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farmer Archive

Smart Leases for New and Beginning Farmers

February 12, 2015

by Jason Foscolo

Everyone interested in becoming a farmer should read this piece from Salon entitled “What nobody Told Me About Small Farming: I Can’t Make a Living.” The author, Jaclyn Moyer of South Fork Farm in Placerville, California, shares some important insights into the financial hardships that are a fundamental part of being a new farmer. As you can tell from the title of the article, she is open and honest about the financial difficulties she and her partner face. This kind of honesty is too rare within the new and beginning farmer movement, and Ms. Moyer should be commended for sharing her insight with such candor.

This bit go us thinking about the importance of good negotiating during the agricultural leasing process:

I didn’t say that despite the improvements we made to the land— the hundreds of yards of compost we spread, the thousand dollars we spent annually on cover crop seed to increase soil fertility, every weed pulled — we gained no equity because we didn’t own the land.

The loss of equity is an astute observation that not many tenant farmers realize, and it’s particularly true for South Fork, which is organic certified according to its website. It is more challenging and expensive to increase soil fertility when working within the restrictions imposed by organic certification. These additional costs do indeed amount to a transfer of equity from the tenant to the landholder. When farm tenants assume costs in order to improve soil quality, we generally recommend negotiating either for:

  • A rebate that returns all or some of the cost of those agricultural practices to the tenant; or
  • A long term lease that enables the farmer to recoup the expenses over several seasons.

Soil fertility is not some switch that can be turned on. Often it takes several seasons for farmers to achieve their desired profile. It is, therefore, important that the farmer gets a lease that allows them to stay on the land long enough to reap the benefits of their efforts. For farms that are converted from conventional to organic production, a year-to-year lease is not advisable.

It sounds like an easy case to make for a farmer, but sustainable lease agreements require sustainable landlords. Private landowners may not always appreciate the additional effort and expense incurred by farmers like South Fork. Land trusts, however, have the nonprofit motive to promote conservation and soil-enhancing agriculture, and are ideally placed to execute terms that recognize the capital contribution some farmers make to their soil.

Food Law Bits and Pieces, January 26 – 29, 2015

January 29, 2015

newsboy

  • The New Yorker has an excellent article highlighting gaps in food safety regulation and enforcement powers — gaps that continue to create cases for attorney (and adjunct professor in the University of Arkansas School of Law’s LLM Program in Agricultural and Food Law) Bill Marler who represents victims of foodborne illnesses.
  • Possibly addressing the gaps discussed in The New Yorker article, new legislation has been introduced in Congress to create a single federal food safety agency, as Food Safety News reports.
  • Food Safety News also reports on Wyoming’s Food Freedom Bill, which would exempt transactions directly between food producers and “informed end consumers” from state regulation and provides that such consumers assume the risk of injury from consuming the food.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study on Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent (PACE) labeling on menu items to encourage parents to make smarter choices when choosing food for their children at restaurants, which prompted a quick blog post from us.
  • The Columbia Missourian has a great story on Cody Waters, an Iraq War veteran now making the transition into farming.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on rising egg prices in California, attributing the rise to changes to the new welfare standards for egg laying hens that took effect this year.
  • Don Thompson, CEO of McDonald’s, well step down from his post effective March 1. Recall that last November, Fortune Magazine ran a fantastic piece on the company’s recent decline and described a couple of Thompson’s key initiatives intended to get McDonald’s back on its feet. Those initiatives included the ability to use an in-store kiosk to build your own burger, or hiring Mythbusters guy Grant Imahara to tour a meat processing facility with a camera crew. We noted at the time that it seemed as though some of the better criticisms in the Fortune piece came from “former employees” of the company, who said things like  “The problem is the truth. They are a mass feeder” and “McDonald’s has forgotten over the past decade that the consumer makes emotional decisions.”
  • A federal bill introduced to create a single federal food safety agency, sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin and Congresswoman Rose DeLauro. The bill is called the Safe Food Act of 2015.
  • Jdsupra.com reports on the difficulties plaintiffs are having in pursuit of their “all natural” claims litigation. Read the whole thing, but if the details are a bit too geeky for you, the short of it is, “all natural” claims cases are not easy money for plaintiff’s law firms.

Road Trip Roundup: Farmer Veteran Coalition Events

November 21, 2014

Normal
I was in Normal, Illinois on November 13, 2014, speaking at the Local and Regional Food Summit. The event was sponsored by the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and Heartland Community College.

I was there to announce the launch of a partnership between the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Homegrown by Heroes marketing campaign. Homegrown by Heroes is a trademark that can be affixed to agricultural products grown by farmers who are veterans of the United States Armed Forces. The program is managed by the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) of Davis, California.

Illinois became the very first state in the country to partner with FVC to help promote the mark through its state department of agriculture. Effective immediately, farmer veterans growing within the state of Illinois will qualify to use the Homegrown by Heroes logo in conjunction with the Illinois Product logo. This dual certification will give Illinois retail consumers two compelling reasons to purchase a farm product bearing the mark – it’s local and its veteran-grown.

Special thanks to Cynthia Haskins of Illinois Farm Bureau for the amazing effort to get FVC and Illinois Department of Agriculture together for this marketing program.

This firm created the legal framework for the Homegrown by Heroes program and the licensing required to manage it. I gave the presentation on behalf of the Farmer Veteran Coalition’s Michael O’Gorman, who could not attend due to his presence at FVC’s National Stakeholders Conference in Des Moines, Iowa.

Chaptering

Said Stakeholders Conference was my next destination after Illinois. With the help of Drake University Law School, who hosted the event, FVC brought together various groups from across the country working within the farmer-veteran movement. I was there in part to present the preliminary plans to create statewide chapters of the Farmer Veteran Coalition throughout the United States and its territories.

As a veteran, I get a particular satisfaction out of my involvement with FVC. I get to meet amazing people like Calvin Riggleman of Big Riggs Farm, Mickey Clayton of Dot Ranch, Chris Holman of Nami Moon Farms, and so many more. When I hear how hard these vets work, how much they love what they do, and the extent to which they experience farming as rehabilitative, I cannot help but be inspired by them.

Finally, I passed through Chicago-O’Hare Airport 3 times in 4 days, and each time I absorbed some free Vitamin D by the lights of the indoor edible garden by Gate G.