Agritourism - Regulations & Other Considerations
On this page:
- Event Permits
- Food Service
- Insurance, Safety & Accessibility
- Additional Agritourism Resources
Topics of interest:
Order from UC ANR Catalog.
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
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.
See Applying for a Special Event Permit for tips.
- 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.
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:
- Special Event Permit from Permit Sonoma
- Host Facility Permit from county Environmental Health and meet Host Facility Requirements
- Booth operators must obtain a Temporary Food Facility permit from county Environmental Health Services. All temporary food facilities must have authorization to operate two weeks prior to the event.
- 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.
Pairing your food with wines, beers or ciders from a local purveyor is a great way to showcase both types of products.
- 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
- Insurance Discussion Sheet by SafeAgritourism.org
- Risk Management and Liability in Agritourism by Ag Marketing Resource Center
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.
- Agritourism Ready: Agritourism Emergency Preparedness a one stop shop for preparing your emergency management plan, created by Ohio State University Extension
- See also Farm Commons who provide legal webinars and resources for farmers and ranchers.
- Integrating Safety into Agritourism a variety of walk-throughs, checklists and resources, created by the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety
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:
- Business Resources on this site.
- Sonoma County Tourism list your farm, work with them to build an itinerary. Services from SCT are FREE and available to tourism-related businesses in Sonoma County. They want to tell the rest of the world about your business!
Free marketing opportunities include getting leads from the sales team, hosting journalists to experience your business, posting your events to our online calendar of events, submitting deals, and updating your web listing on Visit Sonoma County and review Promotion Opportunities via Sonoma County Tourism
Email SCT Marketing to learn more.
- California Agricultural Tourism Directory register your farm for free.
- Farm Stay U.S. a trade association for farm stay operators - is offering educational webinars sharing the knowledge of experienced farm stay operators. Recorded webinars include:
- Farm Stay Start-up Toolkit
- Insurance, Liability Considerations
- Reservations; Booking guests
- The Farmer Host; Hospitality
- and more!
- On Facebook: California Agritourism Adventures
Additional Agritourism Resources
- Sign up for UC's CA AgTour Connections email newsletter for everyone involved in California agritourism and visit their Newsletter archives.
- Facebook page - Agtour Connections
- Agritourism and Nature Tourism In California This 150-page workbook aims to assist farmers and ranchers in developing an agritourism enterprise. $25
- Hosting Dinners on Your California Farm a guide published online in November 2018 by UC SAREP
- Marketing Regional Farms & Wineries: A Guide for CA Ag Marketing Groups (pdf) published online in November 2015 by the UC Small Farm Program
- Marketing Strategies (pdf)
- Planning a U-Pick Operation on Your California Farm by UC SAREP (pdf)
- The Big Event: Hosting a Festival on Your California Farm by UC SAREP (pdf) 9/2019
- Where to Start (pdf)
- Understanding Regulations (pdf)
Operation Specific Fact Sheets:
UCCE Sonoma County offered two Agritourism workshops in 2012; posted here are presentations and marketing ideas.
- 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.