Rachel RespondsSeptember 27, 2018

Adding value to your farm products.

Question:

My farm operation is allowed under my local zoning ordinance. Does that mean value-added production is allowed as well?

Answer:

The short answer is no, not necessarily. Even where a farm operation is allowed, zoning ordinances can prohibit value-added processing and direct-to-consumer sales on farms. This is because these activities may be classified as non-agricultural use of the property. Instead, these activities may be defined as commercial or retail in nature, and commercial or retail activities may be prohibited in agricultural zones (as well as in residential zones).

To find out if such activities are allowed, you will have to learn the zoning rules that apply to your location. One way to do this is to call the local zoning authority (which may be a city, town, or other local unit of government) and ask about the specific venture or project you want to undertake. Assuming you are in an agricultural zone, you can also ask whether allowed agricultural activities include some processing. Other farmers may prefer to research the zoning rules themselves. Many local entities have maps and ordinances online. Generally, a farmer will first research which code the farm location falls within on a zoning map. Then, the farmer will consult the ordinance to learn which activities are allowed or prohibited within that code. You can also talk with a local attorney, or a reference librarian, for assistance in understanding your zoning code.

Restrictive zoning rules can be changed via petition or by requesting individual variances which are one-time exemptions from the rules granted to a specific person.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: How does zoning work? Take 15 minutes and read the first chapter of Farm Commons' guidebook Host Safer, More Legally Secure On-Farm Events. Then read pages 18–21 of Farm Commons’ Adding Value to Farm Products: The Legal Issues, and consider calling your local zoning authority.

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