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Making and Selling Value-Added Products from What You Produce

Jams, pickles, dried herbs, hot sauce, even sausage and steaks.  Making something new from what you raise in the field is one way to “add value” to your basic farm or ranch products ...and to your operation as a whole.  There are many roads to creating an added-value enterprise.  We’ve collected some resources here to get you on your way.

Are you and your farm ready for this?

First, you should do some personal and professional inventorying to decide if this is a good fit with your existing operation and your own business and financial goals. 

What ingredients or inputs are you already producing that you can easily ramp up to feed a value-added enterprise?  What’s going unsold?  Then, what appeals to you as the person who has to develop, make and ultimately sell the value-added product?  Do you love preparing pasta sauces for your family and friends?  Start there.  Is barbecuing your jam? Maybe a bottled sauce or even kebab kits from your beef.  Passion will help sustain you along the road to profitability and sustain you when challenges inevitably arise.

Next, take a hard look at the business of making and selling value-added products.  Put together a short business plan.  At a minimum, conduct a market assessment and do some financial projections.  You need to critically assess where you would face competition and where genuine opportunity lies within the market – where you could sell your product, who would buy it and what they would pay.  Roam the farmers markets, check out local grocery or specialty food stores.  Monitor online marketplaces like GoodEggs.  Then crunch some numbers.  Compare the potential net from a value-added product to what you’re making selling your raw commodities.  It only adds value if it makes you money.

What’s the right way to make your product?

Consider which method of production best fits your product and your own capacity.  (Note: The following is primarily for plant-based products.  For meat and dairy, visit our Livestock & Dairy page.  For non-food products like soaps or beauty products, visit the UCCE Sonoma County Skincare Products page)

Cottage Food Operation (CFO):

This kind of food processing happens in a home kitchen and places you under the scrutiny of your county’s Environmental Health department.  It is both the easiest and least-expensive path to value-added production, but it is also the most limited.  CFO’s are limited to:

A CFO may be a good place to start – test out a food product, see how the market reacts, develop some customer loyalty and then graduate to more complex but less limiting methods of production.  Or you might stick with CFO forever!  Consult these resources if you think a Cottage Food Operation might be right for you:

Processed Food Registration (PFR):

For a wider range of product and production options, you may want to pursue a Processed Food Registration or PFR.  This could be everything from jam to cookies to salsa and juice.  Making products under a PFR places you under inspection by the California Department of Public Health and removes any caps on annual revenue or employees, but requires you to do your production in a commercial kitchen that passes a state inspection for PFR’s.  If this sounds like a path to investigate, consult these resources:

Cannery License:

If the product you have in mind is going on a shelf (as opposed to a refrigerator) but either has added acid like vinegar or has a pH level high enough to warrant thermal processing (heat, pressure) to prevent foodborne pathogens, you probably need to make it in a licensed cannery.  Think dilly beans, pickled beets, some hot sauces and other marinades, etc.

California Department of Public Health considers this the most hazardous type of food processing, so the road to production is more complex than the PFR.  Check out these resources if a cannery license may be in your future:


Co-packers take the DIY out of your value-added product.  They are professional food processing facilities that take your idea through all the steps and then hand off a finished product for you to sell …for a fee.  It can be difficult to find a co-packer that will work with your own farm’s produce, and if you’re just getting started, you may not have the volume (or capital) to work with one.  Many farms start as a CFO or PFR and then graduate to co-packing after they have established their precise recipe and reliable market demand.  Some, however, go straight to a co-packer to capitalize on their recipe-development resources and regulatory expertise.  If you’re considering working with a co-packer, start here:

What else do you need to know?

Whatever you make, safety and accuracy are key.  See additional resources below for labeling and food safety:


Food Safety: