Direct Marketing Gets a Face Lift in California

This article appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of Certified Organic magazine.

Consumers are increasingly turning to farmers’ markets to buy healthy, fresh produce. As of mid-2012 there were 7,864 farmers’ markets operating nationwide. This is a 9.6 percent increase from 2011. Today, there are over 800 certified (by the state of California) farmers’ markets in California alone, representing approximately 2,200 producers. These markets provide a welcomed higher-margin return to farm producers and reduce costs by eliminating the need for standard pack on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Legislation regulating farmers’ markets is due for updating, presenting an opportunity to improve even further on the current system. California Certified Farmers’ Markets (CFMs) are established though state legislation that expired in 2012. The program is currently operating on a two-year extension, with state legislation required to continue operation of CFMs in 2014.

The CDFA formed a Direct Marketing Ad Hoc Committee to review the state rules and regulations governing CFMs, CSAs, and farm stands, and explore ways to create consistent interpretation and enforcement of California health and safety code across county lines. Several policy bills will be debated in Sacramento this spring. CCOF will be using the following principles to evaluate these proposals. If you are a direct market producer in California we hope you will weigh in on these issues.

Six Principles to Guide Legislative Thought Related to Regulation of Direct Sales of Agricultural Products

  1. Ensure broad access to healthy, fresh produce. California farmers produce healthy, fresh produce that is widely available through “direct sales” of products at farm stands, farmers’ markets, and Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs). These sales methods must be supported to ensure broad access to healthy foods for consumers and support the economic viability of California’s diverse farming enterprises. Currently, 408 of CCOF’s 2,174 California members sell their products to thousands of consumers through these direct market channels.
  1. Consumers have a right to know where and how their food is grown. CCOF joins other agricultural and consumer organizations in calling for transparent labeling for CSAs that discloses where agricultural products are coming from. 
  1. Create a level playing field for producers. Organic producers are regulated by California and the National Organic Program. These programs demand compliance with standards for handling, labeling, and signage. Oversight must be established to ensure that non-organic vendors also provide accurate labeling and signage at farm stands and farmers’ markets, and on CSA products.
  1. Organic producers should not be burdened with unfair or duplicative fees and paperwork. All organic producers in California are currently required to register under CDFA’s State Organic Program, which includes additional annual fees on top of fees for certifying to the USDA National Organic Program. Additional paperwork and costs create added burden on those growers.
  1. Change the term “Certified Farmers’ Market.” The term “Certified Farmers’ Market” is widely confused by consumers with the term “certified organic.” Changing the name used to describe Certified Farmers’ Markets to another, such as Verified Farmers’ Markets, would be an important step towards reducing the perception that all food sold at farmers’ markets is certified organic.
  1. Meaningful penalties for fraud must be enacted and enforced. Meaningful financial penalties play an important role in deterring fraudulent behavior, and should be imposed when rules are violated.


Policy proposals under consideration by the legislature include the following provisions:

  1. Create a California statewide directory for all direct marketing channels (CFMs, CSAs, farm stands, and community gardens) with an annual registration fee of $25.00, paid to CDFA.
  1. Increase farmers’ market vendor stall fees to fund enforcement efforts.
  1. Give authority to California agriculture commissioners to administer fiscal penalties to deter fraud.  
  1. Require farmers’ market vendors to post signage stating they have grown the product (i.e. “Grown in California”) and point-of-sale signage indicating certified organic products.
  1. Define CSAs in statute for the first time in the United States, creating a three-tier CSA system including: single-farm CSA, multi-farm CSA, and California Grown box. Farmers selling via a CSA would be required to register with CDFA, creating the first-ever registry of California CSAs. To address food safety concerns, CDFA would require an environmental health permit for multi-farm CSAs and California Grown box.
    1. Single-farm CSA: all delivered farm products originate from the farm of one certified California direct marketing producer.
    2. Multi-farm CSA: a group of certified California direct marketing producers declare their association at the time of their annual certification, and all delivered farm products originate from one or more of the farms of the group.
    3. California Grown Box:  a program under which a person or entity directly purchases and aggregates products only from certified California direct marketing producers, and delivers to a membership or subscriber group of California consumers. Entities aggregating in such a manner could not call themselves a CSA.

CCOF will continue to advocate for direct marketing opportunities for organic farmers with minimal fees and regulation. It’s now time to add your voice to this important conversation! We want to hear your feedback on these potential policy changes and how they may affect your work with direct markets in California. If you want to monitor these bills directly you can search by the following bill numbers on AB 38, SB 599, AB 996, AB 224. If you have comments please contact We will keep you updated as these proposals are debated.