Agriculture Ombudsman
University of California
Agriculture Ombudsman

On-Farm Retail Sales

On July 29, 2014, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a zoning code change to allow small-scale agricultural retail sales and small-scale agricultural processing on agriculturally zoned properties with a simpler, faster, less-expensive (around $600 in fees), zoning permit approval process with Sonoma County Permit & Resource Management Department (PRMD). Prior to that code change, those types of operations required a very costly and time-consuming conditional use permit.

Land Zoning Districts

The following information only applies to parcels in the following zones:
• LIA – Land Intensive Agriculture 
• LEA – Land Extensive Agriculture 
• DA – Diverse Agriculture
• RRD – Rural & Resource Development (ag, mining, forestry)

Find your zoning district on on Permit & Resource Management Department (PRMD) ActiveMap.

Small-Scale Retail Sales

A farm Small-Scale Retail Sales Facility is for year-round sales of agricultural products grown or raised on the site or other properties owned or leased by the farm operator and pre-packaged goods processed from onsite agricultural production. A few key criteria are:

  • Maximum size of 500 square feet.
  • Hours of operation for year round retail sales: 10am to 6pm.
  • Sale of processed meat or dairy products is allowed
  • This zoning permit does not allow the sale of alcoholic beverages; a use permit is required.

Farm Stand Sales

A Farm Stand is an area for the temporary or seasonal sales and promotion of agricultural products that are grown or raised on the site. Farm Stands are currently allowed by right in the agricultural zoning areas and no permit is required. This will continue to be the case. The only change is that a greater variety of sales is allowed under the new “farm Stand" definition (see Definitions on right and chart below). See Farm Stands for more information.

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Definitions used by Permit & Resource Management Department:

Farmstand: An area for the temporary or seasonal sales and promotion of agricultural products that are grown or raised on the site and shelf-stable, pre-packaged, goods processed from onsite agricultural production, excluding alcoholic products.

Farm Retail Sales: A small–scale retail facility for year-round sales of agricultural products grown or raised on the site or other properties owned or leased by the farm operator, and pre-packaged goods processed from onsite agricultural production, excluding alcoholic products.

Cottage Food Operations: A food preparation enterprise operating from the kitchen of a primary residence where specified low-risk food products are prepared, packaged or sold to consumers pursuant to the California Homemade Food Act. Allowed in any zoning district where a lawful residence occurs.

Community Supported Agriculture: A system by which people purchase, typically through monthly subscription, a share from a local farm and periodically receive fresh produce or other agricultural products produced or processed on site. Allowed use in the LIA, LEA, DA, RRD, and AR zoning districts.

 

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Comparison Chart

The following table compares the requirements for Farmstands and Farm Retail Sales facilities (provided by Permit and Resource Management Department):

 

Farmstand

Farm Retail Sales

Permits

Allowed use in the LIA, LEA, DA, RRD and AR zones;
Use permit required in RR zone

Zoning permit in LIA, LEA, DA, RRD zones;
Use permit required in AR & RR zone

Maximum size

Unlimited

500 square feet

Duration

Temporary/Seasonal

Year-round

Source of ag product

Only processed or unprocessed products grown on site

Only processed or unprocessed products grown on site or other lands owned or leased by the farmer

Type of product sales

Unprocessed produce, eggs and honey, Cottage Foods, Low-risk (shelf stable), prepackaged  processed products

Unprocessed Produce, eggs and honey, Cottage foods, Low-risk prepackaged foods, other prepackaged food requiring refrigeration (i.e. meat and dairy)

Incidental sales

Up to 10% of floor area not to exceed 50 sq ft

Up to 10% of floor area not to exceed 50 sq ft

Minimum parcel size

No minimim

2 acres

Signage

One attached or detached sign up to 32 square feet.

One sign up to 16 square feet and one sandwich-board sign up to  9 sq ft

Hours of operation:  

Not regulated

10:00 am to 6:00 pm, 7 days per week

Allowed promotional activities

Special Event permit required

Educational tours, community supported agriculture and farm trails

Retail Food Facility permit from DHS*

Not required for sale of farm produce only 

Required if low-risk (shelf stable) processed pre-packaged foods are sold or sampling is conducted

Required if processed pre-packaged foods are sold or sampling is conducted

(higher risk packaged foods may be sold)

Accessibility standards**

Required

Required

Restrooms & Handwash facilities

Not required for produce only farmstands.

Only as separately required by Building Code or DHS

Only as separately required by Building Code or DHS

*One day events do not require a food facilities permit (for example having a BBQ at your farmstand). Department of Health Services (DHS) allows no more than three such events in a 90 day period. The event can only be for one day (not a weekend). If the event is longer/more often, a Retail Food Facility permit is required.

**Accessibility Standards: Regardless if a building is permitted or no permits are required, the owner operator is still responsible for complying and could be opening themselves up to some degree of risk if they are not in compliance with Accessibility Standards. Make an effort to accommodate with signage and easy to navigate pathways. Remind visitors that it is a working farm and they will need to be aware of their surroundings.

Farm Retail Sales PRMD Links

baskets berries peppers tomatoes
Look up your parcel zone on PRMD’s ActiveMap  

Forms:

Code change summaries:

Additional Permits and Insurance

Operations that allow the tasting of food products will require health permits.

Nearly all buildings will require some sort of permit (there are exemptions). Anything from building to plumbing to electrical to remodels will most likely require a permit. Work on septic and well also require permits. PRMD links:

Insurance: make sure you and your business are covered for these activities. Farm Liability Insurance policies generally only cover farming activities (visits to the farm, agritourism and farm stays are not farming activities). You may need a Commercial General Liability coverage. Talk to your agent. See Insurance Discussion Sheet by SafeAgritourism.com and view Farm Commons webinar: Hosting Safe, Legally Secure Farm Events for suggestions.

Additional Resources

Food Labels information for food processors by California Department of Public Health.

Getting Started

To learn the fine details, requirements and restrictions, you can visit PRMD’s website or contact the Agriculture Ombudsman klgiov@ucanr.edu to discuss your project.

With much emphasis on local products, this is a great time to venture into the value added business with delicious artisan foods and products that build on your family’s legacy!

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Page Last Updated: August 30, 2017

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