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Permits & regulations

Municipal, county, state and federal regulations can be overwhelming, but it's wise to consider how they may impact your enterprise early in your planning. Give yourself adequate time to read and understand the regulations before you make significant investments in your agritourism business. This page will guide you to many of the appropriate resources who can provide more information specific to your business.

Zoning, Land Use Permits and other regulations

Agritourism enterprises may be affected by a variety of land use regulations, such as zoning ordinances. Typically, the scope of these regulations depends on the type of activities offered, enterprise location, the size of the farm or ranch, number of days the activities will last, and the number of visitors.

California's 58 counties bear the primary responsibility for permitting and regulating agritourism operations on agricultural land within their boundaries. The counties often struggle with creating allowances and ease of permitting for agritourism businesses while ensuring that agritourism is a supplemental (rather than primary) activity on a commercial farm or ranch and that agricultural land is preserved for agricultural uses. Regulations also must ensure that agricultural production and local residents are not adversely affected by tourism.

The variety of activities allowed "by right" and those requiring permits differ among counties. The best place to start when determining the rules for your planned activity is your county or municipal planning department. It may help to read some of these publications before you go.

Webinar offered by the UC Small Farm Program in 2016
The Rules: Navigating and Negotiating Permits and Regulations

Navigating Permits and Regulations by Karen Giovannini, UCCE Sonoma County Agricultural Ombudsman (webinar recording)

Handout to accompany Karen Giovannini's presentation (pdf)
Presentation slides by Karen Giovannini (pdf)

El Dorado County Agricultural Ordinances: Influencing the Future of Agritourism, by Tom Purciel, El Dorado County Advance Planning Division (webinar recording about the process of changing the rules)

Presentation slides by Tom Purciel (pdf)

webinar #3 summary (pdf)

Blog post: County Agricultural Ombudsmen help Bridge the Divide, by Penny Leff, April 2018

Rules for agritourism and the agencies involved

Prepared by Karen Giovannini, former Agriculture Ombudsman UCCE Sonoma County


  • County/Municipal planning department – regulators of the zoning code
  • General Plan – every county and most municipalities have one; informs the zoning code
  • Zoning Code – every parcel is zoned; zoning codes outline land uses
  • Allowed/Permitted by Right Activities – outlined in zoning code
  • Permitted Activities – activities that require a use permit i.e. processing


  • California – one of the most ADA compliant states in the nation – is also the most ADA litigious. Under California law, any violation of the ADA is considered a civil rights violation and subject to a minimum statutory penalty of $4,000, plus attorney’s
  • Any disabled person who encounters a building condition that does not meet the accessibility requirements of the ADA or the California Building Code (CBC) is entitled to file a lawsuit and receive a minimum of $4,000 in statutory damages plus attorney’s
  • ADA Compliance - How to Comply with Disability Access Laws and Avoid Lawsuits, by Marc B. Koenigsberg, Esc,

Tax & Business Law

  • Fictitious biz name statement - biz name does not include your or other owner(s) surname
  • Biz license - not required for sole proprietorships or general partnerships - your county may require it. All other forms must register w state (this may be accomplished when you register locally)
  • Employees - workers comp, withholding - check with Tax Collector; Labor Laws - check with US Dept of Labor

Other Agencies

  • Public Works/CALTRANS - traffic and road signs - sign ordinance: roadside signs are subject to approval by the agency that regulates that road
  • Fire Agency - fire prevention codes - requiring sprinklers, extinguishers
  • Ag Commissioner/Weights & Measures
    • Sale by weight – certifiable scale, renew annually
    • Organic – register with CDFA or Ag Commissioner online
    • Pesticides – all pesticides used on food produce requires registration with Ag Commissioner
    • Certified Producer Certificate – required to sell produce a certified farmers’ markets

Food Safety: Sale of Food

  • Sale of produce grown on site – probably no permit required; if sampling/tasting, a permit from health department will be required
  • Tasting/sampling produce grown on site – permit from health department
  • Sale of produce/products not grown on site: may not be allowed, check with planning department and from Health Department
  • Sale of food prepared for consumption: food prep by licensed caterer/in licensed kitchen
  • Serving/tasting alcohol: caterer with a liquor license/non-profit events can obtain one from CA Dept of Alcohol Beverage Control
  • Sale of non-farm products – including processed food and/or products such as t-shirts or art may require a permit from both planning and health departments

Food Safety: Food Handling

  • Retail food facility - for food prepared on site is sold on site; obtain from the county/municipality.
  • Processed Food Registration - food prepared is sold off site; obtain from CDPH; this food can also be served/sold on the farm with a retail food facility permit from the County/municipality.
  • Food Safety Certification – required when processing food on-site/at food facility; one employee/owner with food safety certification whenever unpackaged perishable food prep is
  • Food Handlers Card- The rest of the facility employees working with food, whether it is unpackaged perishable food, prepackaged perishable food or prepackaged nonperishable food, must have food handler cards.
  • Labeling requirements - there are many

Special Events

  • Serving food and drinks and alcohol
  • Disruption to traffic; parking – do not block state roads especially, recommend not parking alongside unless there is a wide space
  • Disruption to neighbors i.e. noise, lights

For more information about permits and regulations for specific agritourism activities, see https://ucanr.edu/sites/agritourism/activities/

For specific regulations and information from regulators in some of California's 58 counties, see https://ucanr.edu/sites/agritourism/region/

For detailed wording of county plans and ordinances and information about the process of changing rules and regulations, see https://ucanr.edu/sites/agritourism/Regulating/