2024 Winter Webinar Series

Each winter, the Legal Food Hub runs a free webinar series to help inform farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food and farm organizations about important legal topics relevant to their businesses.

Watch recordings of all four Winter Webinars below or in our Resource Library.

Photo of attorney Erika Dunyak. Light-skinned femme person with short, brown hair and glasses. She is smiling at the camera and wearing a short-sleeved, button up shirt with vertical light and mid-blue stripes

February 15: Cooperatives

Attorney Erika Dunyak, Vermont Law and Graduate School

Cooperatives as a business structure help maximize resources and distribute profits equally among members. They can also foster a strong community since members work and vote alongside each other. Join this session to learn about the different types of cooperatives and what to consider before filing.

About Erika Dunyak (click to expand)

Erika Dunyak is a staff attorney at the Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems. Her work focuses on (1.) the nexus of food systems and business law and (2.) perennial beverage regulation, especially of wine and viticulture. Erika’s career has spanned academia and private practice. In private practice, Erika worked with Jason Wiener, p.c, a boutique social enterprise law firm, where she helped clients make practical and legally compliant decisions related to formation, financing, commercial relationships, and dissolution. Erika works with all types of entities but has a particular love of cooperative

Photo of attorney Sean Fontes. Black man with very short hair, wearing a grey suit jacket, light blue buttoned shirt, and red and blue bow tie. He is smiling at the camera

February 22: Agricultural Labor Laws

Attorney Sean Fontes, Partridge Snow & Hahn

Understanding guidelines for classifying employees (intern, part-time, seasonal, full-time, etc.) is important for remaining in compliance with labor laws. Join Attorney Sean Fontes to learn about employee rights, benefits, minimum wage, pay equity, and overtime for different employee types. This session is informational for employers at all stages of hiring but especially for first-time employers.

About Sean Fontes (click to expand)

Sean M. Fontes, Esq. is Counsel in the Employment Law Practice Group. Attorney Fontes led the Legal Division at the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training for 12 years, serving under three administrations. In addition to his position at the DLT, Attorney Fontes led a private practice servicing clients in Massachusetts and was an adjunct professor at Roger Williams University, teaching employment and labor law.

Attorney Fontes is a graduate of Boston College Law School, licensed to practice law in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. He has over 19 years of legal experience in labor and employment law, civil litigation, corporate law, and intellectual property law and is a frequent lecturer on current topics in labor and employment law.

Attorney Fontes also holds an Executive Leadership Certificate from Harvard Kennedy School of Government and holds government and private board appointments for the Town of Randolph Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Randolph Redevelopment Authority, Thurgood Marshal Law Society, the Boston College Black Alumni Network,
and the Boston College Law School/Rappaport Center for Law and he is a member of the Sigma II class of Leadership Rhode Island and also serves on the Board of Governors for Leadership Rhode Island.

Photo of attorney Andrew Marchev. Light-skinned main with short, brown hair and a short, brown beard and mustache, He wears a dark green suit jacket and pale button up shirt. He is smiling at the camera and standing in front of landscaped flowers and a government building.

February 29: Easements

Andrew Marchev, Christina Reiter, and Veronica Gassert; Three Rivers Law

Easements on a piece of property significantly influence how land can be used. Attorney Andrew Marchev and Veronica Gassert present the different types of easements and common conditions found in each.

About Andrew Marchev (click to expand)

Andrew represents a wide array of clients, including farmers, food entrepreneurs and working lands enterprises. Andrew assists clients with wills, probating estates, landlord-tenant issues, land use and general civil litigation. He also helps clients with farm succession planning, which often requires creating a business entity and transferring land. Additionally, Andrew has helped clients with navigating land conservation regulations, and with legal compliance generally.

In addition to his practice experience, Andrew brings knowledge gained from his work with the Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and as a field hand for Schoolhouse Farm.

Photo of attorney Christina Licursi. Light-skinned woman with shoulder-length blonde-grey hair. She wears a dark blue blazer, white buttoned shirt, and she is smiling at the camera.

March 7: Branding Best Practices

Christina Licursi, Wolf Greenfield

As a small business owner, you want to develop and protect your brand, but you don’t yet have the funds to file for trademark protection. Attorney Christina Licursi covers steps you can take to have some level of protection from the beginning as well as when to take the plunge and file for protection.

About Christina Licursi (click to expand)

Christina Licursi focuses her practice on global portfolio management, counseling, and advising clients on a wide range of intellectual property matters, including branding strategies and protection, trademark and copyright infringement matters, licensing issues, and domain name disputes. With over a decade of experience, Christina has demonstrated experience in connection with developing, using, registering, licensing, and enforcing trademarks and copyrights. Her experience encompasses both trademark prosecution and litigation, including representing clients in federal courts across the country and before the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). In addition to trademark matters, she also handles various copyright issues, domain names and related disputes, and social media and internet matters.

2022 Year in Review

In 2022, the Legal Food Hub helped more than 90 farmers and food businesses get the legal help they need with the support of our network of pro bono attorneys. We published new legal guides on topics that ranged from agricultural employment law to nonprofit governance. We offered a winter webinar series that addressed participants’ most pressing legal concerns. And we delivered in-person trainings about farmland contamination, land access, and entity formation. 

Read the full 2022 Annual Report here.

Hannan Healthy Foods Hires Their First Employee

Mohammad Hannan of Hannan Healthy Foods Farm grows certified organic vegetables on seven acres of conserved agriculture land owned by the town of Lincoln, MA. He sells his produce at the farmstand in Lincoln, through a CSA, and at the East Somerville Farmers Market.

For the 2022 season, Mohammad added his first employees! Mr. Hannan needed an attorney to review an employment agreement that he had drafted to make sure it complies with all applicable employment laws. He will use this agreement as a template for all future employees.

The Legal Food Hub matched Mr. Hannan with Attorney Mae Stiles of Fierst Bloomberg Ohm. With years of experience in corporate and licensing matters, Mae was the perfect attorney to get Mohammad confidently prepared for the next phase of his business venture.  

2023 Winter Webinar Series

Laws of the Land: What to Know About Your Farm BEFORE You Commit
Wednesday, Feb 1st, 12:00-1:15EST
Presenters: Attorney Laura Hartz and Attorney Stacey Caulk, Drummond Woodsum

You’ve heard the phrase ‘location, location, location’ when it comes to choosing a home. It’s no different for farmers when choosing a site for their farm business. All sites come with unique conditions that impact the farm’s viability, including physical characteristics, zoning restrictions, federal and state permitting requirements, and pre-existing third-party rights of neighbors, landlords, tenants, easement holders, or lenders. This webinar will cover the who, what, how, where, and most importantly, why, of identifying the unique characteristics and regulatory requirements tied to your future farm property before you sign on the dotted line.

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Hosting a Food Focused Event: The Legal Side of a Delicious Activity
Wednesday, February 8th, 12:00-1:15EST
Presenters: Corie Pierce, Bread and Butter Farm VT
                   Dr. Lisa Chase, University of Vermont
                   Attorney Andrew Marchev, Fellow at Vermont Law School

Hosting an event with food on your farm is a great way to gather your community, educate the public about farming, and grow your business. Join this webinar to learn about next steps to safely and legally offer samples, host a tasting, farm to table meal, or other event with food on your farm. During the session we will hear from Corie Pierce, owner of Bread and Butter Farm in Shelburne, Vermont and regular host of burger nights. We will also hear from Andrew Marchev, Legal Fellow at the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems and Lisa Chase, Agritourism Expert at University of Vermont Extension.

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Media and Marketing 101
Wednesday, February 15th, 12:00-1:15EST
Presenters: Attorneys Elliot Brake, Kevan Lee Deckelmann, Chad W. Higgins, Matthew J.  Saldaña, Bernstein Shur

As a small business, you are likely using emails, text, and social media to advertise your business and communicate with your customers. You may also have your own webpage spotlighting customer reviews and other content. With all these forms of social media and communication comes a web of laws that are difficult to navigate. During this webinar, a team of attorneys from Bernstein Shur will help you detangle these laws. We will cover topics such as email, text, and social media marketing, claim substantiation, website policies, the proper use of logos and other copyrighted material, endorsements, testimonials, and customer reviews, and other hot topics in advertising law.

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Onboarding New Employees
Wednesday, February 22, 12:00-1:15EST
Presenter: Attorney Tara Walker, Bernstein Shur

Congratulations! Your small business is ready to hire your first employees. This is both an exciting and daunting process. Luckily, we have Tara Walker of Bernstein Shur Portland, Maine who will walk you through this process. Tara will cover common legal traps for the hiring manager in the hiring and interview process, she will provide a checklist of best practices, and recommended documentation for your new employees.

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Selling Value-Added Products on the Farm
Wednesday, March 1, 12:00-1:15EST
Presenter: Legal Services Specialist Christine Dzujna, Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund

If you are a farmer interested in opening a farmstand on your property, please join us to learn about key federal, state and local regulations that impact small food producers who seek to make and sell value-added products from home.  We will cover what’s allowed when selling meat, eggs, dairy, cottage foods such as pickles and baked goods, and more, and explore the legal solutions that can help these businesses grow and thrive.  

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Keith Richard

Distinguished Service Attorney: Keith Richard

Keith Richard of Archipelago in Portland, ME has been an outstanding partner for the Legal Food Hub over the past few years, taking on matters ranging from contract disputes to LLC formations, to negotiating the sale of a conservation easement.  He is particularly passionate about working with farmers and small business owners, tackling food waste, and composting.  Keith’s broad skillset and tireless advocacy have made him an indispensable partner for the Hub.  

In addition to his service to the Legal Food Hub, Keith has also taken on pro bono matters from the Volunteer Lawyers Project, the Eviction Defense Program of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, and Legal Services for the Elderly. He was recently recognized for the fifth consecutive year by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s Katahdin Counsel Program for his pro bono work.  He first began accepting referrals from the Hub in his prior position at Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion in Kennebunk, ME, and moved to Archipelago in June of 2022.  He will continue to assist Legal Food Hub participants in his new role. 

Thank you for your contribution to the local food movement, Keith!  

Expansion of USDA Mediation Services for NH and VT Farmers

The Agricultural Mediation Programs in Vermont and New Hampshire recently expanded the list of approved issues that qualify for free mediation to include easements, contracts, and labor issues.

“Farmers and other agricultural businesses in these situations find themselves in disputes with landowners, employees, or other entities,” Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program (VTAMP) Director, Matt Strassberg said. “Both sides often try everything to fix the problem on their own but aren’t able to make the progress they hoped for.”

Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process where an impartial person (mediator) helps parties resolve their differences and negotiate agreements. The programs are supported by the USDA and the departments of agriculture in each state.

Recent data from the organizations show success rates of over 80% when mediation is tried before resorting to arbitration, litigation, or some other dispute resolution method.

“Farming is a round-the-clock demanding job. By nature, farmers are highly resourceful and skilled at solving problems. Yet we’re seeing an increase in complex disputes that leave farmers feeling stretched thin,” Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts said. “This service is a lifeline that helps farmers get back to doing what they love.”

Read more

2022 Winter Webinar Series

Starting Your Farm or Food Business: The Role of Succession Planning 

Presenter: Kim Memmesheimer, Hoefle, Phoenix, Gormley & Roberts, PLLC 

When you’re forming your LLC or other business entity, it is important to plan for the future. This webinar will prepare you with key questions to consider about succession planning when forming your business.

Labeling Your Food Product 

Presenter: Rachel Gartner, Faegre, Drinker Biddle and Reath

Small food businesses and farms with value-added processing often sell their products locally, but understanding the Food and Drug Administration’s rules for labeling those products can be challenging. This webinar will prepare you to feel confident creating a food label and selling your product.

Elements of a Farmland Lease: What Farmers Need to Know  

Presenter: Jeff Polubinski, Gravel & Shea 

When a farmer works with a landowner to put together a farmland lease, there are many important considerations. This webinar will inform farmers and nonprofit farm organizations about the key elements that should be in a farmland lease.

Employment Law for Maine Farmers: WOOFers, Volunteers, and CSA Workers 

Presenter: Tom Trenholm, Drummond Woodsum 

Navigating employment laws on your farm can be a challenging task. This webinar will help Maine farmers understand how to handle various workers on your farm, including WOOFers, volunteers, and CSA workers. 

Your Legal Toolkit for Starting a Farm

Presenter: Amy Manzelli, BCM Environmental & Land Law 

When you’re starting a farm business, there are lots of important legal issues to consider, from what type of business entity you’ll form to how to protect yourself from liability and plan for the future. This comprehensive webinar will equip farmers with the legal know-how to tackle these key decisions and start off on a strong legal footing.

Launching in New Hampshire

The Legal Food Hub is thrilled to announce it will begin offering services in New Hampshire on November 4th 2021. We look forward to becoming a part of the New Hampshire food network and doing our best to support and grow a sustainable food system.

Beginning November 4th 2021, if you are a farmer, food entrepreneur, or nonprofit in the food space and you are in need of legal services, please fill out our application. We will respond within 48 business hours and work towards getting you the legal help you need, pro bono.

If you are a stakeholder of the New Hampshire food system, we’d like to get to know you! Email our program coordinator, Mary Egan at mlovellegan@clf.org to set up a brief informational session.

If you are an attorney barred in New Hampshire and interested in providing pro bono services, we welcome you to our network. Email our program coordinator, Mary Egan at mlovellegan@clf.org to set up a meet’n’greet.

With excitement,

The Legal Food Hub Team

The Biden Administration Carves Out Relief for Farmers of Color

For generations, farmers of color, including Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Asian farmers, have struggled against systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt. This struggle has been exacerbated recently by a disproportionate amount of COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations, death, and job loss experienced by these groups. At the same time, more than 370 million acres of our nation’s farmland is poised to change hands over the next decade, creating an opportunity to provide expanded access to farmland for historically marginalized farmers. The Biden administration is taking steps to address these inequities in our farming communities.

The American Rescue Plan

Tucked inside the $1.9 trillion America Rescue Plan (the “Plan”) bill signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, is $5 billion worth of aid to help farmers of color. The money would support programs for farm debt relief as well as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants, training, education and other forms of assistance.

The Plan provides $4 billion toward debt relief for farmers of color to pay off burdensome debts that have prevented them from making a living or investing in the profitability and efficiency of their farms.  Loan payments are available for up to 120% of USDA direct farm loans or USDA-guaranteed loans. The additional 20% above the loan amount is intended to pay off early-payment penalties, taxes or other fees associated with debt relief. According to the New York Times, the USDA estimates that it could provide debt relief for as many as 15,000 loans, and it is asking lenders to halt any pending farm forfeitures tied to loans guaranteed by its Farm Service Agency.

The USDA will receive an additional $1 billion to invest in land access, outreach, education, assistance overcoming barriers to access to USDA programs, and business development. The Plan also funds a racial equity commission to address longstanding discrimination across the USDA and provides financial support for research and education at historically Black colleges and land grant universities. In a nod to the importance of preserving working farmland as it transitions to the next generation, the Plan also provides resources to address heirs’ property issues, for example by clearing up title to the farmland and preventing partitioning of the land. 

Pandemic Assistance for Producers

In addition, the USDA had created a $6 billion Pandemic Assistance for Producers program, that will target farmers who did not benefit from previous rounds of pandemic-related assistance, including farmers of color. The program expands the popular Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that provides relief payments to farmers and will establish partnerships with grassroots organizations to assist farmers with the application process.

Impact on New England Farmers

While the 2017 Agricultural Census changed its reporting method to include more producers overall, New England’s Black farming population has more than tripled since 2007 to 405 farm producers according to the 2017 Agriculture Census. Asian and Hispanic farmers numbers have also increased, although white farmers still make up over 97% of New England farmers. While farming has grown increasingly diverse in New England, many farmers of color do not own the land they farm.  Black farmers are much more likely to rent land; in fact, in fact 78% are tenants who rely solely on rented land to farm. About 20% of Asian farmers and 10% of Hispanic farmers also farm solely on rented lands. In contrast, a majority of U.S. farmland is owner-operated—just over 60 percent, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture. 

The American Rescue Plan debt forgiveness would help New England farmers by reducing the debt burden on existing farms. In addition to the threat of losing the farm if the loan is not repaid, debt makes it difficult to obtain the credit necessary to purchase farm equipment and supplies.  Reducing debt makes it easier for farmers to invest in their current properties to run them more efficiently and profitably.

However, the Plan’s impact is hampered by the low number of farmers of color who hold USDA loans. Black farmers have loans at significantly lower rates than the national average, which is not surprising since Black farmers were historically denied USDA loans that were easily obtained by white farmers.  When socially disadvantaged farmers are unable to access credit in the first place, whether to buy land or purchase farm equipment, they have fewer loan debts to forgive. Indeed the 15,000 loans that may be eligible for debt forgiveness will affect only a fraction of the 240,00 farmers nationally that identified as Hispanic, Black, Indigenous or Asian in the 2017 Agricultural Census. This underscores the importance of increasing farmland ownership and access to credit for farmers of color in our region.

Increasing technical support and access to USDA programs — initiatives found in both the American Rescue Plan and the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative — may have broader and more significant impact on New England farmers. These programs will improve access to tools farmers need to run their farm businesses better and are aimed at helping farmers of color acquire and maintain their land and level their footing with white farmers.  According to Jim Habana Hafner, executive director of Land For Good, these programs help lower barriers for accessing resources and correct historical and structural inequities, which will create farming opportunities for farmers of color.

The devil, as they say, is in the details. It will be weeks before we know how the USDA will prioritize programs and allocate resources, both among the many USDA programs and across the country. Oversight of the programs, especially by people of color, is key to assure that the programs are managed to meet the legislative objective of “assisting and supporting socially disadvantaged farmers.” Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack has voiced support for addressing systemic discrimination at the USDA, stating during a March 25, 2021 congressional hearing on Black farming, “Let me be clear: There is no place in the USDA for discrimination — none.” Vilsack can begin the process by placing more people of color in positions of leadership of these and other programs at the USDA. Support at this highest level is necessary to begin to address the generational losses of Black farmers and support our diverse farming community.

In conclusion, the USDA programs aim to provide both immediate debt relief and longer-term support that will help farmers of color with land security, land acquisition and land succession. Farmers are urged to contact their local Farm Services Agency to learn more about these program. 

Free Winter Webinar Series

The Legal Food Hub’s free annual Winter Webinar Series began on Tuesday, February 16th. Each week we spent an hour covering a legal topic of significance to New England farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food-oriented nonprofits.

Understanding Purchase and Sale Agreements in Real Estate Transactions

A purchase and sale agreement is the document that establishes the steps of the transaction, as well as the responsibilities of the Seller and the Buyer. Purchasing real estate can seem like a complicated process but we will walk you through it.

During this webinar, Massachusetts attorney Richard Cavanaugh of Common Grow, LLC will discuss typical provisions in a purchase and sale agreement. He will also cover some other issues – like zoning and wetland restrictions – that you should consider when deciding whether or not to buy a property.

Presenter: Attorney Rich Kavanaugh, Common Grow LLC.

Resolving Challenging Issues through Agricultural Mediation

Sometimes, as a farmer, you find yourself stuck or facing a conflict. Whether your business has been threatened, a creditor is hounding you, or a neighbor is making complaints about your farm, you are not alone. The USDA’s certified Agricultural Mediation programs can help you through these situations.

The mediation program is a free service that gives all voices an opportunity to be heard and work together toward a solution that works for everyone. In this webinar, you will have a chance to meet Agricultural mediators in New England. They will give you an overview of the program and share some stories that illustrate the effectiveness of their work.

Presenter: Matt Strassberg, Director of the Environmental Mediation Center

Hiring Your First Farm Employees

Congratulations! Your farm business has grown, and you are in dire need of hiring some help. Enter employment law – specifically, agricultural employment law. Join our one-hour webinar to learn the general laws that you are required to follow as an agricultural employer. We will cover important pay considerations, how to get employees properly set up, and best practices to avoid discrimination lawsuits. After this session, you will feel confident to make your first hires.

Presenter: Attorney John S. Gannon, Skoler-Abbott LLC.

Opening Your Farm to Visitors and Controlling for Liability

From farm dinners to CSA pick-ups, and from Airbnb to educational programs, you might open your farm to friends, neighbors, and even tourists. As you welcome visitors to your farm, you need to be ready to handle the myriad of risks that they bring with them. Join us to receive practical advice from an agritourism expert, an insurance agent, and an attorney. Each will provide you with tools to prepare for the worst and enjoy the best.

Presenters: Attorney Mary Rose Scozzafava; Stuart Farnham, AFIS Vice President of Frazer Insurance Agency, Inc.; Lisa Chase, University of Vermont Agritourism Expert

Options for Forming a Social Enterprise

As a farmer or food entrepreneur, you may want to create a successful business while also working for social good. In a social enterprise, these goals go hand-in-hand. In this webinar, we’ll discuss the details of a social enterprise. And, we will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of common business structures that can be the foundation for your social enterprise (sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, corporations, co-ops, and non-profits).

Presenters: Colin Antaya, Legal Fellow for Conservation Law Foundation; Kohei Ishihara, Owner of Movement Ground Farm

Massachusetts Covid Resources for Farmers and Small Businesses

Below are some resources that will assist you as you navigate legal issues raised by Covid-19.

Firms Publishing COVID-19 Help Articles:
Bulkley Richardson
Nixon Peabody
Pierce Atwood

Additional Resources for Farmers:
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture Farmers and business owners, CISA wants to hear from you. How is this affecting you, your employees, your sales? What sort of support do you need? Are you making changes to your business that we can help promote?
COVID-19 Guidance for Farmers Markets, Farm Stands, & CSA Guidance Massachusetts Department of Agriculture gives guidance on farmers markets, farm stands and community supported agriculture.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health Order of the Commissioner of Public Health for Farmers Markets, Farm Stands, and CSAs
Mass.gov COVID-19 Resources for Agriculture In response to the spread of COVID-19 and the measures being taken to address it, Massachusetts Department of Agriculture has compiled a list of resources to keep our agricultural community informed and aware of relevant policies and best practices.

Additional Resources for Small Business (could apply to farmers as well):
Covid Relief Coalition Provides services to small business owners and non-profits who have been affected by COVID-19.  Specifically, it will provide pro-bono services to applicable businesses
City of Boston:  Coronavirus Resources for Businesses
Kiva Microloans LISC is offering KIVA micro-loans, which are “interest free, fee free, character-based loans of up to $15K, with 50% crowdfunded and 50% matched by LISC”.
Massachusetts Food Trust Program Improving Food Security Access throughout the Commonwealth.
ICIC Small Business Resource Center for Covid-19.
The Boston Foundation The COVID-19 Response Fund has been established by a coalition of business, government and philanthropic partners to rapidly deploy flexible resources to organizations in Greater Boston that are working with communities that are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Boston Foundation Other Covid-19 resources and grants for businesses.

Please feel free to email us at legalfoodhub@clf.org with any questions and we will do our best to help.

New England-wide Covid Resources for Farmers and Small Businesses

Land for Good Regional land trust’s compilation of resources for farmers and food systems.
New England Grassroots Environment Fund Grant money available for community-based projects responding to COVID needs in all New England states.
Farm to Institution: COVID-19 Resources A comprehensive list and forum for all things farming and COVID-19.
You, COVID-19, and Your Farm Business A review of your business plan, communicating with your customers, taking stock of your business, and pivoting to reach your customers even better.

Please feel free to email us at legalfoodhub@clf.org with any questions and we will do our best to help.

Connecticut Covid Resources for Farmers and Small Businesses

Firms Publishing COVID-19 Help Articles:
Carlton Fields
Day Pitney
Robinson Cole
Shipman & Goodwin
Wiggin and Dana

Additional Resources:
Coronavirus Disease 2019 This is the Connecticut government’s response to COVID-19.

Connecticut Small Business Development Center A hub of COVID related resources for Connecticut Small Businesses.

COVID-19 Resources for Agricultural Industry Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Resources for COVID-19.

2-1-1 Connecticut Information and Resources to Help Communities

Please feel free to email us at legalfoodhub@clf.org with any questions and we will do our best to help.

Maine Covid Resources for Farmers and Small Businesses

Firms Publishing COVID-19 Help Articles:
Pierce Atwood

Additional Resources: 

Maine Department of Agriculture: COVID-19 Information for Agriculture and Food Business This is the primary resource for COVID-19 related questions for farm and food businesses. Since this is an evolving pandemic, visit this page often for the most up to date information.

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry  Statement to Consumers Regarding the Safety of Maine Food COVID-19 is not a food-borne illness. However, procuring food during the pandemic can be stressful, and Maine consumers have justifiable concerns about the safe handling of their food.

Coastal Enterprise Inc.  COVID 19 resources for Maine businesses.

COVID-19 and Farmers Markets Guidance given by Maine Federation of Farmers Markets

UMaine Beginning Farmer Resource Network: COVID-19 Information and Support for Maine Farmers A comprehensive list of resources for Maine farms facing coronavirus impact.

UMaine Cooperative Extension/FAQs The extension school is opening its doors for COVID-19 and Maine agriculture questions. Submit your questions here.

UMaine Cooperative Extension/Food & Health COVID-19 Information and Support for Maine Food Producers and Produce Growers.

UMaine Cooperative Extension/Food & Health COVID-19 Food Safety Information for Maine Consumers

UMaine Farm Product and Pick-up Directory Post where you will be selling your products or find where other farms are selling theirs.

MOFGA Support for Maine Farmers Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has compiled a list of resources and links.

Please feel free to email us at legalfoodhub@clf.org with any questions and we will do our best to help.

Rhode Island Covid Resources for Farmers and Small Businesses

Firms Publishing COVID-19 Help Articles:
Barton Gilman
Partridge Snow Hahn
Pierce Atwood
Nixon Peabody
Whelan Corrente

Additional Resources:
Rhode Island Department of Health Visit this page often for the most up to date recommendations from the Department of Public Health.
Rhode Island Farm Bureau Advice for Ag Transport Across State Lines.
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Where to find local food for consumers and producers.
Rhode Island Superior Court Read how the court intends to provide temporary relief to local businesses.
RI Delivers Rhode Islanders’ connection to help for those living in quarantine or isolation due to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
RI Food Policy Council: In response to the spread of COVID-19, the Rhode Island Food Policy Council is aggregating information on available food access and food business resources and opportunities.
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island COVID-19 Resources for Farmers.

Please feel free to email us at legalfoodhub@clf.org with any questions and we will do our best to help.

Vermont Covid Resources for Farmers and Small Businesses

Firms Publishing COVID-19 Help Articles:
Downs Rachlin Martin, PLLC
Dunkiel Saunders
Gravel and Shea
MSK Attorneys
Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC
Paul Frank and Collins
Stitzel Page & Fletcher, PC

Additional Resources:
Northeast Farmer Association of Vermont As you are making significant adjustments to your business, production, labor, and marketing strategies for this upcoming season, one-on-one assistance is available to help you with these critical decisions and ensure the continued viability of your farm.
University of Vermont Considerations of Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus and COVID-19. Vermont has put out comprehensive information on what growers can and should do to protect themselves, their employees, and their customers.
Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets This post contains importation information regarding COVID-19 and agriculture and food businesses.
Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program The Viability Program provides business advising and technical assistance to farm, food, and forest businesses in Vermont to help them achieve long-term success. They are also supporting businesses navigating COVID-19 by providing shorter-term disaster response services.

Please feel free to email us at legalhub@vermontlaw.edu with any questions and we will do our best to help.

Arias-Villano v. Chang & Sons Enterprises, Inc

Massachusetts Overtime Exemptions – What You Need to Know

If you’re a farmer hiring employees in Massachusetts, navigating the rules of the road can be challenging. This blog post highlights a recent court ruling in the Commonwealth that could affect when farmers pay their workers overtime.

Overtime laws require employers to pay one and a half times the regular pay rates when an employee works more than forty hours in a week. Both the federal and state overtime laws include exemptions to this requirement for certain types of work.

The Massachusetts overtime laws include an exemption for agricultural and farming workers. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently decided a case that affects what is considered agricultural and farming work.

In the case of Arias-Villano v. Chang & Sons Enterprises, Inc., the highest Massachusetts court determined that the agricultural exemption only applies to a very narrow type of agricultural work – the planting, raising, and harvesting of crops. The exemption does not apply to post-harvest activities, for example cleaning, sorting, and packaging produce, even if related to the farming operations.

Federal Overtime Exemption

The federal overtime exemption for agricultural workers is less restrictive than the Massachusetts exemption. However, the Court in Arias-Villano compared the federal definition of agriculture with the Massachusetts definition. Employers in Massachusetts are required to fulfill the requirements of the Massachusetts overtime requirements; the federal requirements are provided as a basis for the more restrictive definition used in Massachusetts.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act includes an exemption to the overtime pay requirements for agricultural workers, but agricultural work is defined to include both farming activities, including growing and harvesting crops, and certain post-harvest activities, including preparation for sale.

Specifically, the exemption includes “farming in all its branches … and any practices … performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations.” (FLSA Sec. 203(f)).

Work that is simply in conjunction with a farming operation qualifies for the agricultural overtime exemption, including post-harvest packing, sorting, and transportation. Food manufacturing, however, is not qualified for this exemption. (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fact-sheets/12-flsa-agriculture)


Massachusetts Overtime Exemption

In contrast to the federal agricultural exemption, the Massachusetts overtime exemption defines agriculture as “labor on a farm and the growing and harvesting of agricultural, floricultural, and horticultural commodities.” (M.G.L. c. 151, §2).

The definition of agriculture under the Massachusetts overtime exemption does not include post-harvest activities, nor does it allow for the exemption of work that is incidental to farming operations, unlike the federal exemption.

Arias-Villano and What’s Changed

In Arias-Villano, a group of employees who worked at a bean sprout company sued for overtime pay. The company grows, harvests, packages, and distributes bean sprouts in a hydroponic operation. These employees were responsible for cleaning, sorting, weighing, and packaging the sprouts and cleaning the facility, but were not responsible for growing or harvesting the sprouts. The employer claimed that overtime pay was not applicable because the company was engaged in agricultural and farming activities.

However, the Court determined that the responsibilities of these employees (cleaning, sorting, weighing, and packaging sprouts) were not agricultural and farming activities under the Massachusetts overtime law. The Court determined that Massachusetts had intended to adopt a narrow exemption, and intentionally modified the definition of agriculture from that used in the federal statute.

So, after this decision, if an employee is engaged in post-harvest activities and is working more than forty hours per week, the employee must be paid overtime wages under the Massachusetts overtime laws. Activities such as the harvesting of crops, planting of seeds, and maintenance of a field would be considered exempt activities under the Massachusetts exemption. However, activities that are post-harvest, including cleaning, grading, sorting, packaging, and transporting agricultural commodities would not be exempted, and the employer would be required to pay the overtime rate.

The Court and the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards have not addressed if overtime must be paid if an employee works both in growing and harvesting (exempted) activities, as well as post-harvest (non-exempted) activities.

If you’re a farmer hiring workers in Massachusetts and you need help figuring out how employment laws apply to your operation, contact the Legal Food Hub at legalfoodhub@clf.org and check out our employment law resources here.

See how other states are dealing with Agricultural Employment Law:

New York may join 4 states requiring farmworker overtime pay

Requiring overtime on New York farms would raise labor costs 17%

Agriculture reacts to California’s new overtime laws

Lawsuit seeks to extend overtime pay for Washington farm workers

Liz Sharpe JD Candidate, 2020, Seton Hall University

At Legal Food Hub, attorneys help food businesses, pro bono

Article by Laurie Schreiber of Mainebiz

Amy Rowbottom has been making artisanal cheeses for about 10 years.

Taking Skowhegan-based Crooked Face Creamery from a part-time startup to an established food producer made her realize she needed legal help to protect her products and brand. But she had never done any legal work or trademarking on her own and she operates on slim margins, scarcely able to afford the expense of hiring a lawyer.

Taking part in a business boot camp in 2018, she heard about the Legal Food Hub, a program of the Conservation Law Foundation that provides pro bono legal services to food producers and farmers.

After reaching out, she was put in touch with David McConnell, an attorney with Perkins Thompson in Portland who has a practice in trademark and copyright issues. They met in 2018 and McConnell shortly thereafter filed a trademark application for Rowbottom’s logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The procedure is simple on its face, says McConnell.

“But there are a lot of traps for the unwary,” he says. “You have to precisely identify each class of goods and services that the mark applies to.”

Saving on legal fees
Central to Rowbottom’s brand is a logo of a cow with a crooked face.

“She was being proactive,” says McConnell. “She recognized it was worth getting the federal trade mark registration.”

After nearly a year, which is how long the trademark process typically takes, the problem has been solved. Rowbottom only had to pay for the trademark filing fee. Thanks to the program, she saved between $1,000 and $5,000 on legal fees, McConnell estimates — a big chunk of change for a bootstrap operation.

That kind of aid illustrates Legal Food Hub’s mission. Founded in 2014, it connects eligible farmers, food entrepreneurs and organizations that support them with attorneys from a growing network who work on their legal issues for free, with an overall goal of helping to grow the farm and food sector.

The program operates in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, with plans to expand to the other New England states. Since its launch, the hub has handled 375 cases, offering $2.5 million in pro bono legal services in the four states.

In Maine, the hub is managed by the Conservation Law Foundation’s Portland office.

“We saw a trend and a growing need in the farming and food entrepreneur community for affordable legal services,” says Phelps Turner, a staff attorney who manages the Maine hub. “So we leveraged our connections in the legal community throughout New England to create this program. We identified attorneys and law firms willing to volunteer their time and provide free legal services to farmers and food entrepreneurs.”

Farms and food businesses in New England often run on tight margins, yet have many legal needs, Turner says.

“They have limited budgets,” he notes. “We saw that, often, the businesses were not able to afford a lawyer for matters they identified as legal needs.”

Although some of the legal issues facing food producers have evolved over time, such as food safety regulation, generally speaking the legal landscape isn’t much different from any other type of business, Turner notes.

“I think it’s more that the profit margins remain small or perhaps are even shrinking among farmers and food entrepreneurs, so they’re dealing with limited resources and have to make choices,” he continues.

That might result in food producers not being able to retain legal counsel to deal with standard matters.

“Cases we’re placing through the Legal Food Hub in Maine typically involve contracts, leases for land or business space, purchase and sale agreements related to real estate, and conservation and agricultural easements,” he says. “There are also cases involving entity formation — how a business chooses to structure itself and protect itself in terms of liability, along with related tax implications. There are employment and labor issues — making sure they conform with minimum wage and overtime requirements, or know how to work with apprentices and seasonal workers. There are state and federal laws they have to navigate.”

Intellectual property and trademark law applies to food entrepreneurs — people making value-added products like Rowbottom’s specialty cheeses.

“They’re often seeking to protect their recipes, their name and their logo,” Turner says. “Ideally, you seek to protect those early on so you’re not facing an issue later where someone else starts using your recipe, name or logo.”

Dramatic need
In Maine, the hub has placed 165 cases over the past five years.

“We’ve seen a dramatic need and it’s not tapering off,” Turner says.

The hub spreads awareness of its service through outreach to the food and farm community — setting up a table at the Maine Agricultural Trade Show, for example.

“We also constantly try to grow our network of volunteer attorneys,” says Turner. “We want to reach as many farms and entrepreneurs as we can, and we need a range of lawyer expertise and also lawyers who are geographically available throughout the state.”

For lawyers, the hub offers educational programs around food and farm issues, like a continuing legal education course on agricultural easements and a new online portal with food- and farm-related legal resources and guides.

McConnell has helped several clients through the hub so far. In addition to Rowbottom, another client was the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets when it needed help filing for trademark protection. His service probably saved the federation $1,000 to $2,000. The federation also received help from attorney Kenleigh Nicolletta of Brann & Isaacson in Lewiston in filing for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

The federation — a resource for farmers’ markets that works with farmers, consumers and communities — needed trademark protection for its Maine Harvest Bucks program. The program allows food assistance recipients to receive a bonus dollar for every dollar spent at participating farmers’ markets. Because the bonus money must be spent on fresh produce, the idea is that the program helps the recipients and also provides extra income to farmers.

The program’s name was originally used by a number of nonprofits but lacked a consistent message, explains the federation’s director, Jimmy DeBiasi. Several years ago, control of the program was passed to the federation, which decided trademark protection was key to maintaining the integrity of the brand’s message. They went to the hub.

“As an under-resourced organization, we all of a sudden had legal counsel that helped us negotiate with other organizations to protect Maine Harvest Bucks and create licensing agreements that worked for everybody,” DeBiasi says.

Arcane language
“Usually, clients are not well-versed in the arcane aspects of trademark or copyright law, which you wouldn’t expect them to be,” McConnell says. “That’s where a lawyer adds value.”

McConnell tries to meet clients face-to-face, ideally at their operation.

“I can get a better sense for what may be some issues that they might not have initially identified as something they needed help with,” he says. “And we can do some creative planning to get things on the right trajectory.”

McConnell doesn’t mind working pro bono. As it turns out, his practice is largely focused on the food economy anyway, and he co-owns a new rum distillery in Portland, Three of Strong Spirits.

“This work dovetails nicely with what I was already doing for paying clients,” he says. “It makes Maine a much more vibrant place to live in, if we have active systems of producers who are making delicious food and drink.”

Ongoing help
Legal Food Hub helped Shovel & Spoon, a farm and farm-to-table catering business in Limington, set up a limited liability corporation, acquire farmland and protect its brand.

The business started in 2018 in Acton, then purchased 30 acres in Limington and moved there.

The hub connected co-owners Tomer Kilchevsky and Courtney Jean Perry with several lawyers on successive issues. Connections came quickly and turnarounds were fast, Kilchevsky says.

“We’re farmers and cooks and have little experience in law and contracts, so having someone there to guide us through the process was extremely helpful,” he says. “And it’s not like they helped us once and went away. They check up occasionally on how things are working out.”

They estimate they’ve saved $3,000 to $4,000 in legal fees.

What would folks typically do without the hub?

“I think some people were going without legal representation,” Turner says. “I think some have been trying to address some of these issues themselves, or were just not addressing them at all. The fact that there have been 165 cases in Maine, in five years, suggests there was, and still is, a great need.”

“Putting it through the intellectual property lens, they might build a product or a brand, then find out later there’s a Goliath who swoops in and crushes their David, so to speak, with a preexisting mark,” says McConnell. “Or maybe they didn’t have someone help them write a good contract at the front end. Or maybe it’s not in writing at all, but just a verbal understanding. Later on, if there’s a disagreement, sometimes they’re not in a position to move forward in a way they anticipated.”

At Crooked Face Creamery, Rowbottom has about 40 wholesale accounts and two distributors, just bought a larger cheese pasteurizer and is in the process of scaling up. She’s reached out to McConnell on additional issues, including researching lease arrangements and problems with an equipment supplier.

Without McConnell’s help, Rowbottom says, she would have had to hire a lawyer or do the work on her own.

“There are so many things to do when you’re running a business,” she says. “To weave your way through those things, when somebody else has all the resources and knows the process, is a huge time-saver. And it’s reassuring to know it’s going to be done right.”


This article originally ran in Mainebiz. Read it here.

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.

Bootblack Brand Changes Business Structure

About: Bootblack Brand in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, makes and sells small-batch cocktail and soda simple syrups. Paul Kubiski and Jackie Duhamel built the business on the premise that they do not eat or drink anything inferior. To meet that standard, Bootblack Brand creates complex syrups using natural ingredients, including fresh produce, herbs, and spices. Flavors include Ginger Cardamom Lime, Classic Citrus Tonic, Traditional Old Fashioned and Cranberry Jalapeño Lime which recently won a Yankee Magazine Food Award for 2018.

Legal Need: Paul and Jackie sought legal assistance converting the food business from a sole proprietorship to a member-managed LLC. With several distributor contracts lined up, they needed to make the change prior to signing the new contracts.

Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub connected Bootblack Brand with attorney Nicole Matteo at Pierce Atwood, who was able to resolve the matter quickly so Paul and Jackie could keep their business moving forward.

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.