Licenses, Permits, and Regulations

Selling Food in Philadelphia: What You Need to Know about Commercial Activity Licenses, Permits & Regulations

For the most part, produce sales from an urban farm or garden are not governed by federal or state regulations.  In fact, many major federal food safety regulations exempt community farms from requirements. However, some laws still apply, especially when livestock is involved. 

Philadelphia laws primarily govern food safety and sales. Many of the City’s laws do not govern people growing food; instead, the laws apply to food preparation, such as when you slice into a tomato before selling it or giving it away.

The following guide describes permits needed for selling food in Philadelphia, guidelines to ensure food safety, as well as background on the federal and state food safety and sales laws. 

Do You Need A Zoning Permit for Your Garden? 

Under the new Zoning Code, community gardening and market farming are allowed in most parts of the city, but you still need to acquire a “use registration permit” from the City if your garden or farm is a new use or a change in the use of a parcel.

  • This is a one-time permit, which costs $125.
  • You can find more information here or
  • Ask for help from the Department of Licenses and Inspections: visit the Municipal Services Building 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard – Concourse Level or call 311 (215-686-8686)

PHILADELPHIA LAWS AND REGULATIONS FOR GROWING & SELLING FOOD

Prepared Food and Animal Products: Department of Health/Office of Food Protection

If you want to prepare food (including slicing up produce to provide samples), or if you want to start selling animal products like eggs, or if you want to start selling prepared food made from your produce, you  will need to contact the Office of Food Protection to discuss what licensing or permitting might be required and get help creating a plan.

You can call 215-685-7495 or use walk-in hours at the Office of Food Protection, 321 University Avenue, 2nd Floor, Monday – Friday  9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The certification process takes about six weeks.

Any for-profit sales: Commercial Activity License

The City of Philadelphia requires any group or individual that is not a registered nonprofit to obtain a Commercial Activity License from the Department of Licenses and Inspections before beginning sales. You can obtain a CAL for free.

To get a CAL, you must fill out a license request form. You can do so online here or call 311 (215-686-8686) and speak to a representative at L&I, located at the Municipal Services Building, 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard – Concourse Level.

Vendor Licenses, Sidewalk Sales, and Sales in the Garden

Gardeners are allowed to sell produce (uncut, whole) from their gardens without obtaining any more than a CAL. However, if you want to use the sidewalk or other right-of-way for your sales, you will need to obtain additional licenses from L&I.  If you wish to set up a permanent store for selling food, you will need to contact both L&I and the Department of Health.

Farmers’ Markets

Currently, all farmers’ markets in the City of Philadelphia must annually submit a Farmers’ Market Operator Registration form to the Department of Public Health, Office of Food Protection.

The Office of Food Protection also has a comprehensive Farmers’ Market Operator Guide that outlines this and other requirements for farmers’ markets. For example, there may be additional requirements if your market farm is located on private property, Department of Parks and Recreation property, or if you need additional parking. You can also visit the Office of Food Protection’s webpage dedicated to farmers’ markets or call the office at 215-685-7495.

If you are interested becoming part of an existing market, Farm to City and the Food Trust are good resources in Philadelphia, since they organize many of the City’s farmers’ markets. If you are interested in selling at a market, contact either: 

Sales of Value-Added Products–prepared food–including those Made in a Personal Home Kitchen

In order to sell prepared foods, you will likely need to contact the Department of Health and the Department of Licenses & Inspections. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have enacted “cottage food laws” that allow people to make certain food products in their home kitchens and sell them locally on a small scale. In Pennsylvania, these laws allow direct sales to consumers from the producer’s home or at a farmers’ market, as well as to grocery stores and restaurants.

In order to be eligible to sell food processed in your personal home kitchen, you must submit a Home Food Processors Application with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.  For more information contact Sheri Morris at 717-787-4315 ext. 205 or see their site.

BEST PRACTICES FOR FOOD SAFETY

Even though many of the federal and state rules about food safety do not apply to small operations like urban gardens, gardeners may find some of these rules helpful.  Guidelines, or best practices, based on federal rules can help ensure garden produce is safe, prevent microbial and pest contamination, and reduce liability. Best practices include:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting harvest storage facilities and transport containers
  • Removing soil from the produce before it leaves the garden
  • Practicing gardener hygiene and sanitation during production and harvesting in order to minimize microbial contamination of fresh produce
  • Ensuring that produce is not contaminated in the process of washing, cooling, or packaging from contact with manure, poor quality water, or unclean packaging. 

CHECKLIST FOR LOCAL SALES AND SAFETY LAWS FOR GARDENERS SELLING FOOD

Is your venture for profit or nonprofit?

If for profit, the City currently requires that you obtain a Commercial Activity License (CAL).

If you are recognized as nonprofit by the IRS, you do not need a CAL, but you need to provide the Department of Revenue with your letter from the IRS.

Will the farm stand be located in your garden or on the sidewalk?
  • If you are selling on the sidewalk, you will need to check with the Department of Licensing and Inspections about prohibited streets and/or get a sidewalk sales permit.

If you are selling whole, uncut produce from your garden, you only need a CAL.

 If you are growing on City-owned property using an Urban Garden Agreement (UGA), then unless you receive special permission from the Vacant Property Review Committee, your UGA likely prohibits you from selling produce directly from your garden.  Thus, you may need to sell from the sidewalk.

Are you selling only raw, agricultural products that are grown on site?

If yes, you do not need a license from the Philadelphia Department of Health’s Office of Food Protection.

The Office of Food Protection can still inspect your farm stand.

To be safe, remember not to sell cut produce or offer samples of your produce and make sure your produce is displayed at least six inches above the ground.

If you are selling eggs, baked goods, or anything made with your vegetables or fruit, you should be in touch with the Office of Food Protection for more information.

If you are selling eggs, baked goods, or anything made with your vegetables or fruit, you should be in touch with the Office of Food Protection for more information.

If you wish to process food in your personal home kitchen, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, as well.

We hope you found this information useful. You may also be interested in learning about How to Reach a Private Land Use Agreement, and explore the Grapevine Forums if you have any questions or want to connect with your community!

This information is accurate as of 2013 when Grounded in Philly was first launched; however, some information may have changed since then. Although The Public Interest Law Center works to make sure the information on the website is accurate and up to date, and has fixed inaccuracies that have come to our attention, we make no claim as to the accuracy of all of this information. We recommend that you consult with a licensed attorney if you want assurance that the information on the website and your interpretation of it are appropriate for your particular situation. We are continuing to improve Grounded in Philly’s accuracy and usefulness.

If you see something on this page that appears to be inaccurate, please contact Jonathan McJunkin.

More resources for securing access or ownership of land for your garden or farm

How to Obtain Land Through Adverse Possession

Gaining land ownership through adverse possession in Philadelphia requires a 21 year statutory period before you can obtain the title to the land or property.

Philadelphia Stormwater Charge: Community Garden Discount

Here’s how you can get a discount on your Philadelphia stormwater bill for your community garden.

About Neighborhood Gardens Trust

The Neighborhood Gardens Trust is a crucial resource for the preservation of gardens and community green space, providing a trust for public land in Philadelphia.

Conservatorship of Vacant Properties

Conservatorship is a helpful tool to obtain the rights to manage a property in order to return it to productive use and into compliance with code.

Gardening Without Ownership

You don’t need to own vacant land to establish a community garden or green space in Philadelphia, but gardening without ownership comes with risks. Find out how to get started.

Water For Your Garden

There are several options in Philadelphia for providing water to gardens and urban farms.

Liens and Debt

Unpaid debt from a previous owner can stand in the way of using a vacant lot for a community space–here’s how to find out if a vacant lot has debt, and what to do.

Employment and Labor Law

If you are looking to hire workers or have volunteers in your community garden or urban farm, you need to comply with state and local labor laws.