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Agritourism - Regulations & Other Considerations

Agritourism bible. 
Order from UC ANR Catalog.

Agritourism Defined

Agritourism \noun\ the practice of touring agricultural areas to see farms and often to participate in farm activities.
Examples: U-pick, pumpkin patch, corn maze, tours, hands-on demos, farm-to-table dinners, harvest parties, farm stays and more.

"Nature and adventure tourism are the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry" per International Ecotourism Society, 2010.
Sonoma County ranches and farms offer unique blends of nature, tradition and outdoor adventure in a close-to-home setting.

There is an increased demand for multiple-activity trips.
Partner with other regional tourism providers to offer multiple activities, from bird watching and horseback riding to wine tasting and milking a cow or eating artisan goat cheese.

Special Event Permit

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: See Urgency Ordnance to learn about how you can offer agricultural experiences without a Special Events Permit.

Certain events will require a Cultural Events permit from Permit Sonoma, see the criteria outlined in Special/Cultural Events guidelines. Private events such as on-going farm-to-table dinners, weddings, corporate retreats would require a use permit from Permit Sonoma.

*NEW* See Applying for a Special Event Permit for tips.

U-pick example
Events that don’t require a special event permit from PRMD include:

  • Industry wide events such as Sonoma County Farm Trails tours (event organizer obtains the permit)
  • Events that do not meet the criteria outlined in the Special/Cultural Events guidelines.
  • NOTE: Private events such as on-going farm-to-table dinners, weddings, corporate retreats would require a use permit from Permit Sonoma.

See also: Sizing of Onsite Wastewater Disposal Systems for Special Events Authorized by Use Permits and the use of Portable Toilets

Food Service

Sonoma County Department of Health Services (DHS), Environmental Health division, issue permits for food facilities. 

Sampling of produce and sales of non-produce items is allowed at your farm stand with a permit from DHS, see Farmstand & Farm Retail Sales for requirements.

Hosting a farm to table dinner is a great way to bring people to your farm and expose them to the produce you grow and show them different and interesting ways to prepare dishes using items from their CSA box. And a great way to get new CSA subscribers. 

A farm event with food may not necessarily require a permit from DHS:

One Day Events

The DHS does not regulate one day events, but they do regulate 'serial' events. For farm events that include some sort of food service, as long as the event is only on one day and has different themes (i.e. tomato festival, pumpkin festival, and so on), there is no need to obtain a permit from DHS.  

More than One Day & 'Serial' Events

If the events grow to the point where you are having events over more than one day and/or 'serial' events, great! But you will need to obtain a permit from DHS. Use this handy Food Vendors flowchart by DHS (pdf).

These meals cannot be prepared in the home, here are your options:

  • Licensed Caterer or Mobile Food Facility – unless your farm has a licensed commercial kitchen (covered below), you will want to have a licensed caterer or licensed mobile food facility prepare the meal. They are trained in food safety and will come with all the equipment required to prepare and serve a safe product.
    • Licensed Caterer - Host facility must obtain a Host Facility permit from county Environmental Health Services and must meet Host Facility Requirements.
    • Licensed Mobile Food Facility - Host Facility permit not required. Host facility must have restroom and handwashing available for MFF operators within 200 feet of the location of the MFF.
  • Temporary Food booth: TFF's are only issued for 'community events' (e.g. fairs, parades, festivals, concerts) and are NOT being issued during COVID. When they are allowed, the Host Facility must obtain:
  • Licensed commercial kitchen on the farm – this is a facility that has been approved Permit Sonoma as an Ag Processing Facility and has obtained a Processed Food Registration from CA Department of Public Health.

Serving alcohol

Pairing your food with wines, beers or ciders from a local purveyor is a great way to showcase both types of products.

Farm Dinner
This will require a permit from the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) You have two options:

  • Non-profit events: the non-profit obtains a special event policy for the event. Form 221. Cost: $50 to $100 per day, per dispensing point; maximum 12 events per year per non-profit.
  • Private events: the farm/host must hire a caterer with correct licensing from ABC. Caterer's Permit Information for on-sale alcohol sales.
  • In both cases, the certificate holder must obtain prior approval from the local law enforcement agency.

NOTE about Insurance for events with alcohol: Unless your policy specifically allows for serving/selling alcohol, it is unlikely that your farm is covered for it.  Contact your agent or search online for Special Event Policy that allows for alcohol.  In most cases involving alcohol related accidents, it is the third party that will sue for restitution regardless of fault. It is better to be safe and covered.

Insurance, Safety and Accessibility

Farm Tour example
Insurance: Bringing the public onto your farm, regardless of the activity, may not be covered with your current farm policy. Contact your agent to obtain the correct amount of coverage for the activities you want to do. Farm Liability Insurance policies generally only cover farming activities (when it comes to insurance, agritourism is not a farming activity). You may need Commercial General Liability coverage.  

Safety: having a safety plan in place and reducing hazards will help your operation get insured. Here are some great resources to help you get there.

Accessibility: Regardless if an activity is permitted or no permits are required, the owner operator is still responsible for complying with Accessibility Standards and could be opening themselves up to some degree of risk if they are not in compliance. 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.

Getting Started in Business

There are many additional requirements for business operations. To get started, visit:

Marketing

Additional Agritourism Resources

Networking

UC ANR Publications:  
UC Small Farm - California Agritourism

Operation Specific Fact Sheets:

UCCE Sonoma County offered two Agritourism workshops in 2012; posted here are presentations and marketing ideas.

Other Organizations

  • Agritourism Associations and Networks connect with other agritourism operations and networks.
  • Farm-Based Education Network - A free international member network established to strengthen and support the work of educators, farmers and community leaders providing access and experiences of all kinds on productive working farms.
  • FarmsReach - Agritourism Group includes current discussion topics and links to agritourism webinars offered in 2016, the presentations and Q&A.
  • Harvest Hosts - a program that connects farms and wineries with RV owners. Invite Harvest Hosts' RV owners to park overnight on your property and benefit from the goodwill that motivates them to make purchases.
  • North American Farm Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA) - a membership based trade association dedicated to providing endless peer-to-peer learning opportunities, connections and resources, for farmers who are passionate about the business of agritourism and farm direct marketing. 
  • Training for Agritourism Development includes training modules and videos, this is a great set of resources. Rutgers New Jersey Ag Experiment Station.

Video about Agritourism

Hear from farms throughout the United States. By University of Vermont Extension and Washington State University Extension for a congressional hearing on Agritourism, June 2021.