Changing the Rules: Planning for and Regulating Agritourism in California
Below are sample documents related to various stages of the process of planning and regulating agritourism in California, gathered by the UC Small Farm Program, as an aid to county planners, agritourism advisory committees and concerned agritourism operators.
Note: Inclusion of documents or links is for information only, and does not constitute an endorsement by the UC Small Farm Program of any recommendations or regulations.
Obstacles in the agritourism regulatory process
- Survey of California agritourism operators, 2009
Agritourism operators rated permitting, zoning, other regulations and legal constraints, along with insurance and liability, as their most challenging issues.
- Obstacles in the Agritourism Regulatory Process
Research brief (PDF) from the UC Agricultural Issues Center examines perspectives of agritourism operators and officials in 10 California counties.
These recently enacted changes in California Retail Food Code, Food and Agricultural Code and Health and Safety Code have paved the way for changes in county codes.
- Agricultural Home-stays (Farm-stays) Guidelines (PDF)
Environmental Health guidelines, revised in 2008, allow farmer and rancher hosts to serve meals to agricultural home-stay guests from kitchens with less restrictive requirements than those for commercial kitchens. See text of California Agricultural Homestay Bill (AB 1258).
- Farm Stand Regulations
These regulations, adopted in January 2009, allow farm stands to sell some processed agricultural products and to sell fresh produce to restaurants and organizations exempt from standard wholesale pack and grade regulations. See text of AB 2168.
Agritourism in county general plans
California counties bear the primary responsibility for regulating agritourism operations on agricultural land within their boundaries. The county general plan is an evolving, long-range document that sets the direction for future development and use of county resources. The county zoning codes contains more specific regulations, key to what an individual resident or business can do now. For an introduction to the county general plan process as it relates to agritourism, see the article "Understanding regulations."
Below are examples of county general plans that address agritourism:
- Calaveras County specifies that the "definition of agricultural operation shall be broadly construed."
- El Dorado County allows ranch marketing, winery, and visitor-serving uses on agricultural parcels, specifies conditions and percent of acreage allowed for these uses.
- Lake County includes agritourism policies as Agricultural Enhancement and Agricultural Tourism in the Agricultural Resources element of the general plan.
- Riverside County allows permanent produce stands in all areas and all land-use designations. It also defines criteria for approval of value-added uses.
- Sacramento County Draft Agricultural Element outlines the creation of an Agri-tourism Program to support agritourism.
- Solano County designated 10 regions of the county with plans for each region. Suisun Valley region has an agritourism emphasis in the land use element, with planning for wineries farm stands and other agritourism activities.
- Sonoma County created policies intended to “allow new visitor serving uses and facilities in some agricultural areas but limit them in scale and location."
- Sutter County Draft Agricultural Element promotes agritourism.
Agricultural zoning codes regulating agritourism
Some counties' agricultural zoning codes regulate agritourism. For an introduction to zoning and land use planning topics, Plumas & Sierra County UC Cooperative Extension has developed a series of fact sheets in plain language.
Below are some examples of agricultural zoning codes that address agritourism topics:
- Sacramento County adopted ordinances in 2012 that allow many agritourism activities and events "by right" in agricultural zoning within the county, and also allow many agritourism operations to host an unlimited number of "community events" with a simplified permitting process.
- Butte County has defined a "Unique Agricultural Overlay" zoning which can be applied to smaller regions of the county, allowing many agritourism activities with less restrictive permitting requirements in regions covered by the overlay
- View the definition of the Unique Agricultural Overlay in an excerpt of the Butte County Zoning code
- El Dorado County permits ranch marketing and wine tasting "by right" in zones titled Exclusive Agriculture, Planned Agriculture and Select Agricultural.
- Agricultural Districts Zoning Ordinance Update, March 2009
- Entire zoning document: El Dorado County Zoning Ordinance Update, March 2009
- El Dorado County Ranch Marketing Ordinance, last amended 2003
- Proposed draft changes, May 2009 to El Dorado County draft Ranch Marketing Ordinance
- Calaveras County amended county codes in 2005, permitting many agritourism activities, including agricultural home stays, and defined agritourism enterprises.
- Solano County defined and updated regulations for secondary dwellings, small wineries, agricultural home-stays, and roadside stands in 2008.
- Mariposa County Agriculture Advisory Committee proposes agritourism and agri-nature tourism amendments to county code, August 20, 2009. Comprehensive agritourism regulations, permitting many agritourism activities and restricting agritourism to agricultural production operations.
- Ventura County defines and amends regulations for bed & breakfast inns, camps, festivals, events, retreats, October 2008.
- San Joaquin County regulates produce stands and agricultural stores.
Winery ordinances often regulate the size of tasting rooms, the number of events allowed, and other activities based on the annual production quantity of each winery. Further, some ordinances connect some permitted activities to the percent of wine produced from grapes grown on-site.
- Survey of County Winery Regulations, 2004 prepared by Alameda County Community Development Agency Planning Department.
- Butte County winery ordinance is from Chapter 24 of Butte County's municipal code.
- El Dorado County winery ordinance
- Placer County winery ordinance is from Chaper 17 of Placer County’s municipal code.
- San Joaquin County winery ordinance is from Chapter 9 of San Joaquin County’s municipal code.
Documents from the process
County advisory committees, workgroups and discussions of agritourism regulation are listed below. The crafting of rules and regulations depends on local citizen participation. Stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers, winery associations, agritourism associations, visitors bureaus, farm advisors, Farm Bureau leaders and others, are usually part of the process of updating county general plans and creating new ordinances for agritourism.
The committees often struggle with the details of creating allowances and ease of permitting for agritourism businesses while ensuring that agritourism is a secondary activity on a commercial farm or ranch and benefits farmers rather than outside developers. Any agritourism regulations also have to make sure agricultural production activities and local residents are not impeded by tourism. Here are some examples of the work of such committees:
- Mariposa County Board of Supervisors organized the Mariposa Agricultural Nature Tourism Advisory Committee in 2009 "to develop the definitions, thresholds, standards and regulations for an agriculture tourism ordinance for Mariposa County."
- Resolution establishing committee includes notes from Board of Supervisors meeting discussion about need for the committee, composition of the committee, goals and timeframe of committee, authorization to hire consultant to coordinate the committee.
- Meeting notes from the committee spanning six meetings, March–May 2009, with discussions about road maintenance, traffic, water use, spread of diseases and invasive plants by tourists, compatibility of agritourism uses, the need for agritourism to maintain ranch sustainability, scalability of permitted uses based on size of parcel, what products should be allowed sold from a roadside stand or from a winery, deciding on permitted agritourism uses and defining levels of permits needed for each, etc.
- Committee website
- Zoning amendment proposed by the committee defines as permitted uses in agriculture zoning: seasonal and permanent on-site sales, tasting rooms, u-pick operations, agricultural home-stays, special events and other agritourism activities, but clearly defines the size and number of these activities that are permitted, those that require an administrative use permit, and those that require a conditional use permit. The proposed amendment defines the percent of land permitted to be used for the agritourism operation and defines "glamping."
- Sonoma County staff provides background & analysis for Subcommittee on Agricultural Tourism, 2002. The white paper to assist the committee in making recommendations includes history, then-current general plan policies, related regulations from other counties, comments from public hearings, recommendations about issues to consider, and information about county tourism trends.
- San Luis Obispo County Report to the Planning Commission, with staff comments, of San Luis Obispo Ag Tourism Coalition’s Event Ordinance draft, 2009, outlines the coalition’s proposed changes and staff recommendations for the definitions for categories of events, including where and when events may be allowed on agricultural land and the standards for sound, parking, etc.
- Solano County Suisun Valley Area Community Workshops, 2007-08. Background reports by the America Farmland Trust, position papers, budgets and information about the community planning process for the Suisun Valley area, including presentation of agritourism uses in agricultural zoning and introduction of new agritourism zoning areas and recommendations of policies to the general plan.
- Ventura County Ordinance revisions proposed by the Tourism Advisory Committee, 2005. The committee, comprised of representatives from the farming community, civic organizations and the supervisors’ offices, reviewed and revised draft amendments to the county code (Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance) prepared by staff. The committee developed a set of final recommendations which include expanded allowances for bed & breakfast inns, retreats, camps, botanic gardens and arboreta, harvest festivals, historic reenactments, weddings and signs. The Planning Director’s recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, with comments and discussion,
- El Dorado County Ranch Marketing Subcommittee proposes expanded agritourism permitting, tied to agricultural production activities, in revisions to El Dorado County’s Ranch Marketing Ordinance 2009. This subcommittee, reporting to the Agricultural Commission, includes Apple Hill Growers, El Dorado Winery Association, El Dorado Harvest Trails Association, Christmas tree growers, livestock producers, and others. The subcommittee is drafting changes in El Dorado County’s Ranch Marketing Ordinance, which was last amended in 2003.
- Proposed draft changes, May 2009 to El Dorado County draft Ranch Marketing Ordinance
Examples of plain-language guides
Below are a few examples of guides that help clarify regulatory jargon for easier use by agritourism operators. These guides are frequently organized by activity, and come in the form of guidelines, checklists and plain-language brochures.
- Agricultural Homestays in Marin County
Three-page guide for farmers and ranchers to starting a farmstay operation in Marin County, prepared by Marin County UC Cooperative Extension.
- Guidelines for Placer County Farm Stays
Three-page guide, updated in 2009, includes zoning information, along with what issues may need to be addressed with which departments.
- Yolo County Agricultural Permit Manual
Published in 2009, this comprehensive manual describes all the permits that may be needed for different activities, including many types of agritourism establishments.