Farmers and Their Products

To qualify as a certified farmers’ market, you must have at least one California farmer (referred to as a certified producer in state regulations) selling within your farmers’ market. A certified producer is a California farmer holding a valid “certified producers’ certificate.” This certificate, issued by the County Agriculture Department in the county in which the farmer is growing crops, lists the location of the farm and the farm products that are under production there.

While California law does not define the term “farmer'” it does create a legal definition for the term “producer”:

A person, partnership, corporation, or an otherwise legally formed farm or ranch that produces agricultural products by the practice of the agricultural arts upon land that the person or entity owns, rents, leases, sharecrops, or otherwise controls and has the documented legal right to possession. A person or entity that rents, leases, or otherwise acquires the right to possession of property essentially only for or limited to the period of the harvest season of the agricultural products produced on that property shall not be considered a producer under the provisions of this chapter. California Food and Agriculture Code 47000.5(c) [2015]

Embedded within this definition are some important distinctions: a producer can be a person, a partnership, or another legal entity such as a corporation. The producer must be able to document that they have legal rights – ownership, lease, or other rights – to the land that they are farming. Farmers cannot simply harvest land that was planted and cared for by others to be considered a “producer” under the law. They must have a direct involvement in the entire lifecycle of a product through “the practice of the agricultural arts.”

The term “practice of the agricultural arts” is also defined in California law.

The undertaking of being predominantly responsible for the decisions and actions encompassing the various phases of producing an agricultural product. The practice of the agricultural arts for fruit, floral, nut, vegetable, and other plant products includes directive or actual responsibility for all the actions of planting, growing, fertilizing, irrigating, cultivating, pest control, and harvesting. California Food and Agriculture Code 47000.5(b) [2015]

This definition makes it clear that to be a “producer” under California law, one must be “predominantly responsible” for all of the decisions and actions that are involved in the production of fresh fruits, vegetables nuts, and flowers – collectively known under the law as “agricultural products.”

The term “agricultural products” has an extensive definition in the California Code:

A fresh or processed product produced in California, including fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, dairy, shell eggs, honey, pollen, unprocessed bees wax, propolis, royal jelly, flowers, grains, nursery stock, livestock meats, poultry meats, rabbit meats, and fish, including shellfish that is produced under controlled conditions in waters located in California. California Food and Agriculture Code 47000.5(a) [2015]

This definition is also the most important as it defines the products that are intended to be central to a farmers’ market’s operations. The definition of “agricultural products” also includes meat, fish and shellfish and as such, the “practice of the agricultural arts” includes the production of these items. Those definitions can be found using the code references in the appendix to this guide, using the citations included in the abridged definitions above.

The popularity of farmers’ markets and their proven ability to bring together communities and support small businesses have allowed them to evolve from simply being retail outlets for fresh fruits and vegetables, to also serving as retail outlets for a variety of other products. This evolution is reflected in the definition of agricultural product which also lists what an agricultural product is not:

Products that are characterized as services, arts, crafts, bakery, candies, soaps, balms, perfumes, cosmetics, pottery, clothing, fabrics, pastas, compost, fertilizers, candles, ceramics, foraged foods, and types of wares are not agricultural products for purposes of this chapter. A product that combines an agricultural product with a nonagricultural product or service in a manner that materially increases the purchase price of the product shall disqualify the product from being sold as an agricultural product for purposes of this chapter. California Food and Agriculture Code 47000.5(a) [2015]

Within the regulations issued by the California Department of Food and Agriculture are two additional terms that define what may be sold within a farmers’ market: certifiable agricultural products and noncertifiable agricultural products.

Please note that these terms were created through regulations issued before the passage of AB 1871 in 2014 and the definition of “producer” in California Code. The California Department of Food and Agriculture may choose to update these and other definitions in the future as they begin in implement the revised Code. These definitions were current as of the date of this publication.

(k) Agricultural Products. Agricultural products include all certified and noncertifiable agricultural products as defined in section 1392.2(1) and section 1392.2(m).

(l) Certified Agricultural Products. Agricultural products, which are certified under the jurisdiction of the county agricultural commissioner relative to inspection and verification of compliance with the provisions of this article, include fresh fruits, nuts, vegetables, shell eggs, honey, flowers, and nursery stock.

(m) Noncertifiable Agricultural Products. Noncertifiable agricultural products include all certified agricultural products that have been processed, those products other than certified agricultural products noted in (l) above from any tree, vine or plant and their flowers (including processed products), livestock (including rabbits) and livestock products, and fish and shellfish produced under controlled conditions in waters or ponds located in California.

3 CCR § 1392.2

These definitions are integral to the definition of farmers’ markets in California. In addition to fruits, vegetables and nuts, the state of California considers shell eggs, honey, flowers, and nursery stock to be certifiable agriculture products that may be sold within a Certified Farmers’ Market.

In addition to certifiable agriculture, California farmers are also allowed to sell noncertifiable agricultural products within the Certified Farmers’ Market. Noncertifiable agriculture products include livestock, fish and shellfish as well as processed agricultural products such as roasted or flavored nuts, jams or juices. The intent is to allow farmers to minimally process their harvest in order to create a value-added or shelf stable product, thus increasing the profitability of their farm production.

A processed product in which the farmers’ harvest is not the primary ingredient, such as a tart containing fruit that they harvested but which also contains flour and sugar which they purchased, is not considered noncertifiable agriculture but would instead be considered a nonagricultural product and subject to the rules included below. Candy-coated nuts fall into the same category of nonagricultural products.

Later in this guide we discuss the options for selecting the types of products you wish to be sold in your farmers’ market and ways to organize sellers and products within your market. Those decisions must be based upon these definitions to ensure that your farmers’ market is able to legally operate.

A Guide to Opening Small Farmers' Markets in San Jose, California