Building Resiliency with the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit

by Maggie Tauranac

Published: 1/26/18, Last updated: 5/27/21

To address the complicated legal issues facing farmers’ markets, The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) at Vermont Law School, in collaboration with the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) and Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) have joined forces to create an online Farmers Market Legal Toolkit. The toolkit is a free resource designed to help farmers’ markets in the US grow, and to help create a resilient local food system with increased access for each community. With support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the toolkit is thoroughly researched and a highly valuable resource for farmers’ market managers.

Emily Spiegel, Assistant Professor from the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School, says of the project, “Farmers’ markets play an important role in community food systems. With our partners, we created this toolkit to provide accessible legal information designed to support and strengthen those markets, based on common legal questions from farmers’ market leaders.”

Digestible Legal Advice for Market Managers

Specifically, the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit provides support for frequent concerns that market managers may have. The toolkit offers case studies from markets in Missouri, Vermont, North Carolina and Louisiana that provide methods for approaching specific issues. The kit explores different business structures — including sole proprietorships, nonprofit structures, LLCs and cooperatives — and makes clear the legal risks involved in each option. And by translating legalese into clear and digestible language, the toolkit addresses legal risks that farmers’ markets are faced with, and tools and strategies for managing those risks.

Incorporating SNAP at Farmers Markets

Perhaps the issue most complex for farmers’ market managers is understanding and complying with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) — formerly food stamps — requirements. Because the stated purpose of many farmers’ markets is to ensure all community members have access to local and nutritious foods, becoming an authorized retailer for accepting SNAP is a vital component of this social justice mission. The Farmers Market Legal Toolkit has done a great service for not only market managers, but also for local farmers and consumers, by clearly spelling out how to negotiate the complexities of SNAP and solidifying access to affordable local and seasonal foods for farmers’ market shoppers.

Farmers markets are our most reliable spaces for direct-to-consumer local food distribution and are an integral component of creating a sustainable and resilient food system. Any measures to encourage their development and protect their growth should be celebrated. The Farmers Market Legal Toolkit does just this by ensuring that managers have the tools they need to bring about resilient and accessible farmers’ markets.

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