Guiding Farmers to Legal Resiliency through Farm Law Education for Washington Ag Professionals

Final report for WPDP19-23

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $16,362.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2021
Host Institution Award ID: G168-20-W7504
Grant Recipients: Farm Commons; SnoValley Tilth
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Co-Investigators:
Libby Reed
SnoValley Tilth
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project developed the long term stability and resiliency of sustainable farmers by proactively resolving legal vulnerabilities and providing speedy pathways to resolutions when problems do occur. We achieved this result by training farm support persons and farmers in the basics of sustainable farm law. Our 5-week online workshop dispelled sustainable farm law myths and gave educators and farmers the basic tools they need to guide sustainable farmers, without overstepping their professional bounds. Training occurred through a 5-module course that covered 5-weeks. Each week included a pre-work video, an activity, an online meeting, and completion of an individualized action plan. A widely distributed e-newsletter also increased agricultural educators’ knowledge and confidence in farm law. The workshop and newsletter instructed, built confidence, dispelled myths, and provided opportunities for networking. Participants also received a Toolkit of action steps and reference materials, that help facilitate safe and accurate resolution of sustainable farm law issues.

This program was piloted in the Midwest under a North Central SARE Professional Development grant to great success. However, with the occurrence of COVID-19, we had to convert the existing in-person curriculum to an online version. This caused a significant time delay to a project that was already behind schedule when the pandemic struck. The process of converting an 8-hour in-person curriculum to a successful online format took 9 months of work and was expensive, and we fortunately had access to other funds to achieve that. Without the other funds, we would have been unable to host this workshop at all.

Project Objectives:

Objective: 45 agriculture professionals or farmers learned and conveyed at least one of 10 legal best practices in farm employment, business structures, land matters, sales, agritourism, and insurance/liability law to with the result that 70% take or recommended risk-reducing action, building the resiliency of Washington farmers.

Curriculum Development

Convert what was proposed as an 8-hour in-person workshop to an online, 5-week modular course attended remotely. April-Dec 2020

Set up and Recruitment:

Arrange workshop platform. December 2020

Send e-announcements highlighting the relevance/importance of farm law issues, description of workshop, event date/location, and invitation to receive e-newsletter. October-December 2020

Engagement:

50 professionals register for “Guiding Farmers to Legal Resiliency,” receive survey link, and receive pre-workshop assignment. December 2020

Learning:

35 professionals or producers (70% of registrants) complete pre-assignment. January 2021

45 professionals or producers (90% of registrants) attend workshop and receive a printed Guiding Farmers to Legal Resiliency Toolkit. January 2021

Follow-up:

100 professionals or producers receive our “Guiding Farmers to Legal Resiliency” e-newsletter with timely updates, relevant news stories, farm law details, and opportunities to provide feedback. March 2021

Verification:

33 professionals or producers (70% of those reached via workshops/video) complete a post-workshop evaluation, detailing intention to provide farmers with one of 12 specific action points. January 2021

13 professionals or producers (30%) complete a post-workshop evaluation 3 months after, detailing whether they provided farmers with one of 12 specific action points. March 2021

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Sarah Vaile (Educator)

Education

Educational approach:

Through this project, we created and delivered a workshop on farm law for Washington producers and agriculture professionals. The workshop was held online over the course of 5 weeks. Each weekly module consisted of learners watching 1-2 pre-work videos, attending a 2 hour online meeting, and doing 2-3 skills-building activities. Each online meeting involved networking, presentation, question and answer time, and small group activities. In between meetings, learners participated in an online social platform for continued question/answers and discussion. Learners also received a print/hardcopy workbook that guided creation of a personal action plan for legal risk reduction. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Legal Resilience
Objective:

Assist agriculture professionals in relaying and producers in adopting the 10 best management practices of legal risk reduction.

Description:
  1. Farmers and ranchers should write a governance document that creates solutions for the individuals’ and the farm’s needs, circumstances, and expectations.
  2. Farmers and ranchers should: Form an LLC or S corporation if they are willing to deal with some additional paperwork and: Want protection for personal assets OR Want tax savings when they make more in personal income from farming than the average farmer.
  3. Farmers and Ranchers should: Get workers’ compensation, or at least injury liability coverage, to make sure workers are covered in case of injury.
  4. Farmers and Ranchers should: Modify their business plan to account for employment law obligations, or do research to align workers to an alternative classification.
  5. Farmers and Ranchers should: Have a thorough discussion with landlord/tenant that results in consensus… and write down your agreement.
  6. Farmers and Ranchers should: Have a thorough discussion with lenders/borrowers that results in consensus… and write down the agreement.
  7. Farmers and Ranchers should: Do due diligence on the proposed land by researching the property’s history and use.
  8. Farmers and Ranchers should: Research zoning code to see if it will allow for the specific type of diversification planned.
  9. Farmers and Ranchers should: Get liability insurance that covers the activities and risks involved on the farm.
  10. Farmers and Ranchers should: If doing food service, understand the regulatory obligation to secure a food service permit.
Outcomes and impacts:

Three months after the workshop, learners reported the following:

  1. 66% of learners implemented or recommended implementation of writing a governance document that creates solutions for the individuals’ and the farm’s needs, circumstances, and expectations.
  2. 98% of learners implemented or recommended implementation of forming an LLC or S corporation if they are willing to deal with some additional paperwork and: Want protection for personal assets OR Want tax savings when they make more in personal income from farming than the average farmer.
  3. 80% of learners implemented or recommended implementation of getting workers’ compensation, or at least injury liability coverage, to make sure workers are covered in case of injury.
  4. 100% of learners implemented or recommended implementation of modifying their business plan to account for employment law obligations, or do research to align workers to an alternative classification.
  5. 50% of learners implemented or recommended implementation of having a thorough discussion with landlord/tenant that results in consensus… and write down your agreement.
  6. 66% of learners implemented or recommended implementation of performing due diligence on the proposed land by researching the property’s history and use.
  7. 100% of learners implemented or recommended implementation of researching zoning code to see if it will allow for the specific type of diversification planned.
  8. 100% of learners implemented or recommended implementation of getting liability insurance that covers the activities and risks involved on the farm.
  9. 66% of learners implemented or recommended implementation of understanding the regulatory obligation to secure a food service permit.
Legal Education
Objective:

Increase knowledge of core farm law subjects

Description:

Farmers and ranchers need to know the following: 

  1. Business structures like LLCs do not protect business assets
  2. Insurance is the primary means to protect business assets
  3. Understand the tax advantage of filing as an S corporation
  4. Farm insurance usually does not cover agritourism and value-added activities
  5. Liability for on-farm injuries is determined in a courtroom
  6. Nearly everyone who does work on a farm should be considered an employee
  7. Farm exemptions from employment law are dependent on what type of labor the worker is performing
  8. A good lease is one that prevents problems before they occur by helping the farmer/rancher and landowner come to consensus on a wide range of issues
  9. Due diligence is an important process to determine if farm/ranch land will be suitable for their operation from a legal perspective
  10. Zoning codes can prohibit many forms of diversification
  11. Food service beyond a potluck often requires a permit
Outcomes and impacts:
  1. Before the workshop, 39% of learners did not know that business structures like LLCs did not protect business assets. After the workshop, 100% of learners understood this.
  2. Before the workshop, 63% of learners did not know that insurance was the primary means to protect business assets. After the workshop, 92% of learners understood this. 
  3. Before the workshop, 45% of learners understood that insurance usually does not cover agritourism and value-added activities. After the workshop, 98% of learners understood this.
  4. Before the workshop, just 10% of learners understood how liability for on-farm injuries is determined in a courtroom. After the workshop, 79% of learners understood this. 
  5. Before the workshop, 29% of learners understood that nearly everyone who does work on a farm should be considered an employee. After the workshop, 100% of learners understood this.
  6. Before the workshop, 62% of learners understood that a good lease is one that prevents problems before they occur by helping the farmer/rancher and landowner come to consensus on a wide range of issues. After the workshop, 100% of learners understood this.
  7. Before the workshop, 75% of learners understood that due diligence is an important process to determine if farm/ranch land will be suitable for their operation from a legal perspective. After the workshop, 100% of learners understood this.
  8. Before the workshop, 54% of learners understood that zoning codes can prohibit many forms of diversification. After the workshop, 91% of learners understood this.
  9. Before the workshop, 36% of learners understood that food service beyond a potluck often requires a permit. After the workshop, 100% of learners understood this.
  10. Before the workshop, 55% of learners understood that insuring diverse farm activities often requires an additional insurance endorsement or product. After the workshop, 100% of learners understood this.

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Online trainings

Participation Summary

3 Extension
3 Nonprofit
1 Agency
1 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
42 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

45 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
5 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

In other sections, we reported on what learners COMPLETED by 3 months after the workshop and what they LEARNED during the workshop. Here we will report on what they were IN THE PROCESS of doing during this project.

 

  1. As a result of the workshop, 34% of learners were in the process of or planning to begin forming an LLC or corporation.
  2. As a result of the workshop, 80% of learners were in the process of or planning to write down a thorough governance document for their business.
  3. As a result of the workshop, 88% of learners were in the process of or planning to have conversations about their governance document with partners.
  4. As a result of the workshop, 92% of learners were in the process of or planning to talk with their insurance agent about liability coverage.
  5. As a result of the workshop, 81% of learners were in the process of or planning to talk with their insurance agent about property coverage.
  6. As a result of the workshop, 64% of learners were in the process of or planning to secure workers’ compensation.
  7. As a result of the workshop, 41% of learners were in the process of or planning to classify workers as employees.
  8. As a result of the workshop, 57% of learners were in the process of or planning to do detailed research to classify workers as interns or apprentices.
  9. As a result of the workshop, 59% of learners were in the process of or planning to adapt their business plans to account for the full breadth of employment law obligations.
  10. As a result of the workshop, 75% of learners were in the process of or planning to have through discussions with their landlord/tenant about their lease.
  11. As a result of the workshop, 66% of learners were in the process of or planning to perform due diligence on land they were intending to lease or purchase.
  12. As a result of the workshop, 66% of learners were in the process of or planning to have thorough discussions with lenders about the terms of their relationship.
  13. As a result of the workshop, 63% of learners were in the process of or planning to research the zoning code relevant to their operation
  14. As a result of the workshop, 63% of learners were in the process of or planning to get insurance for the specific type of diversification they had planned.
  15. As a result of the workshop, 73% of learners were in the process of or planning to research their obligation to secure a permit for food service activities.
5 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
40 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Additional Outcomes:

This program proved to be more popular with producers themselves than with agriculture professionals, which was an unanticipated outcome of the project. We feel this occurred because there are so few options for Washington producers to receive farm law education. Although it was our goal to address that known situation through a train-the-trainer approach, the workshop quickly filled up with producers themselves. We reached capacity well before the registration deadline. We may have missed the target in terms of how we marketed the workshop, too, as we spoke with agriculture professionals who felt the workshop was intended for producers, which wasn’t necessarily the case. 

Success stories:

When we asked learners what they would say if a someone else asked them about this workshop. Here are their responses:

This course and its supporting website/community is by far the most helpful resource I’ve found for helping me get my farm’s legal ducks in a row!

it’s a good primer into how to think about the legal ramifications of the business so you can seek out help/support sooner rather than later.

I found this workshop immensely helpful. Farm law is overseen by so many different departments at the state and local level, it can be hard to know if your farm is on sound legal footing in all ways. This workshop covers all the bases, so you know where you’re sound, and where you have weaknesses, how to assess those weaknesses, and how to move forward.

If you want to protect your business and learn about the creative power you hold to navigate the system, then you should take this class 🙂

It was so worth it for me, discovering that I might enter into legal “agreements” without even knowing I was doing so.  Really alerted me to some of the potential perils and pitfalls, and did so in a really empowering way.  I know it’s a bummer to have to learn all this legal stuff AND also know how to farm well, but better to be forewarned.  This course put many of my fears to rest, and helped me understand the risks so much better.

Yes! I learned so much about insurance that I feel like will really protect my business. I appreciated the emphasis on communication strategies and key questions as important tools for resiliency and agency.

It’s a great overview of the legal topics/issues to research before starting a farm!

The best farm related workshop I’ve attended.

It provides the tools for you to better advocate for yourself and your business and demystifies law documents and makes them accessible for us to use to feel more sure about the present and the future. It also allows for practicing clear communication and creating written documents as a way to assist with and guide responding to issues when they come up.

I would direct them to the documents available through farm commons.

The workshop doesn’t answer every question, but it reveals the issues a farmer should be mindful of, directs them to resources where farmers can research and find answers, and connects farmers with a larger farm community where they can share their knowledge and experience.

Recommendations:

We think the continued need for this kind of training is huge. But, it’s hard for us to find funding to continue it once we’ve done a single project in a region or after it’s not “new” anymore. I think a lot of organizations struggle with that. 

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.