CLF Offers New Legal Resource for New England Farmers

CLF_new_logoThe Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), a non-profit environmental advocacy group based in New England, is piloting a new resource project for farmers: the New England Legal Services Food Hub.

The problem that CLF hopes to solve with the Legal Services Food Hub is an important and widespread issue; many farmers and food entrepreneurs are forced to sacrifice economic viability or even their businesses due to the costly fees associated with legal aid. In order to combat these fees, CLF is creating the Legal Services Food Hub, which will support farmers and food entrepreneurs via a network of attorneys willing to provide pro bono legal assistance.

The Legal Services Food Hub also aims to include agricultural organizations or community groups interested in social justice or member supported food cooperatives. Furthermore, CLF is working with the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic to create a guide to agricultural issues for attorneys who participate in the network. Ideally, these resources will not only provide necessary pro bono assistance to farmers and agricultural businesses, but also will fortify the growing local food movement in New England.

How does it work?

After CLF evaluates each case for eligibility, the client will be matched with the best-fit attorney via the Legal Services Food Hub network. CLF will initially concentrate on transactional legal issues, including land acquisition, taxes, and contract cases, and those chosen will, in part, be based on an annual net income cap of $25,000, in order to verify that CLF is providing aid to people in the most need.

While an attorney from the Legal Services Food Hub is attached to the case, CLF will oversee regular check-ins with both the attorney and the client in order to confirm that the representation is mutually constructive. Initially, CLF will oversee the Legal Services Food Hub for one year beginning in June 2014. Although at first it will be based in Massachusetts, CLF aims to expand the program throughout New England, pending the success of the initial outreach.

Lasting Effects

CLF founded the Legal Services Food Hub based on the idea that a given area’s climate, environment, and economy are inherently dependent on the local food system. By protecting ocean fisheries, cleaning up waterways, or expanding access to public transportation, CLF is tackling environmental problems using three main resources: science, market incentives, and the law. The Legal Services Food Hub is an extension of this approach to environmental advocacy, as it aims to solve legal problems related to the food system.

To check out more of CLF’s agricultural work, see its Farm and Food Initiative webpage. For more information about CLF’s environmental focus in New England, check out its list of projects. Finally, if you’re interested in getting assistance from the Legal Services Found Hub or if you’re an attorney interested in participating in the network, please contact Elena Mihaly at A dedicated website and phone line for the Legal Services Food Hub are in development as well, so check back to CLF’s website for updates.

Not in New England but know about something like this in your area?  Write to us at so we can help get the word out.

New Data Shows the Ups and Downs of Farm to School Progress


Reprinted with the permission of the USDA.

More and more farmers are looking to institutional relationships as a new marketing outlet, and we’re excited to see how beginning farmers are taking an active role in that progress. 

Recently, the results of the inaugural United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School census were released – based on data primarily from 2011-2012 – which give us a good picture of growth of the Farm to School movement.  Let’s take a look at the numbers:


States Expanding Cottage Food Laws

map of cottage food laws by state

Cottage food laws by state

In April we wrote about Value-Added Producer Grants and how these federal awards can potentially help small farmers. However, with the contents of the 2013 Farm Bill facing uncertainty, state legislatures are providing inexpensive ways for farmers to produce limited quantities of value-added products.  


Learning to Speak Farm Bill: Funding for Mandatory v. Discretionary Programs

The Farm Bill made headlines this past Wednesday with news that the Bill passed in the House without including funding for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. As funding for this nutrition program, as well as other major food and farm programs, becomes the central question in future Farm Bill proceedings, it’s important to have a general idea of how these different programs are funded.

Breaking Down the Farm Bill, graphic by Lauren McKown

Breaking Down the Farm Bill, graphic by Lauren McKown.

The Farm Bill is an omnibus piece of legislation, which means it contains multiple programs. These programs can be broken down into two general categories: mandatory programs (also known as entitlement programs) and discretionary programs (non-entitlement programs).

For mandatory programs, the federal government commits to spending whatever amount of money is necessary to ensure the implementation of the program. The committees in charge of crafting this legislation are known as authorizing committees, and there is one committee in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives. Traditionally, the majority of farm programs (about 80%) have been mandatory programs. This category also includes legislation such as SNAP, commodity price supports and some conservation programs.

For discretionary programs, lawmakers outline a program (aka “authorize it”), but the money is not automatically provided. Rather, funding for the program is not available until resources are allocated by the appropriations committees. Appropriations committees are present in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, just as the agriculture committees are. Within each appropriations committee, there is a subcommittee that specializes in food and agricultural policy.

While the Farm Bill and the agriculture committees that write the first drafts are in the spotlight, it’s the appropriations committees that are the gatekeepers for annual funding levels for discretionary programs. The committees hold considerable power over discretionary programs, as they dictate the annual funding levels for a number of farm conservation programs, most rural development programs, research and education programs, agricultural credit programs and beginning farmer programs.

Trying to estimate spending levels for agriculture and nutrition programs is no easy task. To make budgeting more manageable, legislators think incrementally about spending cuts or increases by using the previous year’s spending as a baseline. This strategy applies to both funding for mandatory and discretionary programs.

As news of the House’s nutrition-free Farm Bill spreads this week, questions about this program and other key Farm Bill programs will likely center around funding. Hopefully, this brief background on the two major ways programs are funded will help you navigate these nebulous Farm Bill debates with a little more clarity.  Have some other questions about the Farm Bill process?  Send us an email ( and we’ll write about it!

Republicans and Democrats Introduce New Bill To Aid Beginning Farmers













April 25, 2013

Contact: lindsey(at)youngfarmers(dot)org

Republicans and Democrats Introduce New Bill To Aid Beginning Farmers

“Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013” addresses major barriers to starting a farming career

TIVOLI, NY – Today, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Representative Tim Walz of Minnesota announced the introduction of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two identical bills expand opportunities and remove barriers for beginning farmers and those who wish to pursue a career in agriculture.

In addition to the bill’s lead sponsors, the following members have signed on as original co-sponsors: Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), Chris Gibson (R-NY-19), and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN-7) in the House, and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate.

“Short of jumping on a tractor, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 is the best way that members of Congress can help the nation’s young growers,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, Executive Director at the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The bill tackles the significant barriers to starting a farm in the US, including access to credit, land and training opportunities. NYFC urges Congress to include all of its provisions in the Farm Bill, and to pass a Farm Bill this year.”

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is a comprehensive legislative package that invests in critical federal conservation, credit, research, and rural development programs that support opportunities for new farmers and ranchers. The bill reduces barriers, such as credit and land access issues, that new agriculture entrepreneurs face, and invests in successful new-farmer training programs and grants to help farmers capture more of the retail food dollar through value-added enterprises.

“With the average age of the U.S. farmer at 57, ensuring that the next generation of American farmers is able to provide the world with a safe, abundant supply of food should be a top priority,” said Congressman Walz, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry. “To accomplish this goal, we must provide our youth with the training and tools they need to seize opportunity and take up farms of their own. By easing access to lines of credit and land, and creating training programs for new producers, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act works to do just that.”

“As the House considers a five year Farm Bill this year, it is important we include provisions to encourage a new generation of New Yorkers to take up farming.  This is both critical to maintaining the rural nature of our communities and ultimately is a national security issue as we need to have a robust domestic food supply. This bipartisan legislation will expand opportunities for those looking to take up farming and facilitate their entrance into the field.  I applaud the National Young Farmers Coalition for bringing this issue to my attention originally, and look forward to continuing to work with my constituents to ensure we can get these initiatives included in the Farm Bill,” said Congressman Chris Gibson.

Some of the specific proposals in the bill include:

Expanded Credit Options

The bill would create a new microloan program that would make loans of up to $35,000 to young, beginning, and veteran farmers seeking capital to help cover start-up costs, such as purchasing seeds or building a greenhouse. The bill would also give new farmers increased flexibility in meeting loan eligibility requirements for FSA loans to purchase farmland. Finally, the bill would provide funding to jump start an Individual Development Account pilot program aimed at helping beginning farmers with limited financial resources to establish savings accounts that could later be used to cover capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including purchases of land, buildings, equipment, or livestock. 

Access to Farmland

The legislation would help new and aspiring farmers access land to start or expand their farming operations by continuing and improving the successful Down Payment Loan Program, which provides much needed capital to new farmers seeking to purchase property. The bill would also modify the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program to give priority to preserving farmland that is accessible and affordable to new farmers.

New Farmer Training Programs

The bill would renew funding for the successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which provides grants to organizations and institutions to establish new farmer training programs. This program is the only federal initiative that is exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

Value-Added Enterprises

This legislation invests in critical economic development programs, including the popular Value-Added Producer Grants program, which provides grants to farmers to scale up their businesses and add value to their products in order to meet surging consumer demand for high quality, farm-based, value-added food products such as farmstead cheese, salsa, and grass-fed beef.

Agricultural Opportunities for Veterans

The bill would also expand resources and create economic opportunities for military veterans interested in pursuing a career in agriculture by establishing a funding priority for new farmer training and agricultural rehabilitation programs specifically geared at returning veterans, and creating a new Veterans Agricultural Liaison within the USDA to help connect returning veterans with beginning farmer resources and assist them with program eligibility requirements for participation in farm bill programs.


National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) is national network of young and sustainable farmers organizing for our collective success: we’re defining the issues that beginning farmers face, fighting for the policy change that we need, and bringing farmers together in person and online to learn, share and build a stronger community. NYFC is a farmer-led partnership between young farmers and innovative beginning farmer service providers and is fiscally sponsored by the Open Space Institute, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  


Will the new food safety laws affect you?

Roxbury farm crew harvesting beets.  Photo courtesy of Roxbury Farm

The way we harvest: just one of the ways food safety laws will affect farming operations.
Photo courtesy of Roxbury Farm.

The short answer is yes.  The new rules will impact the way our food is produced – everything from how seedlings are watered in the ground to how the finished product is marketed. So from the consumer perspective, we are all going to see some changes.

The real question, though, is for farmers and ranchers. Is your operation going to have to make changes? If you’re not sure, don’t feel alone! Farmers across the country are emailing in, confused about exactly how the laws will influence their farm operations. So here is a brief guide to helping you figure out if the Produce Rules (only one of the several rules, but this is the one most likely to affect NYFC members).

(Please note that this article is intended for guidance only – for more complete analysis of how the rules will influence your farm, contact your local USDA office.)

Produce Rules

Do you grow, harvest, pack, or hold produce?  If yes:

  • You are not impacted if:
    • You are only growing for personal consumption,
    • or if the average annual monetary value of the food you sold during the previous 3-year period is no more than $25,000,
    • or if the produce you grow is processed (ie, cheese, pickles, etc) before sale. In this case, look into the Preventive Controls rule instead

    In this case, you should still follow along – in a few years you may fall into a different category!

  • You are partially impacted if:
    • You make less than $500,000 in gross annual sales (NOTE: this is sales, not profit!) and the majority of the food is sold directly and locally,
    • or your produce will undergo commercial processing intended to kill pathogens

In this case, you are still subject to some rules on labeling and marketing (and you also have the potential to lose your partial exemption at the USDA’s discretion)

  • You are fully impacted if:
    • You do not fall into either of the above categories.

In this case, there may be a lot of changes coming your way. Learn more about the rules here! (Keep in mind that even if you are exempt or partially exempt today, in a few years, will you be falling into a different category?)

Food Safety Rules – Coming to a farm near you!

It’s time to start talking about the new food safety bill and how it’s going to affect you.  Food safety isn’t high on anyone’s list of exciting things to spend their free time reading about, but take a few moments, because how the law gets written this year will have a long-running impact on how small farms can operate.

Watering onions 2013

How often are you testing your farm’s water?

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law two years ago, is a plan to update food safety policy in a way that had not been done since the 1930′s.  It’s culminating this year, with the FDA releasing it’s proposed rules, to be approved later this year.  So far, two rules have been released as drafts:

  • Produce Rule — standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce; and
  • Preventive Controls Rule — requirements for food facilities, including on-farm processing.

How could these rules affect your farm?  Pretty much every part of your day on the farm has to do with food safety.  From sampling and testing your irrigation water to your food-processing room’s layout to how often you wash your harvesting tools – it’s all in there!  

NYFC has been working with policy experts with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other groups to analyze the new rules (which stretch over literally thousands of pages!) to discern how they will impact beginning farmers.  Food safety is becoming a polarizing issue, with consumer safety being pitted against farm viability.  Our hopes in this are to help the FDA craft something that provides the safety protections needed while not putting overly-onerous loads on small and beginning farmers.

We’ve got a month and a half before the comment period comes to a close.  In that time, we want to hear from you so that we can write useful comments to the FDA!  Got a question or idea for us?  Head over to the FSMA discussion at the NYFC Farmers Forum.

In the mean time, there are some concrete things you can do:

  1. Get reading!  The rules are available to read here.  It’s not quite as engaging as E. L. James, but at least give it a quick skim!
  2. Spread the word!  Start talking to other farmers about food safety and how these rules will affect you.
  3. Stay tuned to this blog!  We will be publishing more pieces about the rules and asking for your input.  So consider this a wake-up call!

Tell me more about…. GIPSA

This is  part of a blog series on different federal programs in the USDA and how they affect the average beginning farmer.  As we work towards improving legislation and pushing for reform in the Farm Bill, we decided to create these quick tutorial pages to act as a reference.  Let us know if there is a particular program that you’d like us to write about next!

heifers at sunset, photo courtesy of Jess Johnson

heifers at sunset, photo courtesy of Jess Johnson

What are the GIPSA Rules?
The new GIPSA rules are named for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administrators arm of the USDA.  These rules, passed in the 2008 Farm Bill, require enforcement of the 1921 Packers and Stockyard Act.  Since this law was never enforced, large companies have been able to push farmers into unfair contracts.  Discrimination against farmers has gone unprosecuted, which these rules seek to remedy.

Weaknesses Prior to the GIPSA Rules
Before these rules, the system only supported large meatpackers and poultry processors and without competition, these companies were free to charge their farmers less than the actual cost to raise their products and could force them into unfair contracts.  The savings from food being produced at such a large scale were not passed on to consumers and food prices have inflated considerably in the last few years. Furthermore, the environmental and public health impact of farming at such a large scale was propagated and supported under this system.

What Changes are Proposed?

  • One buyer can no longer represent multiple meatpackers at auctions, which reduces competition in bidding on livestock.
  • Large cattle and hog factory farms will no longer receive price premiums and secret preferential contracts.
  • Prevents companies from requiring prohibitively expensive upgrades to equipment in working order.
  • Poultry growers who publicize abusive contracts and punitive measures will no longer face retaliation.

What Will These Rules Change?
Enforcing the Packers and Stockyard Act will mean that meatpackers cannot unduly favor large companies.  Greater competition from smaller farms will result in fairer prices for farmers and consumers.  Smaller farms will have an easier time producing and selling their products and will receive fair prices, meaning their businesses will be profitable and sustainable.

What Is the Status of the GIPSA Rules?
In 2011, the USDA sent the GIPSA rules to the White House for a final round of approval.  However, the end result of editing the rules meant that they were much weaker than initially proposed.  While the final revision supported independent poultry farmers, those raising hogs and cattle did not receive any help.  A small group of Congressmen sought to pass the remaining rules, but the House blocked funding and no further work has been done.  The largest cuts from the GIPSA rules are:

  • All producers growing the same animals would receive the same pay
  • Any packer, swine producer or live poultry dealer would have been required to retain records detailing and justifying differential pricing
  • The cuts removed protection for producers against unfair practices by packers
  • Under the proposed rule, samples of each poultry contract would have been required to be published to improve transparency
  • If this rule had been enacted, it would have prohibited paying growers less than the base pay

Thank you for speaking up! Reporting back on Farmer Programs in the Senate

First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who took the time last week to sign the petition, make calls, tell friends, etc. about the Senate’s budget vote.  As a refresher, there were three big pushes we had:

  1. to push funding for the beginning farmer programs that had been left high and dry in New Years Eve Farm Bill extension;
  2. to fix the problem with the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which had been updated in a way that didn’t allow for new 2013 applicants to the program;
  3. and to pass the Tester amendments that were intended to strip away two anti-farmer provisions to the budget – one on GMO’s and one on the meatpacking industry.  For more of a refresher, check back on some of last week’s blog posts.
Farmers at the 2013 Farmer Fly-in meeting with Senator Stabenow

Farmers at the 2013 Farmer Fly-in meeting with Senator Stabenow, the chair of the Senate Ag Committee

So how did things turn out?  Well, we had a mixed success.  Of the three pushes, we did get one: CSP was fixed so that farmers can apply for it in 2013.  This may not seem like a huge victory, but it really is: CSP helps countless farmers every year institute conservation practices on their farm (everything from riparian buffers to reducing pesticide drift to building pollinator habitat) that would be cost-prohibitive otherwise.  So we are enthused that the USDA will be able to continue supporting those amazing practices across the country.  (And, as always, this isn’t the end of the process – we’re going to stay with this to make sure it makes it through the House and into actual law.)

Unfortunately, of course, that means that we didn’t get funding for the rest of the programs, and we weren’t able to strip back those two anti-farmer riders on the budget bill.  So let’s take a look at both of those:

First, in terms of the stranded programs that were once again left unfunded (this is that long laundry list that we’ve been focusing on, including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Organic Cost-share, and much more), we don’t have a lot of options left for short term solutions.  We will keep working on it, though, and let you know if there are other opportunities.  However, the big picture is that we should start focusing more on the next five-year farm bill (that will hopefully be done later this year) and less on correcting the short-term Farm Bill extension we’re currently under.

Second, the trouble in stripping the riders had to do with the Senate’s extreme urgency to pass the budget bill (the deadline to avoid a government shut-down is next week!).  There were nearly 100 amendments proposed – some good and some bad – and ultimately a compromise was made where almost all of them were left out in order to facilitate the budget’s passing.  So while it’s not great, this was really a result of the government’s extreme polarization that forced things to come so close to the edge, and thus need an eleventh-hour solution.  We do want to give a shout-out to Senator Tester, who was the only Democratic Senator to vote against moving forward with the bill.  He remained dedicated to the end to his amendments, and we applaud his efforts on our behalf.

So regarding these nasty riders: yes, they are bad.  The silver lining, though, is that they are in a 6-month budget bill, so they aren’t permanent.  Next fall we will get a chance again to pull them back and fix those anti-farmer (and anti-justice!) travesties.

OK, well that’s the brief recap from Washington over the past week.  We got a lot of emails from folks saying they made their calls, so thank you for making a difference!  We also got feedback from multiple legislators’ offices saying they’d been swamped with calls, so great job!  This is only the beginning of a groundswell of support for these pro-farmer, sustainable-agriculture programs, and regardless of this week’s votes, we are so psyched to be at the beginning of an evolutionary shift in government’s views on farming!

Update on pro-farmer Tester amendments – it’s not too late to take action!

First, a gigantic thank you to those who made calls and signed the petition supporting the Tester amendments this week!

Funny cow, photo courtesy of Martouf

photo courtesy of Martouf

As a quick refresher, the two amendments are to remove two hideous riders to the Senate Continuing Resolution bill (in layman’s terms, they are mini-bills tacked on to the 6-month budget proposal that the Senate is producing).  The first rider would strip away the protections that ranchers receive from the GIPSA act, which stops large packinghouse purchasers from forcing unfair contracts on ranches.  The second undermines the courts when they temporarily halt the sale of a potentially dangerous genetically modified crop by letting the USDA continue to planting of that crop.  This not only endangers farmers and consumers who aren’t then protected, but it actually undercuts the legal system of the entire country!  You can read more about the two riders on the NYFC action page here or on yesterday’s blog post.

We initially reported that the vote was to be yesterday afternoon, but because of the onslaught of messages they got yesterday – emails, phone calls, and webforms – the Senate decided to push off the vote until early next week.  What that means is, we are being heard!

It also means that we’ve got more time to press them to stand up against the riders.  Please give a call or send an email today or this weekend – let your Senator know that they need to support the Tester amendments!  (And for Montana residents, please get in touch with Senator Tester’s office and thank him for his support!).

Two ways to take action: NYFC Action Page, or information on calling your Senators’ office.