Sustainable Farm Law 101 for Agriculture Professionals and Educators

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $74,947.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2020
Grant Recipient: Farm Commons
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Rachel Armstrong
Farm Commons


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism, business planning, labor/employment
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    This project will develop 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 will achieve this result by training Farm Service Agency staff, Extension staff, Resource Conservation and Development staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service staff, community lending entities and loan officers, nonprofit farm advocates, and nonprofit farm education staff in the basics of sustainable farm law. Our workshops will dispel sustainable farm law myths and give educators the basic tools they need to guide sustainable farmers, without overstepping their professional bounds. Training will occur through development of six workshops that increase agricultural educators' knowledge and confidence in farm law. The workshops will instruct, build confidence, dispel myths, and provide an opportunity for networking. Farmers will serve as workshop co-presenters to ensure the on-farm perspective is highlighted. Agricultural educators will also receive six new tip sheets to help them facilitate resolution of sustainable farm law issues. The tip sheets will serve as internal education and as handouts for farmers, as suits the participating organization. The project team will also adapt 12 existing tip sheets to include state-specific details as necessary to cover each state included. Tip sheets will be distributed widely. We will make sure the project deliverables address the legal issues educators face, and provide the most practical solutions by conducting informational interviews as the project's first step. Project participants will also provide feedback on tip sheets as they are developed.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    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) land leasing and purchasing, 2) Farm employment law, including minimum wage and workers' compensation issues, 3) Food safety laws and regulations, including new obligations for produce and diversified farms under FSMA, the nature of liability, food safety-based regulation of value added production, 4) Business entities, including LLC or S Corporation, and what these entities do to protect the farm, 5) Sales regulations including permissibility of direct to consumer sales under the Food Code, and 6) Agritourism and value-added production related issues such as sales tax, liability for injury, zoning, and insurance complications. 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. For example, in our 2016 project, participants wanted resources on chemical/pesticide drift response and on fence law.).
    • Increased clarity about the legal position of sustainable and direct to consumer farms within legal frameworks. At present, there are misconceptions within the broader community about sustainable farm law. For example, some think that direct sales to schools, restaurants, or institutional buyers are not legal. However, 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.
    • Integration of legal education into programming. At least 8 educators will integrate knowledge gained into their existing programming including instructing on farm law, regularly handing out a tip sheet, or including our materials in course packets.

    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 ee 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. Sustainable farmers will develop routines and recordkeeping practices that integrate legal obligations.
    • Better access financing and support through private lenders and government programs with fewer misconceptions and an accurate understanding of the legal stability of sustainable farming.
    • Create legally stronger and more sustainable business models for future farmers to emulate. 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.