How to Use this Page
Use the map to find helpful contacts in your state.
Below the map you’ll find descriptions of the roles and responsibilities for organizations typically found in each state.
Department of Agriculture
Generally, the states’ departments of agriculture help set agriculture policy and provide assistance to farmers throughout the state. The role of the departments of agriculture includes regulatory enforcement and inspections, but also consists of consumer protection, public health roles, environmental advocacy, agricultural marketing, public information and awareness, and promoting new technology and new uses for agricultural goods.
Fulfilling these responsibilities can often be advanced through the promotion of direct farm marketing, and as demand for local food increases, the departments of agriculture have responded by developing special offices and programs to assist both consumers and direct farm marketers.
Links to the Department of Agriculture website and any relevant subunits or programs for each state are provided through the map above. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) also has a website.
Cooperative Extension Service
The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide, non-credit educational network. A state Cooperative Extension office is located in each state at its land-grant university. There are also local offices throughout the states. Extension staff are an excellent resource for obtaining practical, research-based educational materials on a number of agricultural topics, including agronomy, marketing, and food safety.
Farm to School Contact
Farm to School programs exist in a variety of forms but generally serve to promote nutritious food in school cafeterias, to educate school children about where their food comes from, and to support local farmers. The organizations supporting Farm to School organizations include government agencies, non-profits, and citizens and teachers with a concern about the health and education of our children. These organizations often provide training, technical assistance, networking, and marketing opportunities.
Farmers Market Contacts
Many states have established agencies and organizations that oversee and promote farmer’s markets. These contacts, sometimes part of the Department of Agriculture, a non-profit organization, or both, can provide information on the establishment, promotion, and the regulations governing farmer’s markets.
Food Policy Councils
Food Policy Councils (FPC’s) are comprised of stakeholders from various segments of a local food system. Councils are typically sanctioned through government action such as an Executive Order, Public Act, or Joint Resolution however, many Councils have formed through grassroots effort and operate without an official convening document. FPC’s are innovative collaborations between citizens and government officials which give voice to the concerns and interests of many who have long been under-served or un-represented by agricultural institutions. The primary goal of many Food Policy Councils is to examine the operation of a local food system and provide ideas and recommendations for improvement through public policy changes. They can also be a valuable resource for information on local land use regulations and direct marketing opportunities.
Food Safety and Licensing
Department of Health
In addition to duties such as licensing heath care providers, administering birth and death certificates, overseeing compliance with drug regulations, and inspecting health care facilities, the Department of Health for each state is often responsible for enforcing laws and administering license and registration programs pertaining to processed food. These laws may differ depending on the type of food as well as the type and size of the operation. State Departments of Health may also be responsible for inspecting food labels for compliance with federal and state labeling requirements. Links to state Department of Health websites are provided through the map above in order to provide additional information on regulations, licenses, and possible exemptions for selling farm products.
There are also local Departments of Health in many cities and counties that may share some responsibility with the state Department of Health and other agencies. While a complete list of local health departments are not provided here links to local directories are provided where available.
Department of Inspections
State Departments of Inspections are typically responsible for ensuring compliance with health regulations for facilities that sell food to consumers, including groceries, restaurants, hotels, and, perhaps, farmers markets and other direct marketing businesses. The duties of Departments of Inspections often closely resemble, and sometimes replace, those of the Department of Health. However, the Department of Inspections usually has less of a role in developing food safety policy, focusing more on enforcement.
Contacting your state’s Department of Inspections can help you understand state food safety regulations as well as the inspection process. Many of these departments also have explanations and sample inspection forms online.
State Meat and Poultry Official
State Meat and Poultry inspectors work in cooperation with the Federal Food Safety and Inspection Service. About 1,900 meat and poultry establishments are inspected under State Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs. All of these establishments are small or very small, and state MPI programs are characterized as providing more personalized guidance to establishments in developing their food safety oriented operations. This can be a crucial resource for processors and direct farm marketers. It should be noted that not all states have meat and poultry inspection programs. These states rely on USDA inspections.
Farming remains a labor intensive endeavor and many producers require labor beyond that supplied by the farm owner or family. Many farmers engaged in direct marketing seek assistance through volunteers, apprentices, and interns. While these arrangements often mutually benefit both parties, many states have established regulations governing pay, benefits, and working conditions for employee and non-employee laborers. The Department of Labor in your state may be able to provide information necessary for ensuring a legal relationship with you and your laborers.
Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
Farming certainly requires knowing how to make things grow, but it also requires a great deal of business knowledge. This is particularly true for direct farm marketers and value added producers. While not focused exclusively on agriculture, Small Business Development Centers can help farmers with financial, marketing, production, organization, engineering and technical problems and feasibility studies. Anyone interested in beginning a small business for the first time or improving or expanding an existing small business and cannot afford the services of a private consultant is eligible for assistance from their state SBDC.
State Insurance Commissioners
Insurance commissioner offices can help navigate the various liability concerns and corresponding insurance policies that face small businesses, including direct farm marketers. Commissioners can also assist in pursuing insurance claims. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners also maintains a directory of state commissioners.
State SARE Coordinator
The USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is designed to help America’s farmers and agricultural institutions find innovative ways to make farming more profitable in the future, reduce the impacts of farming on the environment, and respond to the desires of American consumers for wholesome food.
State coordinators are available in every state and charged with training agriculture professionals in sustainable practices and sharing SARE project results with them.
Where available other state organizations and resources for developing the business aspects of your direct farm marketing endeavor are provided in the state links above.