By Nicole Cook
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Agritourism continues to be a growing source of income for many Maryland farmers, and Maryland’s General Assembly and Governor Hogan continue to pass laws designed to support agritourism economic development in Maryland and promote the diversification of farm-related activities. This last spring, the General Assembly passed, and Governor Hogan signed, two bills that both became effective on October 1, 2019. Both help reduce the administrative and financial burdens on farms that incorporate agritourism into their operation. One new law extends the length of a “temporary food service” facility’s license. The other adds additional counties that specifically exempt farms from having to retrofit existing structures that are going to be used for agritourism. More information about the new laws is below.
The first new law, H.B. 522, repealed and replaced parts of Section 21 of the Maryland Code so that organizations like 4-H and other charitable and non-profit groups that set up food booths at agritourism operations to sell food as a fund raising activity during agritourism season can obtain a license “to serve food to the public for up to 30 consecutive days,” instead of only 14 days as the old law provided. By extending the length of the licenses, these groups won’t have to bother midway through the agritourism season with getting another permit so they can continue to sell food. The amendments to the law reduce the time and money involved in obtaining a license, and, in turn, help agritourism operators provide additional attractions for visitors.
The second new law, H.B. 639/S.B. 99, amends parts of Section 12 of the Maryland Code to add Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Kent, Prince George’s, and St. Mary’s counties to the list of counties in Maryland that don’t require “agricultural buildings” that are intended to be used for agritourism to be retrofitted with bathrooms, sprinklers, elevators and other certain high-occupancy building requirements. An “agricultural building” is “a structure designed and constructed to house farm implements, hay, grain, poultry, livestock, or other horticultural products.” A place for human residence is not an agricultural building. The buildings that may be exempted are only allowed to hold up to 200 people in them at a time, and the structure must still adhere to structural integrity standards as well as entrance and exit requirements. But, exempting agricultural buildings used for agritourism from certain building performance standards saves agritourism operators time and money. The counties that were already exempt are: Carroll County, Cecil County, Garrett County, and Howard County.