Legal help for markets

Way back in 2013, I did a workshop for NOFA-VT at their Direct Marketing Conference which is held in South Royalton at the beautiful Vermont Law School campus; that time I spoke about the governance of markets and the need for the right incorporation and the right management structure based on that incorporation.

Directly after it ended, I saw Laurie Ristino, the brand-new director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (who had welcomed the group that morning) making a beeline for me.  “Hey!” she said enthusiastically, “maybe we should talk about doing a project here at the Center for markets on incorporation issues?”

From that beginning, she and I and VT’s direct marketing leader Erin Buckwalter came up with a research project funded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to create a legal toolkit for markets. We decided to focus on the 3 areas where we saw the most questions: Governance, SNAP/Currency, and general market day risks.

Over the next 4 years, different students under the leadership of Jamie Renner took the questions and issues that Erin and I collected to research what markets did in that situation and what the legal ramifications would be for each issue. Dozens of market leaders offered input and a few even let us go through their files or be interviewed to find case studies or to offer expert advice.

Laurie led us with her indefatigable good humor, constant layers of gentle questions and a firm belief in her team: Claire and the aforementioned Jamie,  Gabe Halberg at Dadra Design, Mike Custode and Sarah Danley with the gorgeous design of the site and then Emily Spiegel and Lihlani Nelson who very ably took the reins over the last year to do tons of final edits (with the help of the brilliant and speedy Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons), design the dissemination of the tool and lead the project to its conclusion.

Jen Cheek, FMC’s Executive Director popped in when she was able to offer advice on content, to review the design using her extensive graphics skills and to link the CAFS team to resources, especially within the SNAP section whenever needed.

Erin Buckwalter at NOFA-VT was our constant project and content leader, always ready with calm wisdom and wry jokes, yet firm in her direction about what she and I agreed was vital to include in the toolkit.

Now in 2018, we have a resource that we are all rightly proud to share with markets and vendors. The site is well laid out and offers enough detail to steer folks in the right direction and to assist their legal team in understanding what is available already and what are possible issues.

I hope that we can continue to build this toolkit in future iterations and expand on other questions raised since we began this project in 2014. Please let us all know how the toolkit is useful to you and how we might best increase its use if new funding comes our way.