New Food Rules for San Jose

If you are launching your farmers’ market in the City of San Jose, there is now a very clear process for you to follow to gain city permission for your farmers’ market to operate. This process was developed in 2012 through a community engagement process led by The Health Trust and captured in the New Food Rules publications developed by ChangeLab Solutions. The New Food Rules for San Jose Farmers’ Markets explains how to navigate the City of San Jose’s laws concerning farmers’ markets through quick reference charts and a list of easy questions and answers. For example:

We are just planning to start a small market. Do we really need all of those permits?

To make it easier to start a farmers’ market, the city has waived the need for a zoning permit for certified markets with 15 or fewer agricultural vendors. All markets will still need to have permits from the Santa Clara County Division of Agriculture and Environmental Health Department. If you’re starting a certified farmers’ market and you’re not planning to close down a street, locate downtown or in a planned development, or have tents or prepared foods, you won’t need any additional permits to start your market.

“New Food Rules for San Jose Farmers’ Markets,” ChangeLab Solutions, 2013.

 

Even if no paperwork is required, it is a best practice to let city officials know that you are planning a farmers’ market. Send an email to your city councilmember and drop by your local fire station.

The City of San Jose requires all farmers’ markets to have a business license. If you are a nonprofit organization operating in the City of San Jose, you likely have this license already. If not, you can obtain one through the City of San Jose Department of Finance. The city’s farmers’ market-specific rules are based upon the size, composition and operational characteristics of your farmers’ market. These determine if you would be qualified as a “small certified farmers’ market” or a “general certified farmers’ market.”

First, answer these five yes/no questions about your farmers’ market:

  • Will you have 15 or fewer agricultural producers in your farmers’ market?
  • Will you have no nonagricultural producers or no more than one nonagricultural producer for every five agricultural producers in your farmers’ market?
  • Will you only operate one or two days per week at the same location?
  • Will your total operating hours, including any setup or breakdown activities, be a total of six or fewer hours per day?
  • Will your total operating hours, including any setup or breakdown activities, begin at or after 7:00am and fully conclude by 9:00pm each day?

If the answer to all of these questions is “yes,” then you meet the conditions of the City of San Jose to be classified as a small certified farmers’ market. If the answers to any of the questions is “no,” then you would be classified as a general farmers’ market.

Next, learn the zoning district of the site at which you would like to operate your farmers’ market and determine if your preferred site is on public or private property.

  • If your farmers’ market meets the conditions of a small certified farmers’ market and you are in a residential zoning district, you can operate as a small certified farmers’ market only “on school sites, library sites, community center sites, or church/religious assembly sites.”
  • If your farmers’ market meets the conditions of a small certified farmers’ market and you are in a commercial zoning district, you can operate as a small certified farmers’ market on any public or private property where you have permission of the property owner.
  • If your farmers’ market meets the conditions of a small certified farmers’ market and you are in an industrial zoning district, you can operate as a small certified farmers’ market only if your zoning district’s sub-designation is ”IP.” Farmers’ markets are not allowed to operate within industrial zoning districts that have any other sub-designation.
  • If your farmers’ market meets the conditions of a small certified farmers’ market and you are in the downtown zoning district, you can operate as a small certified farmers’ market if your zoning district’s sub-designation is ”DC” or “DC-NT1.”

If through the above steps you have established that your farmers’ market can operate as a small certified farmers’ market, then congratulations! No event permit or development permit is required as long as you continue to meet the definition of a small farmers’ market and the restrictions placed upon them through the City of San Jose ordinance. More information about that is below.

There are a few situations in which even as a small certified farmers’ market, you would need to complete an additional permit application with the City of San Jose:

  • If your farmers and vendors will be outside, they will need to use tents, so you will need a Fire Safety Special Event Permit from the Fire Department.
  • If you want to operate your farmers’ market in a city park or on the property of a community center, one of the permitted sites in residential zoning districts, you will need a PRNS Special Permit from the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department (PRNS).
  • If you have a nonagricultural producer who is cooking in your farmers’ market, you will need a Fire Safety Special Event Permit from the Fire Department.
  • If you want to reserve spaces on the street as parking spaces for your event, you will need a Tow Away Permit from the Department of Transportation.
  • If you want to close a street for your farmers’ market, you will need a Special Event Street Closure Permit from the Police Department.
  • If you are locating anywhere in the downtown area, you will need to complete an event application with the Office of Cultural Affairs.

Even if no further paperwork is required, it is a best practice to let city officials know that you are planning a farmers’ market. Send an email to your city councilmember and drop by your local fire station to let them know the market is opening.

If your farmers’ market will be classified as a general farmers’ market, you will be required to obtain a Special Use Permit from the City of San Jose Department of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement (PBCE). The process of applying for a special use permit is the same for those wanting to open a general farmers’ market as it is for those wanting to do dozens of other activities that are under the jurisdiction of the PBCE. The best course of action is to download the application and complete as much of it as possible: location description, purpose, contact information and property owner permission. Then, make an appointment to present your application and receive guidance from a planner concerning the other items requested on the application, such as landscaping plans and building elevations, that are not appropriate to an application for a farmers’ market.

The other conditions listed above for small certified farmers’ markets, such as permits needed to close streets or operate in the downtown area, apply to general certified farmers’ markets as well.

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