The Legal Definition

The legal definition of a certified farmers’ market can be found in the California Food and Agricultural Code Section 47004(b):

Certified farmers’ markets are locations established in accordance with local ordinances, where California farmers may transport and sell to the public California agricultural products that they produced, that are exempt from the established grade, size, labeling, packaging and other such requirements for fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and operated in accordance with this chapter and regulations adopted pursuant to this chapter.

In 2013 there were 821 Certified Farmers Markets in California. 33 of those were in Santa Clara County. (CDFA)

This legal definition introduces a few terms that are important to understanding how farmers’ markets operate:

  • In accordance with local ordinances. Even though this is state law, it specifically allows local laws to have some jurisdiction over the farmers’ markets. It is this element that allows the City of San Jose to set additional conditions for farmers’ markets through its zoning regulations.
  • California farmers. This law specifically applies to California farmers. It does not allow farmers from any other state or another nation the benefits of the law. The enforcement of this rule has created a system in which California counties, which act as agents of the state, certify farms as “California farmers” so they can benefit from this law.
  • California agricultural products that they produced. California farmers are authorized to sell only those products that they have grown themselves. They are not allowed to purchase products from neighboring farms, packing houses, or wholesalers to sell in farmers’ markets. Once you get into the details of the regulations, there are some exceptions through a process known in the state’s certified farmers’ market industry as “second certificates.” We explain rules for those in “Second Certificates” in Section 2 of this guide.
  • Exempt from the established grade, size, labeling, packaging and other such requirements. One of the unique elements of the way in which California law is structured is that it not only gives farmers the right to do something (“may transport and sell”), it also gives them the right to not do something, namely following packing regulations. California farmers produce nearly half of all fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States. To ensure that those products arrive in good condition, the state has created “standard pack” regulations for many products that govern packaging and labeling of the products. This law exempts farms selling in farmers’ markets from those standard pack regulations so that they do not need to pack produce the same way for transporting those products themselves to a nearby farmers’ market as they would for shipping their products across the country.
  • In accordance with this chapter and regulations adopted pursuant to this chapter. Within this law are additional requirements for operating a farmers’ market and the authority for the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture to enact additional regulations that help to better define the law and guide its implementation and enforcement. Later within this guide there are references to sites at which those interested can read the laws and regulations in their entirety.

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