Legalities Behind Selling at the Farmers’ Market

June 5, 2023

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.

No matter your experience level with horses or homesteading, I hope this is a place you can get lost in, and learn something along the way - we welcome everyone from vets, to lifelong ranchers, trainer, to nonprofits contributing.


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Farmers’ markets have been a mainstay in small communities as a source for farm-fresh products and artisan goods. People in the area often visit farmers’ markets to source fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade baked goods, and handicrafts while spending time with people in their community.

For homesteaders, farmers’ markets are an essential income source and a great way to build a customer base. If you want to be part of your local farmers’ market to sell your wares and drive income for your homestead activities, however, there are some legal considerations.

What Do You Need to Start Selling at a Farmers’ Market?

Part of the appeal of a farmers’ market is that small-scale vendors can operate within the local community – with a smaller customer base – instead of setting up a full-time business. You won’t need a lot of employees, a commercial kitchen, or a big marketing budget.

The laws and regulations regarding foods sold commercially from a home kitchen or small farm vary by the state and specific food product. Generally, foods that are considered “low risk” can be made at home and sold at the farmers’ market, but thee are some caveats for what you can legally sell.

Cottage Food Laws

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Cottage food is prepared food that’s perceived have a low risk for food-related illness or injury. This food is allowed to be prepared in a home kitchen without the controls implemented for traditional ready-to-eat food that’s sold in a grocery store or restaurant.

Many states have cottage food laws governing what foods can be produced in home kitchens and sold directly to consumers. This removes significant barriers for small-time sellers (compared to creating a commercial food business) and allows them to prepare food from home in a quick and cost-effective way. However, what you’re allowed to sell, and the regulations for it, vary by state.

What’s Considered a Cottage Food?

Typically, cottage foods include foods produced in small batches and offered directly to the public at farmers’ markets, special events, at a roadside stand, or out of the home.

The foods that fall under the umbrella of cottage foods are generally foods that won’t spoil without refrigeration, such as canned goods and baked goods. Vinegar, spice blends, dry mixes, candy, jams, jellies, and preserves, and tea or coffee may be considered cottage foods.

State Laws for Cottage Foods

In most states, you are not permitted to sell cottage foods directly to businesses like grocery stores or restaurants. None of the states permit shipping food out of state, but you may be permitted to sell it online to local customers.

With cottage foods, the key is that it is sold directly to the customer with no middleman.

Still, many states require a business license, cottage food license, or a permit, which requires you fill out a cottage food license application. Part of the application process is consenting to a home kitchen health inspection.

Cottage foods also have a limit to how much money you’re allowed to make in a year in some states. It varies significantly, however. Some states have an upper limit of $250,000, while others only permit a few thousand dollars. A few states have no income cap.

Cottage Food Labeling

Along with the state laws regarding cottage food laws, you must follow the requirements for proper food labeling. The laws can vary but generally require the following information for food labels:

  • The name of the product
  • The business name, address, and phone number
  • Ingredients list
  • The net weight
  • In some cases, a statement that the food was prepared in an un-inspected kitchen

Can I Sell Produce at a Farmers’ Market?

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Raw, unprocessed, fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown in your own garden are a simple way to sell your wares at the farmers’ market without a lot of red tape. You can also sell seeds or saplings from your crops to generate income.

Another option is selling cut flowers at the farmers’ market, which is also a relatively simple process for a product that tends to sell well.

What About Non-Food Products?

Another route many homesteaders take is selling products made from the raw materials produced by their homestead, such as candles, soaps and lotions, leather goods, woodwork, pottery, or fiber crafts like knitted or crocheted goods.

Fortunately, these products have little regulation and can be sold legally at the farmers’ market. That said, it’s your responsibility to ensue that the products are manufactured to be safe for consumers.

What About Bee Products?

Beekeeping is a popular homestead activity that can yield a lot of different product categories, including raw honey, bee pollen and propolis, beeswax beauty products, and more. These products have some regulations that are important to consider, however, such as FDA regulations for honey processors and special labeling requirements.

In addition, states and locality may have special rules for honey processing, so be sure to check for any laws or regulations that may apply to you.

Can I Sell Meat at a Farmers’ Market?

You may sell meats at a farmers’ market, but it can be complicated. First, you must determine if the farmers’ market rules allow it and what storage regulations they have. In many cases, chest coolers are permitted, but some markets may require meats be stored in a chest freezer that runs on electric power.

Selling fresh meats is more limited. Many markets only allow frozen meats to be sold. You may be restricted to locally produced meat products, though some farmers’ markets allow vendors to purchase produce wholesale and sell it at the market.

In most markets, poultry and rabbit meat must come from animals you raised yourself.

If you are permitted to sell meat – frozen or fresh – it must be processed at a state- or federal-level inspection facility and it must be labeled by the processor. At certified Farmers’ Markets, however, all meat sold must be processed at a federally inspected facility and must be clearly labeled.

In some cases, meats that contain other ingredients, such as sausage with spices and other dry ingredients, may be sold without a certification. These products, known as “value-added” meat products, must be produced from livestock that you raised with commercially prepared ingredients.

How to Sell Your Wares at the Farmers’ Market

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Now that you know some of the regulations for selling your homestead products at the farmers’ market, here’s how you can prepare to have a profitable outing.

Decide What You’re Going to Sell

As mentioned, the regulations regarding different food products vary. The responsibility to know what rules you have to follow for food safety, licensing, and certification fall on you as a vendor, so do your research in advance.

Even if there are limited rules regarding a food you’re looking to sell, make sure you’re doing everything you can to limit the risks to your customers. Before you include foods at your stand, make sure you’re aware of and follow food safety standards.

For example, if you plan to sell jams and jellies, read up on proper precautions with preserving foods to make sure you’re doing everything correctly.

Apply to Be a Vendor

Some farmers’ markets require potential vendors apply for vendor space, and virtually all farmers’ markets have rules for their vendors. In many cases, farmers’ markets require a special permit or license to sell products at their venue.

You may also need liability insurance, especially if you’re selling products that could put customers at risk, such as bath and body products. But once you monetize your homestead, you should have liability insurance in place anyway – even if you don’t sell at local markets.

Be sure to check with the farmers’ market to prepare for any rules and requirements to become a vendor.

Set Up a Legal Business

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Any time money changes hands for products on your homestead, you’re legally operating a business. If you don’t have your homestead set up as a business yet, you should get that squared away before attending a farmers’ market as a vendor.

Here are the steps to make your business legal:

Get an EIN number. Your EIN number is essentially a social security number for your business and a legal requirement to sell goods or services.

Cover yourself with insurance. A sole proprietorship doesn’t offer any liability protection, so you need to be sure that anything you’re selling falls under your general liability homeowner’s policy. For example, someone could get sick or have an allergic reaction to your prepared foods. If the insurance company views what you sell as a commercial enterprise, you may not be covered for liability.

Consider forming an LLC. Sole proprietorships are simple to set up, but they offer no legal protection. Forming a limited liability company (LLC) offers a barrier of protection between your business ventures and your personal liability.

Even if you consider what you do a hobby, these are the minimum legal protections you should have before selling at the farmers’ market. Now, if you plan on turning your homestead into a full business, there are some additional steps to take:

Incorporate your homesteading business. An LLC may be optional for a hobby business, but it’s a virtual necessity for a full homestead business – especially if you’ll be selling a lot of food products to the general public. Why? With a greater customer base, your risks also increase. If someone sues you because of adverse effects from your food, and you lose, personal assets like your home or vehicle could be liquidated to satisfy it.

Get a legal website. This is a simple process, but many hobby homesteaders have websites that aren’t in legal compliance. Fortunately, it’s an easy process to get your website legal.

  • Make sure you have a privacy policy.
  • Include terms and conditions for your website.

Get homesteading contracts. Because of the close-knit communities, homesteaders tend to rely on verbal agreements and handshakes for deals, but that can lead to disputes. Make sure you have the right contracts in place for your operations, and consult an experienced attorney if you’re not sure.

Trademark your homesteading business name. You undoubtedly have a name for your homesteading business if you’re attending a farmers’ market as a vendor, but have you taken the steps to protect it legally? If you don’t, you don’t legally own it. Get a trademark for your name to make sure you own it and can secure its legacy.

Plan a Budget

Attending the farmers’ market as a vendor involves additional expenses beyond your normal business expenses. You will have to pay for the vendor booth or site location, any permits or licenses that you need to operate, and any personnel you will need for the event.

You should also consider your storage for merchandise and money, any booth equipment you may need (including tables and seating), and credit card processing equipment. If you have to have food transported to the event, add that to your list of expenses. Finally, you may want promotional items to give to your customers and encourage repeat business.

Enjoy the Experience of a Farmers’ Market

A farmers’ market is a fun way to sell your wares while making extra money for your homestead and connecting to your local community. But whether you’re selling a few things or you’re presenting a homestead business to the farmers’ market crowds, it’s essential that you take steps to make the process legal.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About the Legalities Behind Selling Your Wares at the Farmers’ Market

Still have questions? Here are answers to the most common questions about selling your products at a farmers’ market.

Do I Need a Permit to Sell at a Farmers’ Market?

Depending on where the farmers’ market is, you may need a permit to sell your goods legally. Each state government and some local governments have specific laws for product and cottage foods sold at farmers’ markets and other allowable venues.

How Do I Make Sure I’m Selling Food Legally at the Farmers’ Market?

If you’re not sure about the laws and regulations in your state and locality, it’s important to check with your local authorities like the health department. Government agencies can answer your questions and direct you to the right place to ensure you’re compliant.

How Do I Register as a Food Vendor?

Registering as a food vendor at the farmers’ market is a straightforward, quick, and inexpensive process. In some states, you may need to submit to an inspection of your home kitchen from the local health department, but not always. Some jurisdictions also require additional steps like completing a food safety certification.

What’s Considered a Cottage Food?

Cottage foods vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but they generally include jams and jellies, baked goods that don’t require refrigeration like cakes and cookies, breads, candy, tea and coffee blends, and dry snacks like granola or nut mixes.

What Sells Best at a Farmers’ Market?

Small-scale vendors can sell all manner of goods at a farmers’ market, including local produce like fruits and vegetables, baked goods like bread, cakes, and cookies, and prepared foods like jellies and preserves. Depending on the market, some homesteaders do well with local artisan products like pottery, fiber crafts, jewelry, and soaps.

What Baked Goods Sell Well at a Famers’ Market?

One of the best aspects of visiting a farmers’ market is getting fresh, homemade foods with seasonal produce. Some of the popular options for farmers’ markets across the country include muffins, cinnamon buns, artisan bread, and cookies or cakes of just about every variety.

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