Increasing Sustainable and Organic Farmers' Access to Credit and COVID-19 Relief through Professional Development

Progress report for ENC21-208

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $90,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Grant Recipient: Farmers Legal Action Group
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Scott Carlson
Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG)
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Project Information


To help Minnesota’s sustainable and organic farmers deal with increasing economic strain and uncertainty resulting from a prolonged downturn in the farm economy and the COVID-19 crisis, FLAG will produce, present and distribute a series of nine interactive professional development webinars on farm credit access and legal rights for sustainable and organic farmers as described in FLAG’s publication Farmers’ Guide to Minnesota Lending Law, including new materials relating to COVID-19 relief provisions. 

In this project, FLAG will:

  1. Develop new resources to be added to the Guide to address COVID-19 relief programs and legal changes that affect credit for sustainable and organic family farms;
  2. Present the Guide’s information in a series of nine live, interactive professional development webinars with a focus on credit issues affecting sustainable and organic farmers; webinars will be publicized and presented to farmers and to a broader audience – including Farm Advocates, FSA loan officers, Extension agents, organizations that serve the sustainable and organic farm community, and others – that regularly engages with hundreds of Minnesota’s sustainable and organic farmers every year.
  3. Make recorded webinars and related materials broadly available on-demand through FLAG’s website and in collaboration with partner organizations. 

FLAG will work with a broad range of partner organizations – including Minnesota Farm Advocates, Minnesota Farmer-Lender Mediation Program, Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, Land Stewardship Project, Hmong American Farmers Association, and others – to publicize the webinars and make sustainable and organic farmers aware of the online educational materials and training videos produced through the program.

Project Objectives:

Outputs will include:

  • A series of nine interactive, real-time professional development webinars on lending law and related COVID-19 legislative changes and programs applicable to sustainable and organic producers (webinars will be recorded and made available for remote viewing)
  • Supporting educational materials created and made available for remote viewing, including the updated Farmers’ Guide to Minnesota Lending Law, Farmers’ Guide to COVID-19 Relief, and materials related to newly enacted COVID-19-related legislative changes and relief programs
  • 100 participants in professional development webinars
  • 200 non-participating farmers reached/helped by Farm Advocates who participate in webinars
  • 200 non-attending farmers have mediators with better knowledge of MN lending law and greater likelihood of just outcomes for farmers


Educational approach:

The work of this project will be performed predominantly by FLAG's experienced attorney staff. FLAG staff will coordinate and compile the educational materials and will be primary presenters for the series of real-time, interactive webinars. Staff of the partner organizations will work with FLAG to develop and implement a plan for outreach, including advertising the availability of training webinars to ensure participation from a broad range of constituents, and will publicize the availability of recorded webinars and educational materials to targeted sustainable farmer and producer populations in Minnesota.

Work will include: revising and updating the farmers’ guide to lending law; researching and preparing new materials on important new programs or issues; planning for technical needs of presentations (platform, equipment, etc.); preparation and delivery of webinars; webinar follow-up, advice and counsel; recording and editing webinars; partner outreach re: communicating webinar dates; distributing of materials; social media outreach; coordinating partner outreach for webinar participation with FLAG partners including the MN Department of Agriculture, farmer-lender mediators, MN Farmers Union, Land Stewardship Project, MN Farm Advocates, and others; collecting and posting recorded webinars and related educational materials on FLAG website; developing and distributing evaluation questionnaires; using Google dashboard to track distribution/views of materials; collecting numerical and qualitative indicators; creating an evaluation report.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

MN Lending Law Webinar Professional Development Series

FLAG will produce, present and distribute a series of nine interactive professional development webinars for agricultural professionals, such as farmer-lending mediators, MN farm advocates, Extension Agents, government staff, and others, on farm credit access and legal rights for sustainable and organic farmers as described in FLAG’s publication Farmers’ Guide to Minnesota Lending Law, including new materials relating to important timely topics


The precise topics and timing of the webinar series is yet-to-be-determined, but FLAG plans to provide a series of nine webinars on different topics, including (1) Lending Law 101 - introduction to the complicated area of lending law, including all topics listed below; (2) Contracts, the Statute of Frauds - oral contracts, written contracts, disputes, contracts between neighbors, contracts between farmers and lenders, resolving contract disputes; (3) Mortgages and Contracts for Deed - contracts for deed between father/son; inheritance; rights of farmers unable to make loan payments; statutory and administrative protections applicable to sustainable and organic farmers; (4) Farmer-Lender Mediation - rights of sustainable and organic farmers in mandatory farmer-lender mediation; secured creditors; repossession; operating and equipment loans; asserting rights in mediation; (5) Unsecured Credit, Judgment - rules relating to unsecured credit; protections against property seizure; addressing adverse judgments; (6) Lease Agreements - farm lease rules and regulations; lease payments; lease terminations; protecting and asserting leaseholder rights; lease provisions relating to sustainable and organic production; (7) Unconventional and Alternative Lending and Bankruptcy: machinery company lenders; unregulated lenders (e.g. hedge funds); risks of alternative lending; dealing with creditors; bankruptcy protection; (8) Using FSA Loans - eligibility requirements; rules governing repayment; farmer protections; utility for sustainable and organic family farms; and (9) a session on important and timely topics ag professionals need to know to better service financially distressed farmers and ranchers (to take the place of the originally planned session on COVID-19 relief).

Webinars will be at least 60-minutes long and will be presented on a regular schedule (to be determined). Webinars will include rolling opportunities for questions/answers, and participants will be given opportunities for one-on-one post-webinar follow-up with FLAG attorneys. 

Outcomes and impacts:

The primary objectives of this project are (1) to increase access to information on Minnesota lending for Minnesota’s sustainable and organic family farmers and ranchers in ways that adapt to the new reality of the COVID-19 crisis and recovery, (2) to increase the related knowledge of the professionals who serve these farmers on credit, lending, and related issues, and (3) to integrate relevant information of current important issues/provisions (such as IRA or ARPA or whatever is relevant at the time) with that information .

By offering free professional development educational services from nonprofit attorneys experienced in agricultural law and farm programs, leveraging FLAG's resources and knowledge to a limited number of professionals, FLAG will in turn help hundreds-to-thousands of sustainable and organic farmers. This investment will help keep farmers on the land, where they can contribute to the vibrancy of their local and regional communities.

The educational resources FLAG develops as part of this grant will be used by farmers and others involved in farm credit issues, including farm advocates, FSA staff, Extension agents, and farmer-lender mediators who every year reach thousands of farmers and ranchers. The webinars and educational materials will also be made available for direct use by farmers, USDA, Extension professionals and other interested parties. The long-term outcome of this project is that hundreds of sustainable and organic farmers – many of whom are underserved or beginning specialty crop, livestock and poultry producers – will have more viable farm operations and be able to keep their farms through this period of national turmoil and recovery as a result of being able to access credit. The partners in this project reach and serve hundreds of these farmers in any given year, and are uniquely positioned to help sustainable and organic farmers navigate the labyrinth of farm credit, know their rights, and access credit that enables these farmers to weather the crisis and keep their farms.

Educational & Outreach Activities

75 Consultations
10 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
9 Online trainings
9 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

10 Extension
20 Nonprofit
10 Agency
20 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
50 Farmers/ranchers
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.