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Being a food vendor at a farmer’s market, also known as a farm market, is one of the most fulfilling experiences one can have. It’s hard to put into words how satisfying it is to create something precisely how you want it, serve it to strangers, and see their eyes light up when they taste a little bit of your culinary magic. For example, making lifelong experiences while selling ice cream at a farmer’s market!

However, it takes more than just baking your best dish, setting up shop at the market, handing out samples, and collecting money from appreciative customers to sell at a farmer’s market. We will go over the various permits needed to sell at a farmer’s market in detail. If you’ve ever searched for a “local farmers market near me” and had the chance to visit, you’ll understand the amount of work that goes into a vendor’s ability to provide you with their delectable products! Information about county and state regulations, the cost of renting a booth at a farmers market, and much more is crucial!

Generally speaking, a farmer’s market is a retail market—that is, a food market where you sell directly to customers. To run a booth at a farmer’s market, you will generally require a Retail Food Establishment License, though each state will have its own laws. The county health department in the area where a certain vendor is located is often the one to give a retail food establishment license. A vendor will often need to provide a state sales tax account number in order to be granted this kind of license. In addition, any food you wish to prepare for sale will need to be prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen.

In certain instances, operators may be required to report to the food preparation facility on a daily basis for the purposes of supply, cleaning, and service. It’s more difficult to serve at a farmer’s market than it is to prepare a recipe in your oven!

What permits are required for me to sell at a farmers market?

Fictitious Name Registration (DBA)

A business name plays an important role in branding and marketing a farmers’ market business, and many entrepreneurs choose to operate under a fictitious business name known as a ‘DBA’ (Doing Business As). Registering a fictitious name legally connects the business name to the owner and allows the business owner to lawfully operate under the DBA name.

This is particularly useful when opening a bank account with the business name, using the business name in contracts, and using the business name and address (rather than a personal name and address) in product labeling and marketing materials.

Registering a fictitious name in Florida is as easy as visiting the Division of Corporations at the Florida Department of State (widely known as Sunbiz), following a few online prompts, and paying a fee. While a fictitious name is not required to run a business in Florida, any business operating under a name other than the name of the individual business owner must have the fictitious name registered with the State. The Sunbiz website also allows residents to search for a name to ensure that it is not already in use by another business owner in Florida.

A DBA is:A DBA is NOT:
Permission to operate your business under a different name than the name your business is legally registered forA separate business entity
Applied for in the state in which your business is formedA way to protect or limit personal liability
A.K.A fictitious certificateA legal separation of liability between business lines

It is important to note that registering a fictitious name in Florida does not legally ‘trademark’ the name. Trademarking is a legal process at the federal level that prevents another business in a different state from operating under the same name, and it requires registering with the US Patent and Trademark Office. For more information on trademarking a business name, visit ‘How to register a trademark for a company name‘ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘How to trademark a name‘ by Legalzoom.

Incorporating a Food Business

Many new businesses launch as a simple ‘sole proprietorship’ where the business and the business owner are considered one and the same. Although a sole proprietor is the most simple and easy form of incorporation, other types of incorporation offer important advantages. 

Read Also: Top Selling Vegetables at Farmers Market

For example, the Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) creates a financial and legal separation between the business owner and the business by establishing the business as a separate entity. The LLC is preferred because it also protects the business owner’s personal assets from business debts or legal judgments waged against the business. Other advantages of incorporating include:

  • Enhancing the credibility of the business by adding ‘Inc.’ or ‘LLC’ to the end of the name
  • Guaranteeing the business will continue to exist after ownership or management changes
  • Providing a means to avoid double taxation
  • Allowing normal business expenses to be deducted before assigning profit to the business owners

Choosing the right type of incorporation is a very important aspect of the business plan, and many business owners consult an attorney or accountant to verify paperwork and registrations. If it is not possible to hire an attorney, the Sunbiz website provides instructions on how to legally incorporate. For more information on the different types of incorporations and how to incorporate them, visit the free incorporation wizard on bizfilings.com.

Sole ProprietorThe simplest form of incorporation
Not legally binding/not a legal entity
Identifies who runs the business and takes on business debts
PartnershipSimilar to sole proprietor, except there are two or more business owners
Not legally binding/not a legal entity
All partners are responsible for the full liabilities of the business
Limited Liability CompanyIs a legal entity
Provides more options from a tax perspective
Can serve as a partnership or use corporate tax rules depending on how to protect assets
A hybrid between a sole proprietorship and a corporation
CorporationIs a legal entity
Most complex to create
Can create either an S-Corporation or a C-Corporation
Many legal requirements:
Yearly shareholder meetings
Elected Board of Directors
Well-maintained recordsIssuance of shares
Non-ProfitIs a legal entity
Typically granted tax-exemption status through the IRS
No shareholders
Requires board members who uphold ethical fundraising and money management practices
Public can view records
Cannot make political contributions or distribute profits to members

It is important to note that the State of Florida requires an LLC, Corporation or Non-profit to pay an annual fee and file an annual report to inform the state of possible changes to the business and for the business to remain in “active” status.

Federal Taxes and the Internal Revenue Service

A federal employee identification number (FEIN) is a unique nine-digit number provided by the IRS for free, and it is used as the tax-payer identification number for an incorporated business, partnership or sole proprietor.  A federal EIN is required for any business that pays taxes separately from personal taxes and/or hires employees, but it is also useful for small businesses without employees because the FEIN can be used as a substitute for a personal social security number in order to prevent identity theft and fraud. In addition to federal tax identification, the FEIN is often necessary for common business activities such as:

  • Opening a bank account
  • Applying for local business permits
  • Filing federal taxes for an incorporated business
  • Applying for business insurance
  • Opening a line of credit with suppliers
  • Registering with the Florida Department of Revenue
  • Obtaining a non-profit 501c3 status (also referred to as charitable organizations)

To apply for a free federal EIN, visit the IRS’ ‘Do you need an EIN?’ web page and complete the questionnaire.  A business should have only one Federal EIN, and the number should be protected as one would protect a personal social security number. After application, the IRS will send a computer-generated form as documentation of the Federal EIN. It is a good idea to save a few copies of the form to avoid the complicated process of retrieving a lost or misplaced Federal EIN from the IRS system.

State Sales Taxes

All public food service establishments in Florida must register as a dealer to collect and report sales tax at floridarevenue.com. The Florida Department of Revenue site provides a guide to help users through the application process and determine tax obligations. While the State of Florida does not collect income taxes or a tax on whole foods consumed at home, a food business must pay sales tax on certain food products (including beverages) that are served, prepared, or sold in or by restaurants, lunch counters, cafeterias, hotels, bars, amusement parks, stadiums, theaters, or other similar places of business.

Food products that are furnished, prepared, or served using trays, glasses, dishes, or other single-serve tableware for consumption at tables, chairs, or counters are also subject to sales tax and surtax. Certain hospitality services, such as gratuities/tips, are also taxable. For specific sales and tax information related to food service, visit the Florida Department of Revenue. Florida also offers a wide variety of agricultural sales tax exemptions. For a list of exemptions and their certificates, visit the Florida Farm Bureau Agricultural Sales Tax Exemption webpage.

City/County Taxes & Fees

Some cities, counties and municipalities may have additional registration, permitting and licensing requirements, with or without fees, to operate a business in the area. This may include an occupational permit, a sales permit, a solicitation license, an agricultural license, or a vendor permit. County tax appraisers also administer the Florida Agricultural Exemption that provides a reduction of property taxes for property used as a ‘bonafide’ agricultural operation. The statewide deadline to submit an application to the property appraiser is March 1st, and the property must be in use for commercial production by January of the application year.

Approval requires an inspection process that includes a site visit and documentation of land use such as income and expense statements, tax returns, receipts, business plans, etc. The operation should have an expectation of making a profit.  Agricultural classification results in a reduction of property tax rates, and the application must be renewed annually by completing and returning a green agricultural classification card that arrives in the mail. To receive a DR-499C agricultural classification application form, contact the local property appraiser by visiting the Florida Department of Revenue website.

Other Permits

There are a wide variety of additional permits applicable to specific food and farm products, activities and services. A few examples include:

  • USDA APHIS Permit applies to the transport of animals, animal products, biologic products, biotechnology or plants across state lines
  • Division of Plant Industry (DPI) in Florida requires a permit to operate a nursery and sell plants in Florida
  • Feral Swine Dealer and Approved Holding Facility permit is required to trap, transport and sell wild hog
  • Feed Distributor License is required to produce and sell food or treats intended for animal consumption
  • Cities and Counties may require event permits to conduct a farmers’ market

How do I Set up a Local Farmers Market?

Locally farmed products are available to consumers through farmers’ markets and other direct marketing outlets. Local purchasing benefits communities, farmers, and consumers.

The eight stages that follow will help you build a successful farmers’ market.

1. Find community resources.

Community support is absolutely necessary for a strong farmers’ market. “Buy-in” from residents, government, and businesses will help the market contribute to the community.

2. Select a location.

Selecting a spot is tricky, but find a location with the following characteristics:

  • Close to customers
  • Available parking
  • Cover from weather
  • Seating for socializing or other activities

3. Solicit vendors.

Successful markets need a mix of products and services to attract regular customers. Many county UF/IFAS Extension offices keep a list of small farmers. Your chamber of commerce may be another resource for potential vendors.

You then need to convince farmers and other potential vendors that spending a few hours a week at the market is worth their time.

4. Market the market.

Advertise the market to the public, especially when it first opens. Public radio and local newspaper ads are less expensive than commercial radio or TV ads.

Of course, free publicity is the best of all. Investigate community information sources such as newsletters and public event boards.

5. Develop bylaws and market rules.

There are some general points to consider when developing market rules and bylaws. See “Starting a Farmer’s Market” for examples.

6. Apply for non-profit status.

Visit Non-profit Organizations on the Florida Department of Revenue website for more information.

7. Hire a market manager.

You and other market leaders will need to consider the kind of market you want to create, which will guide the decision on the type of market manager you’ll need to hire. At first the manager may be a volunteer, but successful markets sometimes grow big enough to require full-time management.

8. Get the right market insurance.

The market’s insurance needs will depend on a variety of factors. You should consult an insurance specialist to determine what type of insurance your market will need.

The following organizations provide insurance and assistance to farmers:

  • USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA)
  • USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA)
  • Florida Farm Bureau

What Are The Benefits of a Local Farmers Market?

first and foremost, having access to fresh, locally sourced food. Though there are plenty more, that might be among the strongest arguments. At the height of the growing season, fruits and vegetables are available at farmers markets. This indicates that the produce tastes the greatest and is at its freshest. Usually, the food is farmed close to your home, not thousands of kilometers away or in another nation. Purchasing food at farmers markets helps sustain your neighborhood’s farmers and keeps your money close to home.

Recently, a registered dietitian converses with farmers and consumers in a video produced by Nutrition.gov to highlight the advantages of purchasing at farmers markets.

And here’s a sneak peek at our Top 10 Reasons to Shop at Farmers Markets with links to resources to help you find local markets and get the most out of your market experience:

Many farmers markets do paper and plastic

In addition to cash, many farmers markets now accept credit cards, SNAP benefits, and other nutrition benefits.  Just remember to bring your reusable shopping bag!

Something new

Farmers markets feature what’s at the peak of season in your region, so you can often find your favorites, along with new items that will stretch your culinary imagination. Have you ever tasted gooseberries or rhubarb?  Seen a Brussels sprout stalk? Slurped a donut peach?  These are some things you might find (and be able to sample!) at your local farmers market.  Who knows, maybe you will discover some new favorites!

Learn a farmer’s secret

On market day, farmers love to share their secrets. First among them are tips on how to prepare fresh offerings, so if you need to know what to do with kohlrabi or are looking for something to bump up your tomato salsa, just ask.

Follow the rainbow

A great way to eat healthy is to put a spectrum of colorful fruits and vegetables on your plate. They are full of great nutrients, including antioxidants and phytonutrients. The more color variety, the better!

Bring the kids!

Farmers markets are kid-friendly.  Let your kids pick out something new to try. Then, let them help prepare a meal or choose a snack based on what caught their eye. 

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