Improving the Pickle Bill: More Options for Small Farm Value Added Products

Nearly a decade ago FoFF worked with partners at OSU, the Oregon Farmers Market Association and across the spectrum of farm advocates to establish the Farm Direct Marketing Law’s Farm Direct Producer Processed Exemption. This law, sometimes lovingly called “The Pickle Bill,” allows farmers to bring certain low risk, value added products (like jams/jellies, pickles, lacto ferments, dried herbs, etc.) to farmers markets and their farm stands. This opened up opportunities for small farms to differentiate themselves at the market, reduce waste, and create shelf stable products they could use to stretch their income year round when the weather doesn’t cooperate. At the time this law was passed, it was one of the most progressive cottage food laws in the country. Now, about ten years later, it is time for us to make some improvements and clarifications to help this vital law keep up with the times.

The Current Law

Read up on the current structure of the law here in the helpful guide published by OSU. This law has served us well and created many opportunities for farmers across the state, but now that there has been time to experiment and test every part of the statute in practice, we have identified the gray area that couldn’t have been anticipated when it was passed.

During our policy creation process, especially in the focus groups we conducted in different regions and those done by our partners across the state, we heard there were some common sticking points where this law was being applied inconsistently in different areas.  Some producers in one part of the state were being told that a product was ok to sell, while others were being told it wasn’t covered under the exemption. This was especially something that we heard from some of our culturally specific partner groups around herb and herbal tea blends. There were also a variety of understandings of what the “principle ingredient” stipulation meant in practice. There were different enforcement standards for some ingredients used to flavor permitted products, especially around the inclusion of garlic and onions.

Another common complaint of the law was that the practices allowed were arbitrarily narrow. Since the passage of this law, OSU and other institutions have been continuing to conduct food safety studies and many other products/practices are now considered low risk for foodborne illness. These products should be added to the law to allow more opportunities for small farmers.

The final problem with the current law is that it is extremely limited in its interpretation of a direct to consumer sales outlet. The only permitted sales outlets are in person farmers markets and farmstands. There is also very little opportunity for consignment even at these venues with other farm direct producers. We now live in a world where online sales of other farm direct products (like fresh produce) are common through online farmers markets (pre-order style sales platforms that aggregate many small producers together for a better user experience), but these outlets are not open to Pickle Bill products. This is a missed opportunity for producers. There is also ambiguity around online sales from the farmers own website that we seek to clear up. Consignment of these products with other farm direct producers at approved sales outlets is also something that would alleviate the burden on farmers. These products are not meant to be sold in a grocery store setting, but one of the biggest critiques we’ve heard of this law is that a farmer taking advantage of this exemption then has to spend hours away from the farm, behind a market table to sell them. FoFF wants to find a way to keep the heart of the original Pickle Bill intact, while modernizing our methods and helping farmers keep up with the times.

FoFF’s Proposal

We have been working with the original partners of the first iteration of the bill, farmers and farm direct sales outlet operators to find the most effective ways to address these problems and make solutions that work for the folks using these laws day in and day out. FoFF’s proposal has fixes for all the barriers discussed above. The goal is to make it easier for farmers to put these products directly into the hands of the end user and provide safe, accessible, locally produced products to their community. Offering expanded product types and sales outlets will help more people be able to buy more of the products and staples they love from local farmers. The clarifications we offer will remove uncertainty for farmers wishing to take advantage of this law and allow more folks to diversify their farm business with confidence that they will not be arbitrarily found out of compliance.  

Here are the basics:

Online Sales – Explicitly permit the online sale of products that fall under the Farm Direct Marketing Law

Modernizing Distribution – Allow for the contracting of a third party entity for the facilitation of a sale, marketing and/or delivery of products from the farm to the consumer

Additional Products – Expand products eligible for Farm Direct Exemption including pasteurized juices, herbal blends, and steam canning techniques

Clarify Ingredients – Define and clarify the non-farm-grown ingredients allowed for valued-added products

Consignment – Expand consignment eligibility to certain value-added products

We are working on the specifics of this language with our partners at OSU and ODA to make sure we never compromise food safety or design a law that could be taken advantage of to allow conventional food processing companies to operate outside the licensing structure.  We look forward to sharing the language we settle on between now and pre-session deadlines in December.

Get involved!

Are you ready to create more opportunities for small farmers in Oregon? Join in and help us make this campaign a success. The best ways to get involved are to: