The County of Sacramento’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance

The County of Sacramento’s Urban Agriculture ordinance passed on January 24, 2017 at the County Board of Supervisors. It is now in effect! Click here to see the County’s rundown of frequently asked questions and permits.


The City of Sacramento’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance

You may have heard about an Urban Agriculture Ordinance passed March 24, 2015 at the Sacramento City Council. It is now in effect! Click here to see the City’s rundown of frequently asked questions and permits.

In order to help people learn more about how they can take advantage of its provisions, the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition has developed the resources below and will continue to research the best ways for urban farmers to run successful businesses. Please note that this is not legal advice! The rules surrounding the business, health, and zoning issues triggered by urban agriculture are many and confusing. Our goal in the long-term is to make these regulations much easier to understand, but it is a long road.

What did the ordinance change?

In order to understand what the ordinance changed, its important to know what the laws were before. Generally, the growing of produce for sale was defined as “agriculture.” Zoning laws did not differentiate between big farms, and someone selling extra zucchini from their backyard.

The ordinance created a new activity that residents of Sacramento could use their land for: “urban agriculture.” Almost all lots around the City will now be able to grow food for sale, whether they have houses, businesses, or nothing at all on them. The new ordinance does, however, make distinctions based on the size of the lot in question. For simplicity’s sake, the details below are based on a lot that is under one acre in size. The different levels or regulation can be found here, but just know that lots over one acre may require additional permits from the City of Sacramento.

Not only does the ordinance say where urban agriculture can happen, but also how, through what are called “special use regulations.” The special use regulations include a way to sell produce on the site where it’s grown. In the new code, these are called “urban agriculture stands.”

A full list of the regulations is included in the ordinance, located here, but some of the more notable regulations of urban agriculture (and specifically the stands) are below.

  1. Urban agriculture uses must be maintained in an orderly manner, including litter removal, irrigation, weeding, pest control and removal of plant waste.
  2. No mechanized farm equipment (think tractors, front loaders, etc.) in residential districts except for the initial preparation of land. Any equipment, when it is not in use, must be locked up or otherwise hidden from sight.
  3. If you are planning to practice aquaculture (more info here) in a residential district, the operation must be enclosed, either by a building, fencing or landscaping.
  4. Any compost associated with an urban agriculture operation must be kept at least 20’ from a neighboring residential structure.

Regulations specifically around the urban agriculture stands:

  1. Urban agriculture stands under 120 square feet are allowed without any additional permits.<
  2. You may only sell produce (fruit, vegetables, or nuts) that you have grown on the site or value-added products made as a part of a cottage food operation located on that site.
  3. Stands located on occupied residential lots (a home) may only operate between 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays. If you are growing on a vacant lot or a commercial, industrial, or other lot, you may open your stand any day during the week, but still abide by the time limits.
  4. Stands must be completely disassembled and removed when not in use.

What other permits or registrations do I need?

How much more you need to do depends largely on what, exactly you are planning on doing. The above regulations lay out the requirements to satisfy zoning requirements. In addition to zoning, the food handling and economic aspects of urban agriculture mean you need to pay attention to environmental health rules and business/taxation regulations.

Environmental Health Considerations

Produce Only

In order to grow produce in your backyard or on a vacant lot, and sell to a restaurant or at an urban agriculture stand on your property, there are currently no permits or registrations required through County Environmental Health. That’s not to say there never will be! County officials are currently developing a registration process, so keep checking in with the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition for more information.

While there aren’t permits or registrations necessarily, there still are some rules that you must follow as a produce seller. State law requires that farmers selling to restaurants or stores (retailers) provide a “Bill of Sale” or other writing that lists:

  1. The producer’s identity – the name of your farm, or your name.
  2. The producer’s address
  3. The amount and type of produce sold.

Cottage Foods

What if you want to sell jams, homebaked bread, or churros at your urban ag stand? Then you’ll need to register as a “cottage food producer.” The cottage food registration for direct sales (meaning you sell it not through a third party) costs $107 and requires free annual renewal. Cottage food operators must also obtain a food handler certification ($15 through ServSafe While not required for pure produce sales, its not a bad idea to get a food handler’s certification as a grower.

More information, including the full list of allowable cottage foods, is available here:

Business Regulation

Business Operating Tax

The City of Sacramento does not issue a ‘business license’. All businesses that operate in the City must pay a business operation tax. For businesses the size of urban farms (won’t generate more than $50,000 in revenue), that cost is likely to be around $30. The application for a Business Operating Tax account is hosted on the website of the City of Sacramento Department of Finance, Revenue Division, here.

Fictitious Business Name

Want to call your farm “Turnt Up Turnips?” Because your farm is not named after you, that is a fictitious business name, and you’ll have to register with the County Department of Finance. To register one business name costs $37 and the registration lasts about five years. After you register, you will also have to publish your fictitious business name in a “newspaper of general circulation.”

Here is a list of papers you’ve probably never heard of that provide this service.

Home Occupation

When people run businesses out of their homes, they are regulated as a “home occupation.” Home occupations are typically occupations like bookkeepers, massage therapists, and other low-impact activities. The issue is that even though urban agriculture is legal under the zoning code, its not explicitly permitted as a home occupation. City of Sacramento staff have told SUAC representatives that a Home Occupation Permit is not necessary to register an urban agriculture operation for Business Operating Tax under the new urban agriculture law.

Memo re: Home Occupation Permits and Urban Agriculture by matthewevanread

Legal Eats

The Sustainable Economies Law Center publishes a guide called “Legal Eats” that explores even more of the issues related to what they call “Food Justice Enterprises.” The guide is downloadable for free, but is primarily directed at individuals living in Alameda and San Francisco counties. The Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition is working to create a similar resource for our region.

Legal Eats 4 Handbook by The Sustainable Economies Law Center