Successful Operation

A lot goes into selling your produce and we will explain the different options you have and regulations to follow. This section also focuses on various operations aspects that go along with selling food from insurance to employees.

Selling Food
You might assume that selling the food you grow requires lots of permits and inspections, but it may be simpler than you think. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture licenses and inspects retail food facilities, but in some areas the jurisdiction is local. In Allegheny County, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) handles it. The related regulations were updated with Act 106 of 2010, which covers farmers markets and farm stands and states that each vendor/stand at a farmers market is required to have a food safety license unless the vendor is exempt. You are exempt, or do not need a food safety license from ACHD, if you: sell only raw products (fresh fruits and vegetables) or sell pre-packaged, non-potentially hazardous items. Potentially hazardous foods are those that need to be temperature controlled, like meat, dairy, and cut produce. The PA Department of Agriculture explains these rules in this document and has other helpful resources on their website. If you are not exempt, you will need to get a Food Safety permit from ACHD. The Food Safety Program at ACHD can help you determine which type of permit you may need and their contact information is listed on their website

If your food is grown on a city-owned lot, you are permitted to sell it on-site as described in this fact sheet from Grow Pittsburgh. If you are growing on private land, you are allowed to sell your food on-site if you have gone through the Urban Agriculture Zoning permit process and also satisfy the Outdoor Retail Sales and Services zoning. Without the Urban Agriculture permit, you are still able sell any food you grow, but only off-site.

Direct Marketing
Once you have decided to sell your food, you have a variety of ways to do it. You could have an on-site stand or a stand at a farmers market with other vendors. A farmers market can help introduce you to more customers. Two resources can help guide you to success at a farmers market: Standing Out at a Farmers' Market and Selling at a Farmers Market

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another way to sell directly to customers. CSAs typically involve the customer paying for a season’s share of produce before the growing season starts. Penn State Extension has a good article covering the different aspects of CSA and this publication from ATTRA may also be helpful. Lastly, see if any restaurants in your community are interested in buying produce from you. 

Adding Value to your Produce
In addition to selling raw fruits and vegetables, you can also create value-added products which typically involve processing food in some way. For example, fruit jam and salsa are value-added products. These type of food products often have more regulations, so make sure to inform yourself before selling anything with value added. Penn State Extension provides a wealth of resources about value-added products on their website, and the Value-Added Agriculture or Food Entrepreneurs sections are good places to start. 

Donating Food
If you are interesting in donating some of the food you grow, there is a law called the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that protects you from liability. Feeding America explains how it protects you here. Not sure where to donate it? Check out Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Community Harvest program which connects you to nearby organizations that can use your fresh produce.
Keeping Food Safe
Food safety should be on the minds of every urban grower. Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) are a way to think through keeping the food you produce safe. Penn State Extension is a great source for information about GAPs and reducing your food safety risks. Part of GAP may be writing a food safety plan. The above link has a template to get you started or visit this site which helps you step by step. 

Understanding Liability
As soon as sales start, so does the risk for a lawsuit. To protect you from all different types of risks, insurance is needed.The Risk Management page at Penn State Extension will answer most of your questions about liability and the Insurance Documents section explains the types of insurance you can purchase, like product liability and farm owner’s insurance. Go to the Agricultural Business Insurance page for further explanation. also has an in-depth section on the topic. If you are leasing a vacant lot through the Adopt-a-Lot program, you will be required to have liability insurance. 

Managing Employees and Volunteers
If your growing operation needs some help, hiring employees or finding volunteers might be just what you need. There are many laws regulating employees, volunteers, and interns, so read up before you get started. Check out this page on employing workers from Penn State Extension which includes information about taxes, and this section on which discusses the differences between employees, volunteers, interns, and independent contractors. This resource from Farm Commons explains farm employment law basics. The Department of Labor also has specific guidelines for internships. 

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