The Drake University Agricultural Law Center has developed an online version of The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing. "Thanksgiving is the perfect time to consider how Americans can connect with farmers and the food they grow," says Neil Hamilton, director of the Drake University Agricultural Law Center in Des Moines, Iowa. "This website provides farmers the information they need to deliver produce, dairy, meat and value added foods directly to consumers."
The website updates the original print publication that has helped thousands of farmers navigate the challenges of selling locally grown foods to consumers through farmers markets, CSAs and farm stands as well as to institutional buyers such as restaurants and food retailers. It is free, there is no charge to use the legal guide website.
The guide has new content as well as an extensive checklist, video interviews with farmers and other direct marketing experts, an interactive "Ask Drake" form, and a state-by-state listing of organizations and agencies that can provide additional services.
Online version of the legal guide has several advantages compared to the printed, book version
"We published a book on this subject a number of years ago, but in recent years we've been working with USDA's Risk Management Agency to update those printed materials and to put them on the web in an electronic format," says Hamilton, a professor of ag law. "As you'll see, the legal resources that we've created and are available on this website are very detailed and very thorough, covering a wide range of legal subjects."
The benefits of offering the legal guide online include increased accessibility, regular updates on direct farm marketing law and policy, and options that allow users to ask questions directly to staff and law students at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center.
In 2013, Thomas Burkhead and Jordan Clausen left their off-farm jobs to become full time direct marketing farmers on their farm Grade A Gardens in Johnston, Iowa. The website is a useful tool for these young farmers. "As beginning farmers in our first year of farming full time, how we budget our time is very important," says Burkhead. "Having such a comprehensive resource under one roof allows us to find the answers we need quickly so we can get back out to the fields."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Farmers can read the material in the guide online, much as they would read a book online
The online version covers legal topics including business entity selection, taxes, contracts, labeling, land use and property law, labor and employment, food safety and licensing—all within the unique context of direct farm marketing. Farmers can read the material within the guide, as they would with a book. With this online version, they can use search tools to quickly find topics of interest. The guide includes "The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing Checklist," which can be used to review information on the website as farmers using the site can proceed from one item to the next.
Professor Hamilton and a team of staff and students consulted over a dozen farmers face-to-face and surveyed over 100 farms to help create this new edition.
Considerable research, including personal interviews with farmers, went into preparing the material in this guide
Jill Beebout of Blue Gate Farm in Chariton, Iowa was one of those farmers. She says, "As a farmer marketing directly to consumers, our focus is on growing great products. But we are only half-way there at that point, we still have to get the product to the customer and the maze of rules and regulations can be simply overwhelming. This website provides farmers a one-stop toolbox to help wade through the confusion, and it is the best kind of help; thorough, easy to use, and free."
"We hope people will take advantage of the 'Ask Drake' feature," says Ed Cox, staff attorney at the Drake Agricultural Law Center. "Not only will we be answering people directly, we'll be sharing those questions and responses on the website so we can all continue to learn from each other. We don't see this being a static website, but instead an ongoing forum for learning about direct farm marketing."
The update and website were made possible with funding from the USDA Risk Management Agency. The Drake Ag Law Center printed and distributed nearly 7,000 copies of the original guide published in 1999. The research and printing of the first publication was funded through a grant from USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education or SARE program. The new online legal guide is available here.