Empowering Professionals with Sustainable Farm Law

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $70,613.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Farm Commons
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Rachel Armstrong
Farm Commons


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, focus group, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism, marketing management, farm-to-institution, labor/employment, risk management, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, public policy, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration


    This project developed the long term stability of sustainable farmers by enabling proactive avoidance of legal vulnerabilities and speedy pathways to resolutions when problems do occur. We achieved this result by training Extension staff, Farm Service Agency staff, Resource Conservation and Development staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service staff, community lending entities and loan officers, nonprofit farm advocates, and nonprofit Farm Beginnings program staff in the basics of sustainable farm law. Our workshops dispelled sustainable farm law myths and gave educators the basic tools they need to guide sustainable farmers, without overstepping their professional bounds. Training occured through three workshops that increased agricultural educators’ knowledge and confidence in farm law. Agricultural educators also received a dozen tip sheets to help them facilitate resolution of sustainable farm law issues. The tip sheets serve both as professional education resources and as handouts for farmers, as suits the participating organization. The tip sheets were created and refined with participation from agriculture professionals from their conception to final editing. We also hosted a concluding discussion session to complete evaluation and set a strong path for integrating project resources into educator’s work. 

    Project objectives:

    The following were our project objectives at the outset of the project:

    Short Term: As a result of the workshop, program participants will experience the following outcomes:

    ·      Increased knowledge of sustainable farm law. Ag educators will know the basic contours of the following legal subjects and issues: 1) Lease drafting and lease enforcement, 2) Farm employment law, including minimum wage and workers’ compensation issues, especially the complications arising from diversified, direct-to-consumer farms, 3) Food safety laws and regulations, including new obligations for produce and diversified farms under the Food Safety Modernization Act, the nature of liability for any and all farm businesses, food safety-based regulation of value added production, and permissibility of direct to consumer sales under the Food Code, and 4) Business entities, including when and why farms may want to consider forming an LLC or S Corporation, and what these entities do and do not do to protect the farm. We anticipate these will be the most desired legal issues for education, based on our experience. However, we will adjust our final subjects and focus to match the expressed needs of participants.

    ·      Increased clarity about the legal position of sustainable and direct to consumer farms within legal frameworks. At present, there are misconceptions within the broader agricultural education community about sustainable farm law. For example, some individuals are under a misimpression that direct sales to schools, restaurants, or institutional buyers are not legal. Although there is a legal basis for this misimpression, it is not illegal as a matter of food safety. Within the lending community, there are misconceptions about whether and how farms can form LLCs or S Corporations and still remain eligible for government programs. This can adversely impact diversified farms with agritourism or value-added aspects who are more likely to form these entities.

    ·      Increased confidence in ability to lead sustainable farmers to resolution of their legal issues. This confidence will come from two areas: 1) Agriculture educators will be able to relay the fundamentals of a legal issue to farmers. 2) They will be able to provide action steps and sources for more information on a legal issue. We know right now that the agriculture educators who use Farm Commons’ resources right now experience increased confidence in their ability to advise farmers. We look forward to seeing this improvement more broadly.


    Intermediate Term Outcomes: Within one year of completing our workshop and adopting our tip sheets, agriculture educators will use their learning to do the following:

    ·      Answer sustainable farm law questions safely, effectively, and with resources that help sustainable farmers move forward with their issue.

    ·      Advise sustainable farmers in legal best practices and principles that will help them develop stable business models that comply with the law.

    ·      Provision government and private resources to sustainable farmers, as allowed by law, without misconceptions about the legality of direct to consumer or sustainable farming.


    Long Term Outcomes: Within 5-10 years of completing our workshop and adopting our tip sheets, we will begin to see the following results in sustainable farmers who received information from participating agriculture educators:

    ·      More quickly resolve legal vulnerabilities because they have access to accurate, timely information that helps them quickly understand their situation and locate the additional resources they need to move forward

    ·      Avoid encountering legal difficulties in the first place because they were aware of laws and legal best practices from the start. Sustainable farmers will learn about legal obligations at the beginning of their farm business, when it is easiest to integrate compliance strategies. Sustainable farmers will develop routines and recordkeeping practices that integrate legal obligations.

    ·      Better access financing and support through private lenders and government programs because lenders have fewer misconceptions and an accurate understanding of the legal stability of sustainable and direct to consumer farming.

    ·      Create legally stronger and more sustainable business models for future farmers to emulate. For example, farms dependent on unpaid interns are not likely creating a stable business model that can be replicated as unpaid interns often violate employment laws. This work will move the sustainable farming community to long-term business models, faster.

    ·      Be more profitable as they spend less time managing legal complications and have expanded access to markets, financing, and opportunity.

    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.