San Mateo County is considering changing the guidelines for local farmers who sell their produce at farm stands to allow them to legally sell products from outside the area.
The Agricultural Advisory Committee has been discussing the draft updated guidelines and will write a formal letter to the county at its next meeting in mid-July. Among the committee’s priorities, Committee Chair B.J. Burns said, is making the permitting system simple and consistent to encourage compliance.
“One set of rules. I'm hoping that that’s what we accomplish,” Burns said.
The new guidelines are an effort to standardize the farm stand rules and to expand what can be sold by local farmers, county planner Laura Richstone said. The existing regulations allow local farmers to sell only their own locally grown fruits and vegetables. The county and farmers agree that the rules as they stand are too strict.
“That doesn’t really match what agriculture is on the coast anymore,” Richstone said. “What we’re looking to do is kind of expand what our definition of a farm stand is and expand the types of products to match what consumers want and what farmers want for a viable business.”
Instead, the new guidelines would allow farmers to sell both locally grown produce and also lightly processed food such as jams and pickles so long as their primary ingredients are grown in San Mateo County. It would also allow farmers to sell products from outside of the county. Burns said that new regulation could be critical to attracting customers who are then likely to also purchase locally grown produce.
“You’re not going to make a living selling favas, sprouts and leeks, the few things we grow here on the coast,” Burns said. “You have to have a variety.”
But Burns said he’s not happy with all of the changes in the draft guidelines. The guidelines make a differentiation between temporary and permanent farm stands, and those that are year-round would count as part of the landowner’s density credits. To Burns, that’s a barrier to farmers who rent their land. He’d rather see one set of rules for everyone.
Right now, there’s not any effective enforcement either, so farmers come from elsewhere to sell produce, competing with local growers. The only enforcement is by complaint. Burns said the problem is widespread. While no new enforcement will come into play, Burns said he hopes the streamlined guidelines will eliminate gray areas and encourage farm stand operators to follow the rules.
“There are lots of people skirting the rules; it’s obvious,” Burns said. “People are coming in the area and selling produce on the weekends. If you’re doing that, get your permits.”
The Agricultural Advisory Committee will discuss a letter to the county on the rules at its July 12 meeting. Agenda and attendance information is available at smcgov.org.