Empowering Southern Sustainable Farmers with Proactive, Community-centered Farm Law Education, Resources, and Networks

Project Overview

LS21-346
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $45,096.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipients: Farm Commons; Georgia Organics
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Eva Moss
Farm Commons
Co-Investigators:

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, apprentice/intern training, community-supported agriculture, farm succession, financial management, labor/employment, new enterprise development, risk management, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life

    Proposal abstract:

    Business formation, sales contracts, farmland leases, loans, employment law regulations, food safety liability, crop insurance, liability for slips or falls, partnership negotiations, succession and more plague farmers and ranchers during the life cycle of the farm. Distracting them from their core work and draining the farm of resources, these issues affect quality of life and destabilize our innovative direct to consumer and organic farms. This project will change that. By creating an ecosystem of support, farmers are empowered to make the risk reducing changes that they want for their business.

    The starting point is our Cultivating Your Legally Resilient Farm Workshop curriculum which sees 70% of farmers reducing legal risk through at least one action step taken within 3 months, with 4 more steps planned for a year’s time. (Citation 1) Our workshops leverage peer to peer support as farmers identify and instigate solutions to business law needs like insurance, written leases, zoning code compliance, and employment rules, to name a few. The project begins with the project team (Farm Commons, Georgia Organics, and our farmer co-leaders) reviewing needs and legal challenges for Georgia producers. Then, Farm Commons’ attorney experts research Georgia law and adapt the curriculum to speak to regional challenges. Next, we build in mechanisms for farmer co-leaders to support peers by sharing their own wisdom and perspective on the law. Our curriculum emphasizes creativity, relationships, and communication as keys to proactively addressing legal complications, which is far more successful than teaching detailed legal minutiae.

    We build on this base to ensure the project meets the diverse needs of Georgia producers. An online workshop allows us to reach producers who perhaps have health complications, transportation issues, and/or family obligations. It also insulates the project from the risks of our current global pandemic. We also develop a print guide to assist book learners, which we call the Guide to Cultivating Your Legally Resilient Farm in Georgia. This guide provides tangible learning tools to support implementation of the 10 best practices for legal resilience. For example, it’s not enough to tell a producer to call their insurance agent with questions. A script and suggestions on how to respond if the insurance agent doesn’t deliver a sufficient answer is more helpful.

    We don’t stop at education. Follow up sessions help participants dig in deep on the action steps they choose for their farm. By bringing producers together to share their experiences, we create a space for brainstorming around shared challenges and for collective action to eliminate persistent barriers. As to persistent barriers, issues of racial inequality is high on the list.

    By proactively addressing legal issues, we can prevent the failure of farm businesses due to inadequate insurance, partner disputes, lost sales contracts, lost farmland access, unpredictable debt and more, thus improving quality of life for farmers. This project also improves profitability by reducing the likelihood of expensive legal complications, while ensuring sustainable farm businesses thrive, thus improving environmental quality and building more just food system.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objectives:

    1. Host 2 Cultivating Your Legally Resilient Farm workshops, both held online. Each course will be held over a different 5-week period in Winter 2021-2022. 125 farmers total will attend the workshops.
    2. Host 2 workshop follow up sessions for farmers to share challenges in implementing their action plans and find support in early Winter 2022.
    3. Research, write, and distribute a guide to Cultivating Your Legally Resilient Farm in Georgia, given to all workshop participants and distributed online to an additional 75 farmers.

    Short Term Outcomes:

    1. 200 farmers learn the 10 legal best management practices across 5 subjects including employment law, diversification, business structures, land matters, and liability/insurance. This is 100% of the 200 total famers this project reaches.
    2. 180 farmers gain at least one of 5 essential legal risk reducing skills including analyzing insurance needs, discussing leasing terms, identifying diversification liability risks, assessing the value of workers’ compensation, and selecting an appropriate business structure for their goal. This is 100% of the 125 farmers reached in the workshop plus 73% of those who access the print guide alone. Because it is harder to verify that those reading the print guide are actually doing the exercises and gaining the skills, we reduce the success rate to 73% based on past experience.
    3. 140 farmers become more legally resilient by successfully implementing at least 4 of the 10 legal best management practices. This is 80% of the 125 farmers reached in the workshop plus 53% of those who access the print guide alone. As above, because it is harder to verify that those reading the print guide have implemented their action plans, we reduce the success rate to 53% based on past experience.
    4. 126 farmers feel more empowered to recognize and address legal risk on their operations and within their community. This is 63% of farmers reached through the project as a whole, consistent with past experience.
    5. 2 farmers assume leadership among peers on proactive resolution of legal issues by leading parts of the CYRLF workshops and follow up sessions.

    Long Term Outcomes

    1. Farms with the most complex legal risk vulnerability (direct to consumer, organic, and agritourism-based operations) become stronger and more resilient.
    2. Sustainable farms approach risk management confidently, with legal background information and knowledge of the resources and opportunities available to them.
    3. Sustainable farmers establish connections to peers as they define and achieve their risk management goals, all of which sustain beyond the life of this project.
    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.