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What are the rules for selling home-grown fruits, veggies, eggs?

By KARI KRAMER | East Texas Edition

June 30, 2005 - If a person has home-grown fruits, vegetables, or even eggs, to sell to the public, there are a few things to be aware of.

According to Beverly Boyd, Texas Department of Agriculture's (TDA) deputy assistant commissioner for communications, there are few regulatory obligations for the small producer who wants to sell fruits and vegetables to the public.

"If a grower is selling fruits and vegetables that he or she produces, then they do not need a license," said Boyd. "If they are reselling a product that is obviously not grown in Texas, then they also do not need a license." She cited kiwis and bananas as examples.

(However, if a person is reselling any product grown in Texas, such as watermelons purchased from a grower other than yourself, they must obtain a license from TDA. Information on that license can be obtained by contacting TDA's Regulatory Division in Austin at 800-835-5832 and is also available online at TDA's website, www.agr.state.tx.us.)

Vendors may be required to obtain a permit from the city they wish to sell in. Cities should be contacted on an individual basis. Because each city has different ordinances, a seller should contact the city hall office.

According to Boyd, if a person has processed their fruits or vegetables (into jams, salsas), they are subject to regulations. In this case, their product must meet the standards established by the Texas Department of State Health Services. There are also local health department requirements, and the food must be processed and prepared in an inspected kitchen.

Before any selling can be done, a producer must decide what to grow. Dr. Greg Clary, Extension economist in Overton, specializes in marketing and management. He advises producers who want to sell to the public educate themselves.

"Do a little market research ahead of time," he said. "Don't waste money. Just do a little planning."

He suggested the person do a traffic count in the area they want to sell in, find out what products are in demand, and produce more than one or two varieties of a product to be successful.

Boyd agreed. "Knowing what consumers want to buy, then growing that, allows a producer to tap into an existing demand," she explained.

"If you're known for having a wide variety, and a person can stop and buy a week's worth of fruits and vegetables, they're more apt to stop at your site," added Clary.

In summary, "Good product, clean appearance for the product and selling area, good singage, recipes, (tips on) how to select and prepare, and friendly and informative conversation with the buyer," will all help make a selling endeavor profitable, according to Boyd.

Another tip is that sellers may want to choose a location near a city or town, rather than a small rural area with less traffic, Clary suggested.

Boyd had an alternative idea. "Producers may also want to work with local chefs and restaurants to supply seasonal or specialty products, either directly to the restaurant or at a farmers market," she said.

Farmers markets provide a well-known and trafficked area for producers to sell their fruits and vegetables. Boyd said most farmers markets charge a small fee for space at the site.

For information about selling at a local farmers market, contact the county Extension office, city chamber, or search for the nearest farmers market at http://www.agr.state.tx.us/picktexas/index.htm by selecting "Farmers Market" at the top of the page.

For those who have chickens and want to sell eggs, the process is different. Texas has an "egg law," which requires that in most cases, especially if eggs are transferred between three parties, that all those involved (handlers, graders and sellers for example) have a license from TDA. If a license is required, there are several other stipulations and regulations.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services' (TDSHS) Retail Food Division, an exemption to the egg law has been made for those who want to sell eggs from their flock directly to the public. This person is not required to have a license from TDA, but should be aware and abide by other regulations.

First, the person needs a permit from TDSHS or from a local authority. Those interested should contact both entities for detailed information. In addition, the eggs cannot be placed in cartons from other producers (such as brand-name cartons purchased at the supermarket then saved). The eggs must be labeled "ungraded" and should be marked with the producers name and address. Finally, the eggs have to be stored at temperatures of 45 degrees Fahrenheit or less.

TDSHS can be reached at 512-719-0232.