Guide to Financing the Community Supported Farm
All primary authors of the guide met in March to establish an action plan for meeting the goals of the project and working towards the primary project output: publishing a 35-page, easy-to-read, relevant and accurate guide for farmers on complementary financing mechanisms. Primary authors attending the meeting include four farmers, two attorneys, two financial experts and three agricultural service providers. Using the guide outline in the SARE proposal, the group detailed and confirmed relevant subject matter to be included in the guide.
Authors commenced legal research and information compilation during the summer of 2011. Farmer partners were not active during this time, but this was anticipated and the deadline for written submissions was set purposely at November 21 to accommodate farmers’ busy schedules during the growing season. Most authors were able to submit drafts by November 21, but a few could not meet this deadline. This posed a challenge to compile all submissions into a master draft of the guide to hand to the review team before December 1 as promised. The project coordinator sent the entire project team, primary authors and members of the review team, the draft guide on December 5, 2011.
The deadline for the end of the review phase was set for January 6, 2012, but some reviewers have submitted their feedback already. The project coordinator has begun to compile feedback and suggestions, and the review process, with only about 25% of the 18 reviewers responding early, has been already been a success in producing meaningful feedback that will improve the guide’s readability, accuracy, and relevance to farmers exploring ways to partner with community members for financing of operations.
• Produce a 30-page resource guide that provides farmers with clarity about which alternative financing methods might be useful for partnering with members of their communities, and how to employ these methods legally and effectively.
We accomplished our goal of drafting at least 30 pages of relevant content. In fact, the master draft contains over 40 pages of content, images and text boxes. The feedback that we have obtained one farmer on our review team was positive; she expressed that the guide was indeed useful and provided timely information as she was in the process of exploring the same types of financing mechanisms that the guide covers.
• Put together a team of six farmers, five attorneys, five agricultural service providers, and two financial experts to produce a guide that will help farmers in the Northeast identify practical financing alternatives.
The team has come together nicely and all participants have fulfilled their commitments and tasks that were planned to date. A couple of other agricultural service providers have taken interest in the project and have volunteered to join the review team or assist in answering content-related questions. The project coordinator met with three other administrative assistants, who have also committed to join the team during the proofreading, copy editing and typesetting stages early next year prior to publishing on March 1, 2012.
• Provide farmers with tools and awareness of key legal considerations so they can craft financial agreements for community supported farms in a manner that reduces legal risk, and leaves farmers and community supporters legally protected and better off than they were before.
The guide has not yet been published or used by farmers, so we have not yet been able to assess whether or not our guide has assisted farmers in this way.
1. Brought all project participants together in one meeting venue to launch the project.
This was an interesting meeting, because farmers rarely get to brainstorm collaboratively with attorneys and visa versa. The meeting was well attended, and all participants had the chance to thoroughly voice their ideas. We realized that we would have benefitted from having more experts at the table, namely an accountant. It was clear after draft submissions in November that there still were many questions that remained for an accountant that was not initially included on our team.
2. All drafts submitted by Novemeber 21, 2011.
The project coordinator communicated personally with many of the authors to clarify what content should be covered, and to confirm that the deadline could be met. However, some authors could not submit their draft on time. This was a surprise, as it delayed the ability for the project coordinator to compile all of the submissions into one master draft in preparation for the review phase before the scheduled review phase start date. Lesson learned: When working with a large group of authors such as this one (about ten authors), give them a deadline before you actually want the drafts submitted! That way, late submissions won’t delay critical next steps.
3. All drafts compiled into a master draft before commencement of the review phase.
The compilation of all drafts was delayed by late submissions from a few authors. It was further complicated by the fact that some submissions were not formatted in a way that made compiling seamless. For example, some authors used google docs, some used Word, and some submitted pdfs. A larger hurdle was the fact that there were a lot of changes that could be made to content to make it more clear before handing over the master draft to review team. However, due to the late draft submissions, the window of time before the scheduled start of the review phase had already closed. The project coordinator did not have the chance to engage in copy editing at this time. The lesson learned is that more time needs to be allotted in similar situations prior to when a review team is ready to review a publication.
4. Identify a strategy for graphic design and guide formatting
This milestone was completed successfully with advice from several University of Vermont Extension educators and administrative associates. We were able to recruit two admin associates with a combined 40 years of experience in copy editing and proofreading.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The guide has yet to be published and disseminated to our primary audience, farmers exploring mechanisms for “community financing.” It has also not yet made it into the hands of secondary beneficiaries, such as members of communities interested in supporting farms. We did, however, have strong participation from each project participant. All participants produced some form of meaningful educational materials.
There was also significant interest expressed among agricultural service providers outside of our guide team. On May 23rd, 2011, the project coordinator was invited by Cornell University Small Farms Program to deliver a fifteen minute webinar presentation about the project and its methods. About twenty service providers were in attendance during this presentation. The project coordinator has answered roughly ten other inquiries from organizations outside of the project team who have heard about the guide production and were curious for more information.
In addition, the guide was highlighted in a panel discussion at a recent conference, Financing the Working Landscape on November 10th in Middlebury Vermont. Both farmers and investors expressed eager anticipation to read the guide when it becomes available.