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Value-Added and Agritourism Without a License Basics

What can you do in terms of agritourism and adding value to farm products without seeking a permit? We explore the answers.

I’d like to start an agritourism or value-added venture, but I don’t want to get any licenses. What ventures can I add without a license?

Many beginning and experienced farmers want to expand their activities by hosting events and offering food products at the events, or for sale off the farm. Minnesota and Wisconsin both have relatively strict laws preventing farmers from widespread sale of foods without a license; however, there are narrow exceptions that might apply to you.

Home-Processed Foods: Wisconsin

  • You can sell up to $5,000 per year, without a license, of home-processed pickles or other processed vegetables or fruits with a pH value of 4.6 or lower. You’ll have to label the foods: “These canned goods are homemade and not subject to state inspection,” and include your name, address, date of canning or packaging, and a list of ingredients from most-to-least prominent.
  • Nonprofit organizations can, without a license, provide prepared food in limited circumstances for limited times throughout the year—such as baked goods up to 12 days per year.
  • For-profit businesses can, without a license, serve certain prepared foods at celebratory events: soft drinks, milk and milk drinks, coffee, tea, pastries, and candy.
  • Food producers (such as farmers) can, without a license, provide meals and snacks to their workers three times a year.
  • Private and personal events can include potlucks without a license, so long as these are not in any way “public events” (if everyone is welcome, or if you publicize the event, you should assume the law would treat it as a public event).
  • Wisconsin allows the direct sale, without a license, of limited numbers of eggs. You can have up to 150 egg-laying hens, if you sell the eggs directly to the consumer, either on your own premises, on a delivery route, or at a farmers’ market. You’ll need to label your cartons with your name and address, the date the eggs were packed, and a sell- by date no more than 30 days after the packing date. You need to keep the eggs at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below until they’re sold.

This is just a sampling of the main exceptions available in Wisconsin. It is not exhaustive. For more details or specific questions, you can either review Wisconsin’s cottage food law (Wisconsin Statutes 97.28-29) or contact the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, or your nearest Extension office.

Home-Processed Foods: Minnesota

  • A license isn’t necessary for potlucks. As the host of an on-farm potluck, the farmer can prepare her own food; however, no one else’s food can be prepared on the farm.
  • You can sell up to $18,000 of your cottage food products without a license as long as you make the food and either deliver it directly to the consumer, sell it at a farmers’ market, or sell it over the internet. You’ll need to do the following:
    + Register with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) regardless of the amount of food you sell;
    + Complete a food-handling course;
    + Sell only baked goods, certain jams and jellies, canned pickles, vegetables, or fruits with a pH of 4.6 or lower;
    + Label with your name and address, the date produced, ingredients, and potential allergens;
    + Display a sign (or include a disclaimer if selling on the internet) that says: “These products are homemade and not subject to state inspection;” and
    + Remember that any exempted food products are no longer exempt if you add in any products purchased off the farm.

This is just a sampling of the main exceptions available in Minnesota. It is not exhaustive. The Minnesota Farmers Market Association has a great resource on its website for farmers seeking more details: The 2015 Minnesota Cottage Foods Law. For specific questions, you can contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture or your nearest Extension office.

Hosting Events and Agritourism

Across the United States, zoning regulations, created by cities and counties, govern what you need to do to host events, or whether you can host them at all. Zoning laws regulate not only the size and material requirements for buildings and lots, but also the uses that can be made of land and buildings. Many of these codes are very specific, such as codes restricting or limiting barn weddings, musical performances, or other events on property. Zoning restrictions may prohibit public events, or set minimum land-size requirements for those events (e.g., requiring that the property must be three acres in size to host an event). A zoning regulation may prohibit certain levels of noise, or any loud noises altogether after a particular time of day. Some zoning ordinances restrict food sales or the presence of animals. Many ordinances require permits to conduct certain activities.

Here’s what you should do if you want to host events on your farm:

  • Know your zoning code. Most cities and counties have their zoning code available on their website these days. You can also call your local government or visit the library to learn more or ask specific questions.
  • Make friends with your neighbors. If your code doesn’t prohibit certain events, you should still talk to your neighbors as it’s best to have them on your side. Oftentimes zoning issues arise from complaints from neighbors. One approach is to be sure your neighbors know in advance what you’re up to. You can work together to address any of their concerns.
  • Consider safety and sanitation:
    + Make sure the public area is cleared of all potentially dangerous material, from nails in fencing or boards to large pieces of equipment.
    + Provide water, sanitizing gel, and adequate restrooms.
    + Separate animal and other “dirty” activity areas from eating areas.
  • Have insurance and consider a waiver:
    + Insurance is essential! Your normal farm policy will probably not cover events; however, you can add riders to your policy or purchase commercial liability or event policies.
    + Having guests sign a waiver can be helpful. It likely won’t prevent you from being sued, and waivers are often unenforceable, especially for children, but it provides a powerful means for communicating any risks present at an event.
    + Do what you can to make sure your event is accessible to people with disabilities. This includes designating handicapped parking spaces, utilizing ramps for wheelchair access, and providing other appropriate accommodations.

Conclusion

Although obtaining a license to produce and sell your food opens many doors, there are numerous things you can do without one, including hosting events and serving food. The keys are to know your local laws and zoning ordinances, work closely with neighbors and your community, and be safe and careful!

Farm Commons offers many resources to help you do this, such as our webinar “Add Value, Not Legal Liability” and “Hosting Safe, Legally Secure Farm Events,” available at http://www.farmcommons.org.

DISCLAIMER: This guide does not provide legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and author. Consult an attorney for advice specific to your situation and the state in which you operate.