13 Free Farm Commons Legal Webinars

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Photo © Patty O’Brien | www.summercrowphotos.com

Farm Commons announced free registration is open for 13 different law webinars that span from December through March. Farm Commons is an organization working to empower farmers and local communities by connecting them with specialized attorneys. The organization’s webinars are intended to provide individuals with a deeper knowledge of applicable farm law.

Want to learn how to build a legally sound CSA business? How about hosting legally secure farm events? Farm Commons’ webinars have everything you need to know about all this and more. The first eight webinars cover the basics of farm law before the last five delve into more advanced topics. Register now before it’s too late:

1. The Beginning Farmer’s Introduction to Farm Law

Monday, December 8

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

2. Put Your CSA On Strong Legal Footing

Tuesday, December 9

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

3. Hosting Safe, Legally Secure Farm Events

Monday, January 5

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

4. Adding Value without Adding Legal Liability to Farm Products

Tuesday, January 6

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

5. Farmland Leases Built to Last: Content and Legal Context

Monday, January 19

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

6. Food Safety Liability and Regulations for the Farm

Tuesday, January 20

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

7. Sales Contracts for Farm Produce: Why and How

Monday, February 2

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

8. Making Employment Law Work for Your Farm

Tuesday, February 3

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

9. Farm Sole Proprietorships, LLCs, S Corps, C Corps, and Coops: Which? Why? How? (Advanced)

Monday, February 23

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

10. Going In-Depth With CSA Farm Law (Advanced)

Tuesday, February 24

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

11. Getting Farm Work Done Legally With Interns, Apprentices and Volunteers (Advanced)

Monday, March 2

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

12. Financing a Farmland Purchase: Legal Basics for Traditional and Non-Traditional Farmland Purchases (Advanced)

Monday, March 23

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

13. Efficiently Manage Your Farm’s Risks with Insurance (Advanced)

Tuesday, March 24

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

Want to learn more about webinars? Check out this Spotlight Roundup from earlier this year that highlights 7 organizations producing incredibly helpful webinars on food and farming issues.

Food Tank’s Featured Organizations Helping Veterans

Photo © Patty O’Brien | www.summercrowphotos.com

Photo © Patty O’Brien | www.summercrowphotos.com

Veteran’s Day has come and gone, but we support our nation’s veterans all year long. To celebrate the recent holiday, Food Tank posted an article featuring 21 organizations around the world that are dedicated to cultivating a community of veterans working in farming and agriculture. The list was just too good not to share, highlighting many organizations that are already featured in Farm Aid’s Farmer Resource Network.

The following was taken directly from Food Tank’s “21 Projects Helping Vets Through Food and Agriculture:”

Armed to Farm (ATF) is a National Center for Appropriate Technology program that provides training on sustainable agriculture to veterans. ATF is a combination of farm tours and classroom instruction that focuses on business planning, livestock production, and fruit and vegetable production.

Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots is a University of Nebraska-Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture program that prepares veterans to work in the agricultural field through education and training. The program helps match the participants with farm and ranch owners.

Community Youth Network Program (CYNP) was founded by former Liberian soldier, Junior Toe, to give purpose to ex-combatants trying to reintegrate into society. Toe teaches former soldiers to raise poultry, grow produce, and earn money through farming to support their families. CYNP also runs a Young Farmers Forum to create a community for its members.

Delaware Valley College Organic Farming Program for Military and Vets is a one-year certification program offered through Delaware Valley College and Rodale Institute that trains veterans in organic farming in order to transition them back to civilian life. Students take courses in subjects such as commercial vegetable production, sustainable agriculture, and plant health management.

Eat the Yard, in Dallas, Texas, was founded by Iraq War veterans, James Jeffers and Steve Smith, to cultivate fresh produce in community gardens. Jeffers and Smith first began organic farming in their own backyards for both therapeutic and financial reasons, then slowly began to build more gardens in their community. They now sell the produce from these gardens to local restaurants and businesses.

Farmer Field Schools (FFS) was developed in post-conflict northern Uganda, by the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) in partnership with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The program teaches modern agricultural skills to Ugandan refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The training emphasizes practice-oriented learning and small group meetings based on similar interests. Upon graduation, smallholder farmers are awarded a grant to start their own agricultural enterprise.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) is working with veterans across the U.S. to transition into agriculture. The Coalition partners veterans with mentors who are experienced in farming and business, matches them with job opportunities in agriculture, and organizes equipment donations in Iowa and California. FVC is helping former members of the armed forces in 48 states.

Goat Peak Ranch is a ranch in New Mexico that offers a Veterans Internship Program. The Program offers weekend and weeklong educational sessions and accepts veterans to assist on the ranch year-round.

Heroic Food is a tuition-free farmer-training program for military veterans in partnership with the FVC. Heroic Food places veterans in paid on-farm apprenticeships and teaches them about sustainable farming, agricultural trade, and food crafting.

Lucky Nickel Ranch, owned by a Marine Corps veteran, serves as both an organic farm and a classroom for veterans. The program partners with the University of Arizona College of Life Sciences and Extension in order to provide both training and classroom time, where participants learn about the science of farming and how to write a business plan.

Roots to Road is a program operated by the Vancouver-based job training agency Partners in Careers. The program employs veterans to farm a one-acre plot; the produce is then donated to local charities.

Semper Fresh Farms is run by two U.S. Marine Corps veterans. The farm works in conjunction with veterans’ organizations such as the FVC in order to train and employ veterans.

Vets to Ag is a program at Michigan State University that trains homeless U.S. veterans to work in the field of agriculture. Participants are trained in areas such as plant and soil science, equipment operation, and integrated pest management. Job development and employer outreach is included in the Vets to Ag program.

Veterans Agricultural Center of Connecticut (VACC) provides both training and therapy to veterans. VACC provides hands-on instruction in farming skills for participants as well as full-service handicap accessible lodging and employment services.

Veterans to Farmers (VTF) strives to bring family farming back to the forefront of the American landscape. VTF was founded by U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Buck Adams in 2011 after overwhelming veteran interest in his organic greenhouse program. Veterans complete a 12-week program, then VTF provides employment support. Several of the VTF graduates now own their own greenhouses, including Evan Premer who describes the greenhouse as a “decompression zone.”

Veteran Farmers of America (VFA) helps veterans make a transition back to civilian life by introducing them to farming. VFA provides veterans with paid internships and places them at a vegan-operated farm.

Veteran Farmers Project is a Center for Rural Affairs program that gives veterans, almost a million of whom come from rural communities, an opportunity to return to their agricultural roots and reinvigorate America’s small farms. The Project provides veterans with agricultural education to help them succeed as farmers.

Veterans Farm Veterans Training Program is partnered with the Veteran Network on Farming and Success to train veterans in all aspects of agriculture. Students in this program learn how to improve irrigation and produce quality organic crops. Veteran farmers receive training in operations management, organic certification, and management skills.

Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) Program trains transitioning service men and women in all aspects of agriculture and food production, including hydroponics, environmental control, and greenhouse management during a six-week intensive course. The program also assists more than 200 graduates in job placement and business creation.

Warriors that Farm works with Texas A&M University in order to provide opportunities for veterans through sustainable agriculture. The university provides credit hours upon completion of the program.

317 Village in Chhuk District, Kampot Province is a Cambodian government-funded initiative that has committed US $3 million to provide 240 families of military veterans and disabled war victims with houses and plots of land to farm. Each plot measures approximately 1.5 acres. This project is providing new hope to families whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by civil war.

All About Soil Health

As stewards of the land, farmers are responsible for maintaining fertile land for future generations. A big part of this is preserving rich, healthy soil, which is important not only for a sustainable future but also for the crops these farmers grow. Soil health is a science and can be tricky to master, but there are plenty of resources available to farmers to help.

Not sure how the quality of soil impacts you? The Rodale Institute created a Soil Biology webinar to explain why healthy soil is important to individuals and the ecosystem as a whole. “The soil is not, as many suppose, a dead, inert substance,” J.I. Rodale wrote in Pay Dirt: Farming and Gardening with Composts. “It is very much alive and dynamic. It teems with bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, molds, yeasts, protozoa, algae and other minute organisms.” The webinar goes on to explain what elements should be abundant in soil and how to maintain those levels.

A crucial aspect to preserving healthy soil is testing. Cooperative Extension offers soil testing resources and guides to help with this process. Click here to find an Extension agent near you. Many Cooperative Extensions provide online educational resources. University of Maine Extension offers this publication with a step-by-step guide to soil testing. Cornell University Cooperative Extension has an entire webpage for soil health, including the “Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual,” a soil health management plan and informative videos dedicated to proper soil testing. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension also offers a soil health webpage with various publications, updated news on soil health science and a list of websites that can provide further help.

While these organizations provide an overview of how to sustain soil health, there are many outlets that offer information on the nitty-gritty of related topics. The Rodale Institute compiled reports and publications related to soil health research discussing specific issues the organization is working on. Many of these can be viewed online here. Rodale also provides an informative, focused webinar, “Impacts of Plastic and Cover Crop Mulches on Weeds, Soil Quality, Yields and Season Length for Tomatoes.”

ATTRA also compiled a list of publications the organization created that discuss specific topics surrounding soil health, ranging from “A Brief Overview of Nutrient Cycling in Pastures” to “Rye as a Cover Crop” to “Alternative Soil Amendments.” ATTRA also offers two educational webinars discussing soil health: “Organic Research and Needs: Cover Crops, Crop Rotation and Soil Health” and “Innovative No-Till: Using Multi-Species Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health.”

Free Organic Seed Resources Available

The Organic Seed Alliance is dedicated to providing free resources to producers with information related to organic seeds. Its website offers publications divided into the following categories: policy reports, plant breeding and variety trials, seed production, worksheets and record sheets, Organic Seed Growers Conference proceedings and a Organic Seed Growers Conference webinar archive. This growing catalog of publications is continually updated and can be helpful to organic and sustainable producers.

The Organic Seed Alliance also offers educational courses that are available to the public, some of which are accessible online. The following courses are currently available: Fundamentals of On-Farm Plant Breeding, Fundamentals of Seed Production, Seed Saving for Farmers and Gardeners and On-Farm Variety Trials.

For additional web-based organic seed resources, check out eOrganic!

How does the FSMA affect you?

On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed into law the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which aims to shift focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. In order to ensure that everyone from the farmer to the processor to the consumer are playing their role in keeping food safe, the FSMA required the FDA to proposed a set of rules authorized at the farm level: the Produce Rule regulates standards for produce production and the Preventive Controls Rule regulates food safety measure for facilities that process food for human consumption. These rules are still in the proposal stage so they are not signed into law yet, but if you own or operate a farm or small business it may be impacted should these rules pass. Read on to find out if or how you may be affected.

What It Is

The Produce Rule builds on existing voluntary industry guidelines for food safety currently followed by many producers, growers and others. The rule focuses on areas of risk such as agricultural water, biological soil amendments, health and hygiene, domesticated and wild animals and equipment, tools and buildings.

The Preventive Controls Rule will require facilities to have written plans in place that identify potential hazards, detail the necessary steps to address those hazards, verify that the steps are working and outline how to fix any problems that arise.

For more details click here.

How It Effects Producers and Processors

The Produce Rule may affect you if you grow, harvest, pack or store fruits or vegetables.

The Preventive Controls Rule may affect you if you process, manufacture, pack or store human food

Both the Produce Rule and the Preventive Controls Rule may affect you if you grow harvest, pack or store fruits and vegetables AND process, manufacture, pack or store human food

For details on who these rules may affect, click here.

Check out the FDA’s fact sheet on the FSMA proposed rules for a full summary, background and predicted impacts.

For guidance on creating your own food safety plan, check out FamilyFarmed.org’s page on how to create one.

Small Ruminant Toolbox

ATTRA now offers a free guide to everything you need to know about producing small ruminant animals. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) developed the new Small Ruminant Toolbox full of information on the animals.

Tools included are a 978-page “Small Ruminant Resource Manual,” several informative presentations shared by Susan Schoenian of the University of Maryland Extension, the Tennessee Master Meat Goat Producer Program in its entirety, a section on “Frequently Asked Questions” about sheep and goat production and a list of other resources.

The Small Ruminant Toolbox is available for free on ATTRA’s Website. In the event that you will need the toolbox when you don’t have internet access, the toolbox is also available on a USB flash drive for $5 each and is also available for order on the website.

Organic/Sustainable Transition Resources

While organic or sustainable agriculture is not for everyone, many people are deciding to transition from conventional farming. Before deciding if this switch is for you, there are many factors that must be taken into consideration. Organic farming requires practices like rotating crops for soil health, distinguishing between pests and beneficial insects and spending a great deal of time in your fields in order to be fully acquainted with your crops, because you will have to learn to handle problems by working with nature to fix them. To look more into these factors and learn other things to consider, check out Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education’s page detailing the transition. The Organic and Non-GMO Report also released an informative question and answer on the topic. There’s more to organic production than growing, though, so the Small Business Bureau created an all-encompassing  overview on producing and selling organic produce.

If organic agriculture is something you are interested in, there can be many benefits for you and your farm. According to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, the three goals of sustainable agriculture are what they call the Three Pillars of Sustainability: profit over the long term, stewardship of our nation’s land, air and water and quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and their communities. The University of Nebraska provides a guide for transitioning to organic farming that not only has specifics related to farming in Nebraska, but also comprehensibly explains the process of transitioning and what it entails. Other great resources for transitioning are the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s helpful, step-by-step handbook and Local Food Hub’s breakdown of organic certification, suppliers and production to walk you through the process.

If you do decide to transition, check out the Rodale Institute’s online course to learn  about how to tackle each step of the transition.

Once a farmer transitions to organic agriculture, they will need to find a new market for their organic products and make sure they have all the certification required. For information on these topics, go to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service’s page on organic farming or Texas A&M Agrilife Extension’s page on marketing organic produce. If you are interested as selling at local farmers markets, check out Local Harvest’s website to find one near you.

2014 WFAN Conference Announcement

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) annual conference is available for registration! The event will be held at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center in Fairfield, Iowa from November 14-15. This year’s annual conference includes field tours, pesticide drift training, workshops, farm-to-table restaurant tour and much more!

If you’re interested in registering for the 2014 WFAN conference, visit http://wfan.org for more information.

Growing Change: Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Community Alliance with Family Farmers

The roots of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers go back to 1983, when University of California, Davis Small Farms Director, Tom Haller, organized the first annual conference for small farmers in California to measure the pulse of farming in the state.

The farmers in attendance were all looking for the same thing: a local organization that could represent their interests. It was from that need that Haller helped found the California Association of Family Farmers to provide representation for small farmers seeking a stronger voice. Eventually the organization joined forces with the California Agrarian Action Project, a group with a similar mission, and the two united to become the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) in 1993. Since then, CAFF has worked on countless initiatives and is the leading voice for sustainable, community-based agriculture in California.

CAFF’s work includes five main programs:

  • policy and advocacy
  • biological agriculture
  • Farm to School
  • Buy Fresh Buy Local
  • farmer technical assistance

CAFF
CAFF strives to build shared values around food and agriculture at the community level, while working with farmers through practical, on-the-ground programming. These partnerships create locally-based economic vitality, improved human and environmental health, and long-term farm sustainability. Among CAFF’s successes in spearheading the state’s local food movement are publishing the first California Farm Fresh Directory in 1995 and developing one of the country’s first Buy Fresh Buy Local programs in 2002. CAFF started a Farm-to-School program in 2001 in Davis and Ventura, which eventually expanded around the state. Today the organization works in six different locations, including Davis, Oakland, Watsonville, Arcata, Gilroy and Sebastopol.

“The biggest farm in California owns more than 250,000 acres now,” explains CAFF’s Policy Director, Dave Runsten. “There are only about 8 million irrigated acres in California. So you would only need 32 of farms at that scale to farm the whole state. But luckily, we have about 85,000 farms in California. We try to support everybody who wants to farm. That’s my job. I represent all of those family farms.”

Helping farmers, particularly beginning or aspiring farmers, to market their products is a major focus for CAFF. Runsten explains that markets have always been one of the biggest challenges for their farmers. CAFF helps connect farmers to institutions like hospitals and schools to market their products through its Buy Fresh Buy Local and Farm to School campaigns. In turn, the organization also helps inform consumers about where to access fresh, local food. “When we started, no wholesaler or distributor wanted to deal with local farmers,” Dave recalls. “The world has changed. Now all distributors want to have local, farm fresh stuff available.”

CAFF works to instill those same values in the state’s youth through its Farm-to-School program, which educates children from a young age about the importance of supporting local agriculture. Schools receive Harvest of the Month baskets with in-season produce from local farms, as well as a lesson plan for teachers to help their students explore the fruits and vegetables that are in season.

In addition, CAFF consistently advances fair farm policy at the local, state, regional and national level by representing and advocating for family farmers. In 2003, CAFF became a founding member of the California Food and Justice Coalition, a group that works toward a fair and sustainable community-driven food system. CAFF became the first organization in California to stand against genetically modified foods in 2000. In doing so, the organization helped lead efforts to pass Assembly Bill 2663, which outlined the state’s intent to permanently fund the University of California’s sustainable agriculture research and education program. By 2002, CAFF became a founding member of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture. CAFF also helped to form the California Climate and Agriculture Network, which elevates the role of sustainable agriculture and on-farm stewardship practices as a solution to climate change. On a state level, CAFF has also recently worked on policy involving land preservation and renewable energy.

In terms of growing community, CAFF hosts networking events and farm tours that bring together farmers and eaters throughout the year. Their popular field days on local farms allow farmers to learn various methods of farming through direct peer exchange, including topics like growing various types of produce, sustainable production methods, and farming during drought, an issue of utmost concern to California farmers right now.

Over the years, Farm Aid has developed a strong relationship with CAFF. With their direct work with farmers, CAFF serves as an important referral when California farmers call the Farm Aid Hotline and utilize the Farmer Resource Network. In 2013, Farm Aid awarded CAFF a $7,500 grant toward its Family Farm Food Safety Project to develop a set of basic food safety practices catered to the needs of family farms. The goal is to avoid mandatory “one size fits all” rules that could easily undermine the very local food systems many have worked so hard to create.

CAFF’s long-standing dedication to family farmers has helped shape California into the state it is today, where family farms can flourish and local communities can reap the benefits of fresh produce. The new food safety battle is just the latest example of how the work never ends, and we are lucky to hold such a long-standing, visionary partner as a trusted ally in the work to keep family farmers on their land and to build a thriving family farm food system that benefits all.

Photos from CAFF’s flickr page.

Learn More

Food and farm webinar roundup

What is a webinar, you ask? A webinar is essentially an online educational video that typically discusses a specific topic. Many organizations listed in our Farmer Research Network online search tool provide this type of resource to assist agricultural producers. While some of these webinars require advanced registration, other videos are archived for farmers and ranchers to watch anytime! From conservation tips and tools to learning to start a farm, there are plenty of agriculture webinars available to farmers. Here are some trusted websites with webinars that can help:

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) 

ATTRA, a division of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, maintains an ongoing archive of its webinars focused on different areas of sustainable agriculture. Want to learn how to build a better relationship with your lamb processor? How about organic farm conservation? With 55 archived webinars and a growing library, this is the site to visit for all things sustainable.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Many branches of the USDA developed webinars to assist and educate producers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) created a library of various videos related to conservation. These webinars span topics ranging from “Planning for Floodplain and Riparian Area Special Environmental Concerns” to “Conserving Pollinators While Addressing Other Resource Concerns.” Each webinar is hosted by a lineup of experts, many of which are USDA employees.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) developed a series of webinars that air twice a month from January through June of 2014 focusing on farm to school programs. All of these videos are archived in an FNS library in addition to a host of other webinars from the past two years.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service created an ongoing series of fruit and vegetable webinars archived here.

The USDA’s Forest Service developed the “Invasive Plants—Issues, Challenges and Discoveries Webinar Series” intended for landowners, agriculture professionals and scientists. This seven-part series will run through May, 2014, and information on each can be found here.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

While NSAC doesn’t have a library of archived webinars, the organization hosts several training webinars throughout the year. These training sessions cover many different topics, like how to market your agricultural business through building connections with the media or this overview of cover crops based on updated USDA termination guidelines. To stay up-to-date on the latest NSAC webinar, check out its website or like the organization on Facebook.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

The different SARE branches created varying series of webinars. North Central SARE offers webinars focusing on greenhouse energy, cover crops, building local sustainable foods and irrigation energy.  Southern SARE provides a webinar on “Grafting for Disease Management in Organic Tomato Production.” Farmers and ranchers can also order archived webinar series from Northeast SARE focusing on marketing for profit or farmland transfer and access.

Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN)

WFAN has a library of webinars that focus on empowering female farmers. These webinars cover a diverse range of topics within this realm, but each is meant to give women the tools they need to succeed. That may be on a policy level, such as the “Policy—When The Personal Becomes Political” video, which engages women leaders to explain how individuals can further policy goals. There are also more abstract videos, like this webinar that discusses the power of blogging.

Farm Commons 

Farm Commons creates and archives webinars focused on dealing with legal issues that can impact farm operations. The organization supplements these videos with downloadable resources. These webinars cover topics relevant to beginning and advanced growers alike, with titles ranging from “ Starting a Farm” to “Community Supported Agriculture Legal Issues.”

Rodale Institute 

While the Rodale Institute hasn’t released any webinars yet, stay tuned! The organization is in the works of creating a schedule of webinar trainings. In the meantime, Rodale developed a page with helpful videos from its conferences and workshops.