

Owned by Daniel Stewart, the business was one of two home-grown Wyoming businesses recently selected to attend the Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas, North America’s largest specialty food show. Red Pony Salsa is the other business.

About 17,000 or so retail store and restaurant owners go to the Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas every year to find their next bestseller.

Stewart credits Fremont Local Market for providing a platform — in his case, a small wooden shelf available for less than $50 — that made it easier for him to stretch and grow his business.

“We had a lot of customers who weren’t able to meet up with us on Saturdays,” he said. “Or, you know, come to a market on Wednesdays. So having that option of being able to put our products on a shelf like that was extremely beneficial.”

Stewart hopes to gain statewide, or eventually even national, distribution for his selection of mushroom drink mixes, which include hot cocoa, chai, coffee, as well as a straight mushroom blend.

  • Shelves at the Fremont Local Market contain a wide variety of creative food products and other hand-crafted items.
    Shelves at the Fremont Local Market contain a wide variety of creative food products and other hand-crafted items. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Yellowstone Spice Co. offers a variety of spice mixes.
    Yellowstone Spice Co. offers a variety of spice mixes. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Why spend money on paper towels? The Unpaper towel is made of 2-ply cotton flannel. They work great.
    Why spend money on paper towels? The Unpaper towel is made of 2-ply cotton flannel. They work great. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Whitt's End has a variety of pie fillings.
    Whitt's End has a variety of pie fillings. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Lost Cabin Coffee offers single-origin beans hand-roasted in the Big Horns.
    Lost Cabin Coffee offers single-origin beans hand-roasted in the Big Horns. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Law of the Homestead artisan bread made from Einkorn wheat, an ancient grain and a starter that traces its lineage back to Basque sheepherders from pre-Columbian Spain.
    Law of the Homestead artisan bread made from Einkorn wheat, an ancient grain and a starter that traces its lineage back to Basque sheepherders from pre-Columbian Spain. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Lakeview Gardens has a year-round greenhouse and offers fresh produce year round as well a variety of pickles.
    Lakeview Gardens has a year-round greenhouse and offers fresh produce year round as well a variety of pickles. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • In addition to bread. Law of the Homestead is offering pancake mixes.
    In addition to bread. Law of the Homestead is offering pancake mixes. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Making Chocolate Chip Cookies Great Again

An easier, less expensive on-ramp for Cowboy State entrepreneurs was part of the vision behind Wyoming’s 2015 Food Freedom Act, which is almost 10 years old.

The legislation was championed by former state Rep. Tyler Lindholm, who told Cowboy State Daily that he felt things had just gotten too complicated at the time and it shouldn’t be so difficult for neighbors to sell each other a chocolate chip cookie.

“It was just nuts,” Lindholm said. “The reality is, when you look at foodborne illnesses at the CDC and those types of things, a majority of these foodborne illnesses come from USDA-inspected items, particularly leafy green-type items and sprouts.”

Tyler, who is a rancher from Crook County, jokingly said he tells his son to stay away from lettuce and spinach and just stick to meat and potatoes.

But in all seriousness, allowing small mom-and-pop shops to get a start was exactly what he had envisioned, and to see how much creativity is being unleashed across the state is kind of “rad,” he said.

It’s also vindicating, given how he was vilified in the early days of the Food Freedom Act.

“I woke up in the morning after that bill first passed the House to an editorial in the Casper Star-Tribune just excoriating me and talking about how there’s going to be dead children,” Lindholm said. “And I’m a dad, and I was like, ‘I don’t want to kill children. What the hell are these people talking about?’”

No Tidal Wave Of Death

Since passing in 2015, Wyoming’s Food Freedom Act has become a model for other states that have added their own food freedom laws.

It has been expanded a few times in 2017, 2020 and more recently in 2023. The additions allowed ranchers to sell beef direct to consumer in Wyoming, buy eggs from producers and, most recently, buy raw milk from dairy producers.

The latter has led to a few cases of illnesses, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

“In 2023, we had a large increase reported cases of campylobacter, salmonellosis and Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli (STEC), linked with drinking raw milk sold under food freedom laws,” Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti told Cowboy State Daily. “We can’t tell you how much of that increase is explained by the population generally drinking more raw milk, or because people are more willing to tell us about their milk consumption because it is legal.”

A cluster of illnesses last fall in the northwest part of the state linked with raw milk did cause hospitalization for two children, Deti added.

That’s not an outcome anyone likes to see, Lindholm acknowledged, but he takes it as a win that the laws he championed in 2015 haven’t resulted in the tidal wave of death he’d been warned would ensue.

In fact, other than some instances of illness traced back to raw milk sales, there haven’t been any illnesses traced to canned pickles, unique cakes and cookies, breads, salsas and the like, nor even to ranch meat or eggs sold direct to consumer, despite hundreds of such sales over the past nine years.

Certainly, nothing like the dozens of multistate investigations into illnesses traced back to things like lettuces and leafy greens.

Lindholm feels vindicated by that as well.

“People are willing to pay money for these things, too,” he said. “They want to support local people. Walmart could beat them on price all day, but these guys want to support the people in their community.”

Saving Main Street

It’s difficult to track the impact of Wyoming’s Food Freedom Act, because the law was intentionally set up to not require registration for those operating under its umbrella.

But Fremont Local Foods Board President Steven Doyle has seen the impact locally, and it’s significant.

“We were told this would be very difficult to do here in Riverton,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “But the support here has been great, and we are bringing people to Main Street.”

He knows that’s something that would have never happened without the Food Freedom Act, even if it did take a pandemic to shake up people’s buying habits a bit.

Maureen Tescher, owner of the Milk House in Casper, sees similar trends with her store, which she started during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Demand for custom canvas covers for boats and the like fell by the wayside at the time, she recalled, and she needed a way to keep her doors open.

Likewise, the producers who started in her store needed a way to keep their rents paid and their lives going.

“We started with five or six producers, including me,” she said. “And we’re actually up to 65 full-time producers now, and another I think about 10 others who are seasonal.”

Some of her producers have success stories similar to that of High Country Fungus, where side hustles have become main hustles.

“We’ve got some bakers in here that started out with just little home kitchens who are bringing in bread daily,” Tescher said. “And we have one gal who is no longer with us because she grew big enough that she is now renting a commercial kitchen.”

Other producers are growing ever-larger gardens to supply local produce to the community, including one fellow with a hydroponic garden, who is supplying fresh bunches of basil on a regular basis.

“I would say almost everybody in our market has become a success story in their own right,” she said. “So long as they’ve got the will and what-not to keep moving forward.”

  • Fremont Market 1 11 23 22
  • How about some homemade spaghetti sauce
    How about some homemade spaghetti sauce (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Homemade barbecue sauces, body creams and more from JV Essentials.
    Homemade barbecue sauces, body creams and more from JV Essentials. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Holy Smokes offers a variety of smoking chips in various flavors.
    Holy Smokes offers a variety of smoking chips in various flavors. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • High Country Fungus has a shelf at Fremont Local Market.
    High Country Fungus has a shelf at Fremont Local Market. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Handmade cheeses at Fremont Local Market.
    Handmade cheeses at Fremont Local Market. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Cowboy Cuts has freezer space at Fremont Local Market.
    Cowboy Cuts has freezer space at Fremont Local Market. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Bright jewel-like jellies and candies.
    Bright jewel-like jellies and candies. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A variety of fresh produce is available at Fremont Local Market.
    A variety of fresh produce is available at Fremont Local Market. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter