County Agricultural Ombudsmen Help Bridge the Divide
California agritourism operators report regularly that navigating the permitting and regulatory process is a major challenge for farmers trying to invite the public onto their land for festivals, tours, dinners, classes, lodging or other activities. Some help is now available, at no cost, in some places.
Five Northern California counties offer non-enforcement person-to-person consultation to farmers and ranchers exploring the regulations and permitting requirements for agritourism, food processing or other farm-related activities. If your farm or ranch is located in Marin, Sonoma, San Mateo, Yolo or Solano Counties, you can call your Agricultural Ombudsman or Farmbudsman to discuss your ideas and plans.
County Agricultural Ombudsmen help farmers and ranchers understand what rules and regulations will apply to an individual diversification idea or plan, and will help them to navigate the various permits and departmental approvals that might be required. The ombudsman will make the process approachable and accessible, and will explore options and alternatives with the person planning an expansion or a new activity on his or her farm or ranch, including giving the farmer or rancher a sense of where "red flags" might be in the process. Importantly, these services are confidential. Marin County Agricultural Ombudsman Vince Trotter explained the job this way, "We try to bring the conversation to "How can we make this work?" We don't expedite the process ourselves, but we do try to bring the rancher together with the regulator."
Examples of Agricultural Ombudsmen's help include:
- Helping a rancher understand the state registration process required for a new pond.
- Helping a poultry farmer understand the state, federal and local regulations they needed to confirm to for on-farm commercial slaughtering.
- Helping a pumpkin patch operator know when a permit is required for a farm dinner.
- Explaining the size limits for starting a small winery under an administrative permit.
- Helping a brewery and winery design their expansion to avoid buffer issues
- Researching an existing use permit to clarify that a vineyard operator with short-term lodging was allowed to hold one-day open house events without an additional health department food permit.
In addition to their consultation work with individual farmers and ranchers, most of the agricultural ombudsmen organize useful information online - guides, factsheets and links to common permit applications. See the end of this story for contact information and websites links.
Contact your local Agricultural Ombudsman:
Vince Trotter, Agricultural Ombudsman
Sarah Hawkins, Farmbudsman
Stephanie Cormier, Farmbudsman