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Legalities of Direct Marketing Specialty Crops

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

The article is not a substitute for legal advice. See here for the site’s reposting policy.

Direct marketing of farm products is on the rise. According to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture, the value of food sold directly from Maryland farms to consumers nearly doubled over a five year period, from $28 million in 2012 to $54 million in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed buying habits and created a renewed interest in purchasing farm products directly from local growers. Whether its sales at farmers' markets, through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), direct sales to a store or restaurant, or through an online sales platform, many Maryland farmers are adopting new direct marketing channels and with these new opportunities come associated legal issues.

To help farmers be better prepared to navigate the legalities of direct farm marketing, ALEI at the University of Maryland Francis K. Carey School of Law, created A Legal Guide to Direct Farm Marketing for Maryland Produce Growers, now available on the ALEI website. The Guide is laid out in three main parts to address different areas of concern for growers engaged in various stages of direct marketing.

The first part of the Guide includes legal considerations for producers at various stages of direct marketing - from beginning farmers who may need an overview of potential legal obligations to those who are ready to expand. The Guide will help farmers keep track of the laws that need consideration, and provide references and links (in the Endnotes) to resources for taking necessary steps toward compliance. The second part of the Guide covers basic contracting principles and provides a framework for evaluating direct marketing contracts. The final part of the Guide addresses legal issues commonly encountered when advertising and making sales online through social media platforms and a business website.

After hearing from Maryland farmers about how the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many folks pivoting to

online sales and having to choose the best online sales platform, the ALEI team consulted existing resources and used feedback from growers to create a companion resource to the Guide, a checklist entitled Considerations for Online Sales Platforms. The checklist will help farm businesses keep track of practical questions to ask when searching for an online sales platform for their operation.

The ALEI team presented an overview of the information in the Guide at many of the University of Maryland Extension Fruit and Vegetable winter meetings, and hosted two in-depth webinars in February 2021.

Susan McQuilkin, the Marketing Executive for Southern Maryland Agriculture Development Commission (SMADC), shared her thoughts after attending the webinar: “I don't know how [ALEI] managed to cover so much information in just 2 hours! The resource links are great and I learned a whole lot!! Congratulations. I have commended the presentation to everyone at SMADC as an invaluable resource for the farms we serve.”

If you missed the live webinars, you can watch the recording and download a copy of the Guide and Checklist on the ALEI website.

Funding for A Legal Guide to Direct Farm Marketing for Maryland Produce Growers and the associated education was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM190100XXXXG020. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

Anyone with questions or comments about these resources and education may contact Megan Todd ( or Sarah Everhart (, 410-458-2475.


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