New Workshops Help Farmers Navigate Employment Law

New England farmers looking to hire a farm apprentice or a few employees for the farming season face a web of confusing legal requirements. These requirements can be hard to navigate. For example, what types of farm work qualify for exemptions from minimum wage or overtime? When can a farmer have volunteers help on the farm? What kinds of leave does a farmer need to provide for employees?

The Legal Food Hub is here to help sort through those complex questions. In partnership with New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and Conn, Kavanaugh, Rosenthal, Peisch & Ford, a Boston law firm, we put together a legal guide on employment law for Massachusetts farmers. The guide, written by attorneys Mary O’Neal, Andrew Dennington, and Henry Tran, identifies the key legal issues that farmers should think about when hiring employees. We also hosted a series of workshops and webinars on the topic for farmers across the state. These educational offerings help farmers identify the legal risks in their operations so that they know when to turn to a lawyer for help.

“The issue of whether and how farmers should compensate interns, apprentices, and volunteers is a particularly challenging one,” the team of attorneys from Conn Kavanaugh reports. “Our work for the Legal Food Hub has been a wonderful opportunity for us to share our knowledge with agricultural entrepreneurs who may not otherwise have access to legal services. We also have enjoyed learning more about an emerging growth sector of our region’s economy.”

In other states, we have paired farmers with attorneys in our network to help navigate their employment law questions. When he was hiring an apprentice for the season, Phil Cuddeback of Phil’s Farm in Eliot, Maine, worked with Tom Trenholm of Drummond Woodsum in Portland to answer his questions. And that legal help made a difference. “I now feel confident in my approach to find affordable labor, which is essential in the success of my business,” Phil said.

The Legal Food Hub has just released an employment guide for Rhode Island and is working to develop legal guides and workshops on a range of legal topics. For example, we produced a legal guide on community kitchens and hosted workshops on topics including intellectual property law for food entrepreneurs, business formation for farmers, and leases for farmland. In the coming year, we look forward to providing educational offerings that help farmers and food businesses across the region identify legal challenges and feel prepared to work with one of our volunteer attorneys on their legal needs.

Connecticut Farmers and Local Food Businesses Welcome Legal Food Hub

Getting timely legal assistance can make all the difference for a farm, food business, or community organization. Just ask Suzie Flores and Jay Douglas of Stonington Kelp Company. Suzie and Jay, who operate their new kelp company in Long Island Sound, sought the Legal Food Hub’s help to form a business entity before their first kelp harvest.

In March 2018, the Legal Food Hub launched in Connecticut in partnership with the Ludwig Center for Community and Economic Development and the Environmental Protection Clinic at Yale Law School. The Legal Food Hub’s arrival in Connecticut has been an exciting opportunity to provide accessible legal assistance to farmers and food entrepreneurs in the state.

“The Legal Food Hub comes to Connecticut at a critical time for our state’s agriculture industry,” said State Rep. James Albis. “The average age of farmers in Connecticut is 59 years old – retiring farmers will need help in succession planning to make sure their farms are being preserved, and entrepreneurial farmers will need help getting started as many farms transition from one owner to the next. The Legal Food Hub can help fill the inevitable legal needs of farmers new and retiring alike.”

Since its launch, the Legal Food Hub has served 14 farmers, food entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations in the state. These participants include a mobile farmers’ market, a local refugee assistance project, a nonprofit educational farm, and a small food business that makes products with food that would otherwise be wasted. Our growing network of attorneys in the state has assisted with issues ranging from business formation and employment law to real estate transactions.

The Legal Food Hub has more work to do to support a resilient and sustainable local food system in Connecticut. One study found that only 10% of surveyed farmers use legal services, in contrast to 70% of small businesses in general. There are numerous legal needs associated with starting a farm or business, acquiring land, entering into contracts, transferring land to family members, and other essential business matters. Some farmers and food entrepreneurs who cannot afford legal fees either go without or pay more than they can afford, harming other aspects of their business’s economic viability.

As the Legal Food Hub continues to grow in Connecticut, we are eager to serve more innovative farmers and food businesses across the state. Local farmers and food businesses are at the heart of healthy and thriving communities. A sustainable food system is essential to the health, environment, and economic growth of our communities in Connecticut and throughout New England.

Free Guide Takes Guesswork Out of Hiring for Rhode Island Farmers

Sarah Turkus knows firsthand how difficult it can be to navigate complex legal issues while running a busy small farm. Sarah has been a farmer and youth educator since 2010 and, in her latest endeavor, manages a nonprofit cooperative farm that opened in 2018. In preparing for the farm’s launch, Sarah wanted to ensure that she had a clear understanding of the legal rights and responsibilities of both the farm owners and its employees. With her demanding schedule, however, she simply did not have the time to get up to speed on the numerous employment laws affecting her farm.

She’s not alone. The reality is that small farmers usually lack the time and resources to tackle many legal matters head-on. To help farmers like Sarah, CLF’s Legal Food Hub has released a new guide that makes it easier for them to comply with state and federal employment laws – so they can spend more time growing and producing delicious local food, and less time trying to navigate these complex laws on their own.

Farm Employment Law is Complicated

In Rhode Island, over 90 percent of farms qualify as small farms, growing and selling between $1,000 and $250,000 of agricultural products per year. The state has become a leader in small farm growth in the United States, and this has created a boon for consumers craving local food. To meet this demand, our farmers work tirelessly and face numerous hurdles every day. While many of these challenges are unpredictable or beyond their control, such as low production yields and increasingly extreme weather, others should be more manageable, such as following the letter of the law when hiring an employee or intern.

However, following the letter of the law isn’t always easy because many exceptions and exemptions apply to agricultural work. For example, under both U.S. and Rhode Island employment laws, agricultural employees are exempted from overtime pay requirements if they are doing farm work. That means an employee would not get paid overtime for planting or harvesting work but would when working a stall at a weekly farmers’ market.

Also, even though many farmers call their workers “interns,” federal law prohibits for-profit farmers from hiring people for unpaid internships unless seven specific criteria are met. Rhode Island state law goes even further and prohibits for-profit farms from using volunteers. Usually, this means that all workers at a for-profit farm must be paid as employees unless they qualify as interns under the law. However, many farmers don’t even know that these laws exist and may unintentionally fail to comply with them.

CLF’s New Guide Aims to Help Farmers Navigate Employment Law

Overtime pay and internship requirements are just a few of the employment issues often overlooked or misunderstood by small farmers. Developed in collaboration with Rhode Island employment law attorney Gina DiCenso, the Legal Food Hub’s new employment guide provides an overview and summary of common employment law issues. These include workers’ rights, how a farmer must pay their employees, what time off employees are entitled to, workplace safety requirements, and best practices for employee handbooks. The guide also lists useful resources that farmers can consult for more information. Also, farmers can reach out to the Legal Food Hub for help in navigating these legal issues.

Understanding employment law is essential to protect both farmers and their employees. Ultimately, CLF’s new guide will help our busy small farmers like Sarah Turkus succeed by making it easier for them to understand and address employment law issues proactively. The guide is free to download here. We hope you’ll share it with your local farmers and farm workers so they can spend more time farming and less time dealing with legal issues. The more we can support our farms and farmers, the stronger we can make our local food economy.

Conservation Law Foundation’s Legal Food Hub and Harvard Law Food Law and Policy Clinic Comment on FDA Guidance for the Produce Safety Rules

By Mary Rose Scozzafava

Do you wonder, as a New England farmer, how the new U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Produce Safety Rule applies to you? Have you read the Rule, but thought that it didn’t cover the situations on your farm?  Conservation Law Foundation’s (CLF) Legal Food Hub and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) are speaking up to ensure that the regulations work for New England farmers.

A Voice for New England’s Sustainable Agriculture

New England agriculture is made up of mostly small, diversified farms. Farmers grow and sell a variety of products and engage in many different farming activities, including raising livestock. New England farmers also employ organic farming practices at a higher rate than other regions of the United States.  So, New England farm operations tend to be smaller in acreage, yet more complex than larger operations.

With our local understanding of the unique characteristics of New England’s farm sector, CLF’s Legal Food Hub and Harvard Law School’s FLPC took a look at how new guidance for produce safety will affect our New England farms.  We want to be sure the rule works for farmers here in our region.

New Produce Safety Requirements under FSMA

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011 and required the FDA to write new regulations to create standards for produce safety, called the Produce Safety Rule.  The Produce Safety Rule went into effect on January 26, 2016. The Rule established new standards for the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce for human consumption. Compliance is phased in over a several-year period starting January 2018. This is the first time that farms have had to follow federal food safety regulations.

The FDA recently released a draft guidance on the Produce Safety Rule, which is intended to assist farmers in understanding and implementing the Rule.  The guidance provides a broad range of recommendations on how to meet the requirements of the Rule and some real-life examples. For example, it outlines how to determine whether produce or farms may be eligible for exemptions from certain requirements of the Rule.  However, the guidance is not yet final, and the public was invited to provide comments on how to improve it.

CLF and FLPC Comments Address Needs of New England Farmers

In partnership with FLPC, CLF submitted comments on the Produce Safety Rules draft guidance.  Our comments focused on the impact of the Produce Safety Rule on the small, diversified and sustainable farm practices common to New England.

We made recommendations to make the rules clearer and make implementation easier for New England farmers. For example, our comments requested clearer guidance for gleaners who harvest food from farms for donation. We also recommended that gleaning activities be exempt from the Produce Safety Rule.  In addition, our comments requested more clarification on the status of specific biological soil amendments, including worm castings and vermicomposting, foliar fertilizer, and agricultural tea.

The full comments submitted to the FDA can be viewed here.

The Legal Food Hub is working to help farmers understand how to comply with new requirements under FSMA. Check out a recent webinar on the Produce Safety Rule here.

Legal Food Hub Wraps Up Winter Webinar Series

By Lauren Moore

 

For busy and hardworking small farmers and food entrepreneurs, even a full twenty-four hours in a day is often too short to finish all the tasks that must get done to keep a farm or business running smoothly. It can be especially difficult to find the time and money to address the array of complicated legal issues that farmers and food entrepreneurs often face, such as protecting a business name or complying with food safety rules.

The Legal Food Hub understands how hard folks in our local food system are working to provide local produce and food products across New England. In response, we have been expanding our educational offerings to provide farmers and food entrepreneurs with practical information and resources for both identifying and dealing with common legal issues.

As part of this initiative, we recently held a Winter Webinar Series to demystify some key legal issues for farmers and food entrepreneurs. Topics covered ranged from how to manage student loan debt to how to pay farm employees. Here’s a roundup of the webinars:

  • Words Matter: Protecting Your Trademarks and Copyrights: Presented by Mary Rose Scozzafava, a Senior Fellow at CLF and former Partner at WilmerHale, this webinar walks you through how to choose and register your business name as a trademark and provides tips on avoiding pitfalls and protecting your market brand. Watch the webinar here.
  • Entity Governance for Non-Profits: Developed by the Transactional Law Clinics of Harvard Law School, this webinar explores key legal considerations and best practices for non-profit and charitable organizations. Watch the webinar here.
  • Selected Topics from the FSMA Produce Safety Rule: Presented by attorney Sumana Chintapalli, and Lori Pivarnik from the University of Rhode Island, this webinar provides a brief discussion of portions of the Food Safety Modernization Act Product Safety Rule that are particularly relevant to farmers and food businesses. Watch the webinar here.
  • Legal Considerations of Agricultural Easements: Presented by Beth Boepple of BCM Environment and Land Law, this webinar discusses key legal issues related to agricultural easements that farmers and other landowners may encounter. Watch the webinar here.
  • Employment Law for Farmers in Rhode Island: Presented by Erica Kyzmir-McKeon, a Senior Fellow and attorney at CLF, and attorney Gina A. DiCenso, this webinar provides an overview of common employment law issues, including how farmers must pay their employees, what time off employees are entitled to, and the legal distinctions between unpaid interns, registered apprentices, and volunteers. Watch the webinar here.
  • Student Loan Basics for Farmers: Presented by Erica Kyzmir-McKeon, CLF Senior Fellow and attorney, and Deanne Loonin, attorney with the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, this webinar discusses the different types of student loans and how borrowers can deal with them. Topics include managing repayment, avoiding or getting out of loan default, and loan cancellation. Watch the webinar here.

As farmers start their growing season, the team at the Legal Food Hub will keep working to help farmers and food entrepreneurs flourish by providing the tools to identify and address legal issues. If you’re a farmer or food entrepreneur with a legal question or problem, we encourage you to reach out to us at legalfoodhub@clf.org or 1-844-LAW-GROW. Together, we can build a more resilient local food system.

Advisory: Change in MA overtime pay for agricultural work

Massachusetts farmers and agricultural workers should be aware of a recent court ruling that may affect employees’ wages.

Law firm Conn Kavanaugh provides a brief legal analysis of a recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling, which found that agricultural workers engaged in “Post-Harvesting Activities” are entitled to overtime pay under state law. Find the advisory here and the full court opinion here. If you have you questions, contact the Legal Food Hub to get connected with counsel.

Portland Press Herald Honors Legal Food Hub with Award

The Portland Press Herald announced that the Legal Food Hub is a 2019 winner of a Source Maine Sustainability Award. The Herald highlighted the work that Dave McConnell of Portland law firm Perkins Thompson performed for Crooked Face Creamery. The creamery’s owner, Amy Rowbottom, successfully trademarked her business’ name and logo with McConnell’s assistance.

You can read the full story here.

Legal Food Hub & Hogan Lovells Food Safety Webinars Available Online

The Legal Food Hub and Hogan Lovells teamed up in October to bring Hub participants and attorneys an update about the much-anticipated federal food safety rules. Joe Levitt, a partner at Hogan Lovells and a former director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and Elizabeth Fawell, counsel at Hogan Lovells, presented on two webinars detailing what food entrepreneurs and farmers should expect. The first webinar covered the Preventive Controls rule, which applies to most facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food. The second webinar discussed the Produce Safety rule, which establishes standards for safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables. The webinars introduced the rules, the timeline for implementation, and exemptions that may be relevant to New England farmers and food entrepreneurs.

If you missed the webinars, you can watch them online anytime. Simply click the links below, follow the prompts to register, and you’ll be able to access the presentations.

Watch the webinars here:

“Bangor Daily News”

Bangor Daily News reports on the Maine Legal Food Hub’s 100th case since its launch in the state in late 2015, a milestone that Maine Legal Food Hub coordinator Phelps Turner said demonstrates a need for this type of pro-bono legal assistance for those in the farming and local food realms.

Legal Food Hub Releases Second Annual Report

To celebrate our second year, we’ve released a report detailing our impact and plans for expansion.

Click here to learn more about our work providing pro bono legal services for farmers, food entrepreneurs, and the organizations that support them.

CLF’s Legal Food Hub Crosses 100-Case Mark, Leverages More Than Half Million in Legal Assistance

CLF launched its Legal Food Hub with one goal in mind: keeping New England’s food producers in business. A year and a half into this new program, we are delighted to announce that the Hub has crossed a major threshold in its mission to achieve this goal: we placed our 100th case and crossed the half million dollar mark for pro bono legal assistance leveraged through the program. The program has taken off like wildfire!

The Legal Food Hub provides pro bono legal assistance, workshops, and trainings to farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related organizations in order to foster a sustainable, resilient, and just food system. We launched the Hub with a pilot in Massachusetts in 2014 and expanded to Maine in 2015. In the coming year, we anticipate expansion to Rhode Island, and have plans for the remaining New England states for the future. The image below hits the high points for our progress so far.

1

 

We are pleased that this program has been able to help more than 100 farm and food businesses get started, stay on solid footing, or avoid going out of business. We are deeply grateful to our partners in the legal community who have stepped up by offering their services for free to show support for the farmers and food entrepreneurs that sustain our communities across New England. We look forward to connecting more New England businesses to necessary legal services in the years to come.

To learn more about the Legal Food Hub or sign up to receive updates, please visit: www.legalfoodhub.org.

Maine Hub Reaches Hundreds of Farmers at Agricultural Trades Show

The Maine Legal Food Hub was proud to be part of the 75th Annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show held in January at the Augusta Civic Center. Hub network attorneys and other experts presented 10 workshops for farmers on topics ranging from choosing a legal structure for a farm business, to employment issues, food safety, and farm transition. Thirteen unique presenters connected with over 100 farmers, including many seasoned and aspiring producers.

Two additional sessions gave farmers an opportunity to meet one-on-one with Hub staff and network lawyers. The message to farmers: there are many ways to accomplish farm-related goals, but there are no off-the-shelf solutions. Every farm has unique assets and challenges, so it’s crucial to include an attorney as part of the farm’s advisory team.

In addition to workshops, Hub volunteers reached hundreds more farmers through the information at our exhibition table. Although many of the folks who stopped by had not heard about the project previously, the positive response from everyone we talked to was energizing! There’s clearly a need for the Hub’s core service: matching farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food-system organizations with network lawyers to provide pro bono legal assistance.

 

Legal Food Hub Participants Compete in Challenge Weekend

The weekend before Thanksgiving, ten teams competed to win the first ever Maine Farm, Fish, and Food Innovation Challenge. Two farms receiving assistance through the Legal Food Hub – The Farming Artists and Frinklepod Farm – pitched their creative and sustainable local farming businesses.  Both of these innovative businesses are growing healthful foods and working to scale up local production.

This high-energy weekend had three big goals. First, to transform Maine into the sustainable food production engine for New England… and beyond. Second, to incentivize new businesses that bring more value to local farmers and fishermen. And, finally, to craft food business models that open new ways of getting our food from farm and sea to plate, while baking in social and environmental values.

The Hub was proud to be part of this weekend. We helped teams as they workshopped their business ideas. One of the teams – the New Beet Market – is now receiving legal assistance through the Hub. The weekend illustrated the importance and value of the Legal Food Hub. More and more farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food-related organizations working to grow a socially and environmentally responsible food system are receiving assistance through the Hub, getting trainings on critical legal issues, and connecting with myriad other individuals and organizations helping to grow our community-based food system in Maine.

Frinklepod Farm and the New Beet Market tied for second place. Read more about all the winners here. The Hub congratulates everyone that competed during the weekend. It proved a valuable experience for all teams to receive technical assistance and focus intensively on their businesses.

Legal Services Food Hub Launches First Annual Report

To celebrate our first year, we’ve just launched a special, interactive year-in-review website.

Click here to learn more about our work providing pro bono legal services for farmers, food entrepreneurs, and the organizations that support them in Maine and Massachusetts.