July 2024 Member Spotlight: Harriet Behar

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about how a particular piece of the organic movement began, when a policy was launched, or how new farm practices caught on, we know a person who will know the back story. Our July member spotlight is Harriet Behar, long-time OFA member, organic farmer, and one could say organic farming savant.

Harriet has over 40 years of experience in the organic sector, including as an organic educator and an organic inspector.

Harriet earns that high praise for one, she’s a great storyteller and has collected some incredible tales from her 50 years as an organic farmer, but also from everyone she’s worked with in the industry over the years. She also earned her place in organic farming from years of pushing the boundaries and asking questions.

Her journey started when Harriet was studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin and had a summer job at the botanical gardens. She had started working outdoors with plants and enjoyed the experience of seeing how nature worked together. (Side story, this was 1972 and Harriet was the first woman they ever hired. Ask her to tell you this story next time your paths cross, it’s worth the time, the laughs, and the reflection on how far we’ve come!) Around this time Harriet met new friends who were living on a farm. It wasn’t long before she moved there, dropped out of school, and became a farmer. Age-old story of how to become an organic farmer, right?

Soon she moved to a farm to grow vegetables for the community based on relationships she built with the Madison co-ops and restaurants, and also collaborated with other farmers mainly through the natural foods cooperative. This was during the same time the Madison farmers market launched where Harriet was one of the first vendors.

Then one fateful day, Harriet received a postcard in the mail about a new co-op, the Cropp Cooperative, today you know it as Organic Valley. Harriet worked there as the  farmer liaison where she got to visit a lot of farms, ask a lot of questions, and learn new farm practices. One day, the head seller asked her to step in for him during peak harvest. He handed her a rolodex and not much advice on how to get started. It was a rough few days of not selling anything, but if you know Harriet, you know this wasn’t going to stand. She started up the refrigerator truck and took the sales on the road for the first time. She earned higher prices for her sales, built new relationships with partners, and after her colleague returned, she found herself in a new role based on her success and creative approach to getting organic products into more markets.

Here she made connecting buyers and consumers with farmers and the stories of where their food came from the cornerstone of her approach—and this was long before the “Know Your Farmer” campaigns we all know today.
Harriet learned advocacy during this time and carried those lessons on as she became an organic inspector, served on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), was a representative to the National Organic Coalition (NOC), and sat on the committee that started the Organic Farmers Association, and now she’s OFA’s Farmer Services Consultant where she supports transitioning and organic farmers. Her stance on advocacy work is, “If you agree to be invisible you will be. So if you want something you have to speak up—be prepared with a good argument, and understand what the other side wants too.”

Harriet has some advice for anyone looking to get started with advocacy:

  • Look into different associations for your particular type of farming or in your region to find a group of farmers to learn from and share with
    Talk with people and get different perspectives—there’s strength in discussing issues in a larger group
  • Farming can be solitary, but building relationships is rewarding and enriching and can lead to change
  • And of course, you can reach out to Harriet. Swap stories, ask all the questions you can think of (even if you think they’re silly questions), and make a new organic farm friend.

 

Would you like to nominate someone for the Member Spotlight? Please email your recommendation to madison[@]organicfarmersassociation.org

 


June 2024 Member Spotlight: Emily Oakley and Mike Appel

The start of summer is a few days away and it’s said that no matter how many years a farmer has been farming, there are always surprises and challenges to face. Emily Oakley and Mike Appel of Three Springs Farm are our June member spotlight, and that old adage is definitely  true for them this season.

Emily and Mike met where you imagine all future organic farmers would meet… In an agroecology class on the first day of college. The two worked together, routinely outlasting their classmates in the Long Island heat and humidity, and soon Emily was convincing Mike that Oklahoma was the perfect location to build an organic farm.

Three Springs Farm organic farm owned by Mike and Emily Oakley in Oaks, Oklahoma

Emily is a first-generation farmer who grew up in Oklahoma and knew the market was ready for an organic farm and CSA program, plus the land was more affordable and Emily had local connections to help jumpstart the business. For three years they borrowed land in Tulsa thanks to the generosity of a local woman who let them use a few acres of her horse pasture. Emily looks back now and realizes what a sacrifice that was to give up that farm space, and she still refers to the landowner as a fairy godmother.

However, the pair soon needed more space and were hunting for property that they could certify and turn into a home as well. Another community member who had been watching their success grow stepped up to help them find their next farm, and they’ve been farming there for just over 17 years now. Each week they deliver organic produce to customers in central Tulsa via a tab model CSA program. This way they can deliver flexibility, affordability, and more options to the community as they can choose the products they want in their share, when they want them, and charge against a balance they paid earlier in the season. Mike and some friends even developed an app to make online share ordering easier for shoppers and the farm, and recently applied for a USDA grant to try to make it available to farmers across the country!

But while the farm is doing well and the CSA has great shopper retention, the farm is facing a challenge they thought they were protected against. Mike and Emily realized they were drifted on recently despite taking all the precautions to protect themselves from this calamity. The farm rests in a valley without neighboring farms, so they never thought it could happen to them. Currently they are working with their certifier, the department of agriculture, and have shared samples with Oklahoma State pathologists to begin to sort out what was sprayed and by whom. While they’ve notified their CSA members of the incident, it’s now a waiting game to see what the damage is and if they’ll lose their certification. 

It’s easy to imagine this experience will make Emily and Mike even more hardened advocates for the health of their environment and community. Both are working on local grassroots efforts to prevent CAFO expansion, and Mike, who serves on OFA’s Policy Committee, is particularly passionate about national issues like strengthening organic standards and making farming policies more organically focused. 

While these two are busier than expected this season, Emily shared a centering thought: Working with others, like being a part of OFA, brings a connection with other growers, a sense of community that cuts across farming systems and regions, and can give a farmer the impetus to keep going. “It feels like you’ll never make it past 5 years, or 10 years, then you do. But you wonder if you’ll keep going. But once we got 12 or 15 years in, we felt our systems were solidified and knowledge was increasing. Now we have an amazing community and farm set up—and nothing would give us greater reward and gratification than this.”

 

Would you like to nominate someone for the Member Spotlight? Please email your recommendation to madison[@]organicfarmersassociation.org


May 2024 Member Spotlight: Linda Halley

As we break into peak spring, it’s a good time to remember that we all have to create our own solutions to challenges. Our May Member Spotlight is Linda Halley, General Manager at Gwenyn Hill Farm and she’s been doing just that as an organic farmer for 30 years. Linda is preparing for retirement this summer, but also gearing up for the next chapter in her organic story—being a voice for farmers by influencing organic policy.

Linda grew up on a conventional farm that started as a dairy in the 50s, added crops in the 60s, and transitioned into corn, soy, and pastured beef in the 70s. But Linda didn’t identify with that path, and decided there might not be a place for her on the family farm. Instead, Linda studied to be a teacher. But after some years she decided she wanted to return home. Linda’s father had always inspired her to do anything, including taking risks. That belief, combined with Linda’s prediction that organic would be the new forefront of farming, convinced Linda to take the leap. With the support of her family, she took on a little piece of the family farm and started managing it organically.

But Linda soon discovered farming alone was hard and isolating. So Linda created her own solution. She started working with a farmer who would mentor her in organic vegetable growing. She found community and eventually jumped onto the first wave of the CSA movement in Madison, Wisconsin. She convinced her mentor farmer to start growing for a CSA–one of the first serving the Madison community in 1993—and she stayed to work on the farm.

They worked that farm for 15 years, and it’s still a successful CSA farm under new owners today. In that transition, Linda decided not to buy another farm, but rather she took all her experience and built a career managing other organic farms. That’s where Linda got the opportunity to provide mentorship to the next generation. Where she didn’t have educational opportunities to learn organic skills, and had to teach herself and find her own mentor, she now could provide all that to students and help the organic movement grow in a positive way. 

The farm Linda manages today partners with the state’s department of workforce development and a local community college to manage an apprenticeship program. Some of these students have even graduated and returned to the farm to become employees. While the reward of supporting these new farmers is immense, the work of mentoring isn’t easy for farmers. The apprentices ask tough questions and push those around them to be better farmers. At the same time, it’s hard to tell these young farmers to embrace the organic label and certification process in its current form knowing how challenging it can be when you’re first getting started. The fees, paperwork, and burden of building a local customer base are all topics apprentices weigh during their journey—all questions without easy solutions that weigh heavy on mentors’ minds. 

This is one reason why Linda wants to continue being an advocate for organic agriculture during retirement. Certification processes could be more approachable for all organic farmers, and getting to that point requires farmer action. Policy work isn’t something the average organic farmer has time for, but Linda feels she has the experience to help others and will soon have more time to do just that. 

Linda kicked off this part of her organic journey by submitting comments to the NOSB for the first time in her career in Milwaukee this spring, and she’s looking forward to the next opportunity to take action. By keeping the big picture in mind and moving the needle on organic policy, Linda is creating the next solution to the next challenge on her list—which we bet she’ll surely conquer as well. 

Would you like to nominate someone for the Member Spotlight? Please email your recommendation to madison[@]organicfarmersassociation.org


OFA Applauds Senate's Farm Bill Framework

Organic Farmers Association Applauds Senate Farm Bill Framework

Washington, D.C., May 3, 2024 —The Organic Farmers Association (OFA) praises the inclusion of improved organic agriculture policies in the Farm Bill framework Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Stabenow released this week.

“OFA is pleased to see movement on the long-awaited Farm Bill,” said Lily Hawkins, OFA’s Policy Director. “Policies in the framework presented by Chairwoman Stabenow can help move more U.S. agriculture to organic methods and make a positive impact for organic producers who help support rural economic growth, protect the environment, and promote human health.”

The framework, released as the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act, provides authorization of funding that will allow the National Organic Program (NOP) to keep pace with the growth in the organic sector and will advance OFA’s Farm Bill priorities in numerous ways: 

Promoting Organic Integrity

  • Directs the National Organic Program to solicit public input on the prioritization of organic regulations to be promulgated or revised
  • Directs the Secretary to publish an annual report regarding recommendations received from the National Organic Standards Board, all regulatory and administrative actions taken, and justifications on why actions were or were not taken on those recommendations
  • Directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the efforts of the NOP to improve organic standards and provide recommendations on how the NOP can ensure that organic program standards evolve in a timely manner to meet consumer expectations and benefit organic producers

Providing Assistance for Organic Dairy Farmers

  • Directs the Department of Agriculture to improve collection of organic dairy market data

Improving Climate and Conservation Programs

  • Clarifies the calculation of Conservation Stewardship Program payments for income forgone by a producer transitioning to an organic resource-conserving system

Funding Organic Research

  • Continues funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative  
  • Provides enhanced coordination of organic agriculture research within USDA
  • Provides mandatory funding for organic production and market data initiatives

Making USDA Programs Work for Organic Farmers

  • Provides stable funding for the Certification Cost-Share Program and increases the maximum payment to a producer or handler to $1,000
  • Directs research and development on ways to increase participation of organic producers in Federal crop insurance

Increasing Organic Infrastructure

  • Authorizes an Organic Market Development Grant program 
  • Increases the EQIP payment cap for organic producers, making the organic cap equal to the conventional payment cap

The House Agriculture Committee is expected to unveil their Farm Bill proposal soon after Chair G.T. Thompson holds a markup this month. Once each Agriculture Committee has passed its own version of the bill, leaders from the House and Senate will work to combine the two bills, which will then be voted on by the full chambers. 

OFA will continue to advocate for the inclusion of the important policies from the Senate framework and key marker bills in the final Farm Bill.

 


April 2024 Member Spotlight: Pryor Garnett

Pryor Garnett (Garnetts Red Prairie Farm) is a long-time member of OFA and the current Governing Council President.

April’s Member Spotlight belongs to OFA’s newly elected Governing Council President, Pryor Garnett of Garnetts Red Prairie Farm in Sheridan, Oregon. Like all good farmer stories, Pryor’s starts with a twist.

Despite being a farm owner since 2009 and farming himself since 2016, Pryor still calls himself a beginning farmer. That’s because Pryor spent most of his career before farming as a patent lawyer. While Pryor was a dedicated gardener for many years, he always thought he’d be a landowner one day. His experience growing his own food had long ago converted him to believing that organic is the healthiest way to eat, and that what’s good for us to eat is also more likely to be sustainable in the face of climate change and in the face of system disruptions.

When Pryor was ready for a change, and as the farmers who rented his farm moved on, he began farming. He received advice from NRCS and Oregon Tilth and worked toward today where his 92-acre farm specializes in growing certified organic wheat and other small grains for food, seed, and animal consumption. Successfully farming with just organic practices is very difficult, Pryor shared. A lot of expertise is needed and he’s still learning, but Pryor believes if he can do it, others in the region may see the opportunity as well. Currently, 62 acres are certified organic or in transition toward organic certification.

But Pryor knew there was more he could offer to the organic movement than just farming alone. When Oregon Tilth asked if he’d be interested in policy work, he knew he could use his skills as a lawyer to advocate in favor of positions that would protect and promote further development of organic agriculture. Since then, Pryor has been no stranger to policy work.

Last summer he hosted a staffer from Congresswoman Andrea Salinas’ office with the help of Oregon Climate Action Network and Oregon Tilth. That work paid off as it earned Pryor an invitation from the congresswoman’s office in January to participate in the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) roundtable as the only organic voice speaking for climate-resilient food supply chain changes in the upcoming Farm Bill.

Pryor notes that most farmers dread advocacy work and will go to great lengths to avoid it, but everyone who has tried it has come away wanting to try it again in his experience. Once a farmer can start building relationships with their members of congress, it’s easier to gain momentum and move the organic movement forward.

 

Would you like to nominate someone for the Member Spotlight? Please email your recommendation to madison[@]organicfarmersassociation.org.

 


OFA's Spring Interns Help Elevate Farmer Voices

Policy, Farmer Services, and Communications Interns Explore Organic Careers

This spring, Organic Farmers Association welcomed three interns to the team to learn, contribute, and experience organic agriculture advocacy in action. As a part of the Organic Career Network (OCN), OFA has set a goal to increase diversity and equity in the organic sector including support for the exploration of career opportunities in the industry.

OCN connects organic organizations to underrepresented students who are interested in exploring career pathways in the organic industry. The OCN aims to provide students with the opportunity to get hands-on experience with organic certification, inspection, advocacy, and farmer education organizations and agencies.

Welcome Spring Interns

Amanda Jones

Policy Intern

Amanda is a passionate naturalist, gardener, and systems thinker. She has worked in organic agriculture and conservation in her home state of Virginia. She aspires to empower communities to create healthier and more sustainable ecosystems. She is graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies with a focus on sustainable food systems at George Mason University.

Brooke Tokushige

Farmer Services Intern

Brooke is a fourth year student-athlete at the University of California, Davis pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. Brooke has engaged in some farm work in the past and is interested in the social aspects of the agricultural industry. Giving farmers every chance they have at succeeding in their practice is important to Brooke who is working with OFA to create equity and justice throughout food systems and make farmers’ voices heard!

Louise Brownell

Communications Intern

Louise recently graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy with a Master’s in Agroecology & Food Sovereignty. She is passionate about food system transformation, and wrote her thesis about local food related to the experience of visitors at Podere il Casale, a 60 hectare farm in Tuscany where she volunteered as part of the Master’s program. Prior to this experience, she worked in Washington, D.C. as the Director of Operations for a Wisconsin congressman, and earned her Bachelor of Arts from Fordham University.


March 2024 Member Spotlight: Noah Wendt

Noah Wendt, Kate Mendenhall, and a staffer for Senator Chuck Grassley's office during the 2024 Farmer Fly-In.

This Month’s Member Spotlight is Noah Wendt of A&W Farms in Cambridge, Iowa. Noah is a first generation farmer who, while he didn’t grow up on a farm himself, was always interested in the crops and livestock he saw his extended family grow and raise. Noah was pushed by family not to go into the volatile agriculture business as a farmer, so he did the next best thing—he went to ag business school.

Regardless of his parents' attempts, Noah was drawn back to try his hand at production agriculture and away from his career in ag business. So in 2006, Noah partnered with Caleb Akin, another first generation farmer, and started A&W Farms. It wasn’t long before the economics of farming had the pair looking for another way to farm. And so, starting in 2014 with some encouragement from friends who also transitioned, A&W Farms began on a 10-year plan to convert as much of their land to organic as possible. 

While the original motivation to move to organic production was a financial one, Noah looks back at the decade he’s spent as an organic farmer and sees how his reasons have changed. Now Noah sees organic farming as a way of doing better justice to the soil, environment, and humanity. This new way of seeing his farm is one reason why Noah has started speaking up about agricultural topics on a policy level. 

Since starting an organic grain facility with partners, he’s heard more stories from farmers about the same topics—crop insurance, crop rotation, soil health, etc. Topics Noah could now see at a deeper level and knew required farmer voices to advocate for change. 

As an OFA member, Noah just returned from his first Farmer Fly-In Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. Admittedly, he was nervous, but once he joined the group of other experienced advocate-farmers his confidence increased. Noah was able to share his requests for the next Farm Bill with his legislators, and he plans to join OFA at future Fly-Ins, too. 

Reflecting on the greatest lesson he’s learned during his organic journey so far, Noah says he sees there’s a bigger sense of community in the organic movement. People are willing to bend over backwards to help and there’s no advice a farmer won’t share with another farmer if it helps them succeed—it’s unlike anything he ever found in his conventional farming experience. 

 


OFA Heads to Washington, D.C. to Advocate for Farm Bill Policies

Organic Farmers Association Heads to Washington, D.C. to Advocate for Farm Bill Policies 

Members and staff of the Organic Farmers Association will be in the nation's capital March 4-7 to meet with representatives in the House and Senate, as well as staff on the House and Senate Agriculture committees, to advocate for Farm Bill policies and their potential impact on the organic farming community.

This influential year marks the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, a piece of extensive agricultural legislation that is updated every five years and has a major impact on food and farming systems. Due to congressional delays, a Continuing Resolution is in place that funds the legislation through September 2024, but the remaining months before final passage remain a critical time for advocates to earn and keep support. 

According to Executive Director, Kate Mendenhall, “Farmers are best suited to educate changemakers about the challenges they face on the farm and need to be part of crafting the solutions to grow organic farming in this country. Bringing organic farmers to Washington, D.C. puts their voices front and center, and is a high priority for Organic Farmers Association.”

The policies being advocated for aim to make USDA programs work for organic farmers by increasing support and assistance. This includes increasing organic infrastructure to create new regional programs that increase organic production, addressing challenges for climate and supply chain resilience, and strengthening local food systems. Members will also be asking lawmakers to provide immediate support for organic dairy farms to address the dramatically increased organic input costs putting many family-farms out of business. 

Organic farmers face numerous hurdles, including economic challenges and concerns about organic import fraud, and better crop insurance options for organic farmers. The advocacy efforts of OFA’s members aim to address these challenges through policies that will ensure a better future for the industry. By making USDA programs work for organic farmers, organic farmers will be able to pave the way for a thriving and sustainable organic farming market and healthy rural and urban communities. For more information about the farm bill policies OFA and organic farmers are advocating for, visit www.OrganicFarmersAssociation.org.


February 2024 Member Spotlight: Scott Myers

This month’s member spotlight is on Scott Myers of Woodlyn Acres Farm in Dalton, Ohio. Scott is a 4th generation farmer who didn’t start out in farming, but rather as a vocal music major at OSU before changing his major to economics.

Scott Myers after meeting with his Congressman’s office during the 2023 OFA Farmer Fly-In.

That was a wise choice as Scott’s studies helped him solve the puzzle of how to help make his family’s farm more profitable, and the answer was in hay.

Wayne County, where Scott’s farm is located, is the largest dairy area in the state, and where there’s dairy, there should be hay. However, area farmers were getting a lot of their hay from outside the region instead of locally. So hay was grown and the farm grew too. Today the farm is home to a rotation of 8-10 crops.

Scott’s organic journey began when the local dairies started transitioning to organic. One season, a few of Scott’s customers canceled their orders when they needed to find new organic suppliers. This tale could have taken a turn for the worse, but those dairies instead came to Scott to ask if he’d consider growing some organic hay for their operation. And so, the gradual transition to organic was underway. Scott’s farm was in a great position to transition since he already used regular crop rotations and chicken manure as fertilizer. Today, Scott farms over 2,500 acres organically without exposing his family or neighbors to chemicals, obtaining the same yields, and better quality crops.

Scott became involved with OFA and the Policy Committee after years of advocating with OEFFA where he began to speak up about organic and the challenges it faces. He sees the advocacy work he does with OFA as a way to work directly with lawmakers and defend organic. While there are always naysayers who question organic, Scott believes standing up to share your story is the best way to support organic and make farming more equitable. Scott knows he’s privileged for how he came into organic farming, and his experience with meeting farmers from across the country as a part of his advocacy work has exposed him to more stories of imbalance within the system. Stories he hopes he can lend a voice to in order to make a change for organic farmers.

 

Would you like to nominate someone for the Member Spotlight? Please email your recommendation to madison[@]organicfarmersassociation.org. 


Protecting Your Harvest: Mitigating Risks in Buyer Bankruptcies

Have you heard this one before? The farmer delivers product to a buyer and expects payment 30 days later. A check arrives in the mail a month later; the farmer cashes it. And then….bankruptcy. The next thing our farmer pulls out of the mailbox is a clawback letter, demanding that she give the money back! 

Can this outrageous scenario possibly be legal? It’s as alarming as it is legal. But, farmers don’t have to be the victims. There are proactive steps a farmer can take to mitigate the impact a buyer bankruptcy might have on their operation. Let’s explore the legal details through a different story.

Knowing your defenses in the case of a partner's bankruptcy will give you more options in the aftermath.  

Let’s say Jill owns a specialty butcher shop where she retails fresh cuts and sausage products to high-end restaurants. Business has been rough. Jill considers her debt for processing equipment, low profitability, and a declining customer base and realizes bankruptcy is her best option. Her neighbor Bob dropped off $4,000 worth of meat about a month ago as did another farmer, Sue. Their invoices need to be paid. But Butcher Jill only has enough money to pay one vendor. She writes a check to Bob, he’s her neighbor, after all. A few days later, Jill files for bankruptcy. After the bankruptcy court looks at her case, the trustee issues a “clawback letter” to Bob telling him to return the payment for the meat. 

When Bob reads the letter, he sees red. From his perspective, the court is either stealing his product or asking him to donate it to Butcher Jill! Sue is angry, too. Why does Bob get 100% payment of his invoice while she gets nothing? She thinks Jill shouldn’t be allowed to favor her neighbor in matters as serious as this. 

As the saying goes, “a good compromise leaves everyone mad,” and it describes bankruptcy processes perfectly. The intention of the bankruptcy process is good: it’s designed to protect the public’s interest in an orderly and fair resolution when businesses can’t pay their bills. That means the court is especially sympathetic to people like Sue. The bankruptcy court wants to be sure that no creditors have received unfair “preferential treatment” in the 90 days leading up to the bankruptcy filing. Preferential treatment involves actions like making sure favorite vendors or people with influence get paid back the most. One of the first steps a bankruptcy process often takes is to demand a return of every payment made to creditors in the 90 days before the filing. The court starts by assuming all payments were preferential. After all, people like Jill know their business is struggling well before they file. The court’s goal is to take the clawed-back funds and split them evenly between Bob, Sue, and anyone else who extended credit to Jill in the 90 days before she filed.

If Bob were to take his clawback letter to an attorney, the first thing the attorney might do is explore an “ordinary course of business” defense. This defense allows Bob to say, “Hey, I was not being treated preferentially!” If Bob can show this, he may be able to keep his payment. One way Bob might win is by showing that the payment for his meat near to the time of bankruptcy was exactly as it was well before the bankruptcy was filed. Ideally, Bob would provide documentation showing that he was paid via the same method, form, and timing as he had been in every other instance. This gets harder if Bob only has a couple of transactions with Butcher Jill, perhaps because he’s a new vendor or because he only delivers his product once per year. In that case, Bob could try to show that his transaction was in perfect accordance with industry standards. But, this is an expensive proposition as Bob will need an expert witness who can testify as to how meat producers and butchers normally do things. Bob might burn more money getting the expert’s testimony prepared and admitted than his invoice with Jill is worth.

Bob’s attorney might also argue that Bob never extended credit to Butcher Jill. This is called a “contemporaneous exchange” defense. It allows Bob to say, “Wait a minute, I was never a creditor of Jill! You can only do a clawback from a creditor!” For Bob to prove this, he’d need to show that Jill paid him on delivery (or close to it). Bob might also need a signed sales contract showing Bob and Jill agreed that their sales were a contemporaneous exchange, along with a copy of the voided check that Jill sent and Bob cashed shortly after he left her shop. Some courts allow a small amount of time to pass between delivering the product and getting paid, while other courts insist the payment be made on delivery to make it a “contemporaneous exchange.” The contemporaneous exchange can be challenging as many large-scale commodity buyers simply won’t negotiate on their terms. They buy on credit and that’s it. 

Time and again over our history, many small farmers have rallied to confront buyer business practices that aren’t working for them, and today’s bankruptcies are no different. State governments have responded to farmers’ vulnerability by creating things like bond programs and indemnity funds. Thirty states have a program like this. Many require that farmers submit a claim to the fund or program within a certain timeframe. Some programs may also limit the total amount they’ll give the farmer. Farmers who know the details of their state’s programs can protect themselves. They can make sure that they file on time, and they can limit total sales to any single buyer to the total amount the state will provide in compensation, should that buyer go bankrupt. Farmers may also consider filing a lien. Filing a lien has the effect of making the farmer a secured creditor: secured creditors get made whole first and they aren’t subject to clawback in bankruptcy. The process is usually simple, but states with bond and indemnity programs that cover grain farmers don’t also allow a lien. The law usually provides one or the other but not both.

Playing the long game, farmers can and should continue to work with each other to discover what isn’t working and advocate for what will work. Uniting with advocates and allies, farmers can continue to push for change that protects them. After all, bankruptcy and government programs resulted from democratic decision-making, and farmers can be full participants in that process. 

Some Helpful Tips

In the event of a bankruptcy clawback letter:

Defense What it Means What to Do
Clawback Letter Ordinary course of business I was not given preferential treatment!  This was a normal transaction. 1. Show that you were paid the same way you were previously (method, form, timing)                  

2. Show payment is in accordance with industry standards  

Clawback Letter Contemporaneous exchange I was never a creditor of this business. You can only trigger a clawback from a creditor. 1. Show that you were paid on delivery (or close to it in some states)

2.  A signed sales contract showing buyer and seller agreed that their sales were a contemporaneous exchange, along with proof that the money was received shortly after delivery

What farmers can do about it:

  1. Find out if your state has an indemnity or bond program. (30 states do!)
    • Only sell up to the amount an indemnity or bond program will cover in each instance.  
    • Know the rules of the indemnity or bond fund (filing timing, amounts, etc.) to protect yourself.
    • Find out what the period is to file a claim. Some states have a limited window when you can file a claim. Minnesota passed new legislation in 2023 with a long indemnity claim period of 36 months to file a claim. Ask your state legislators to match Minnesota’s indemnity claim period to cover clawbacks that could be issued up to two years after a filed bankruptcy.
  2. Join an OFA Working Group on Fair Contracts, where we can find solutions to these sorts of challenges and more. Email julia@organicfarmersassociation.org to get connected.
    • If you don’t have an indemnity fund and you want to start one, please contact us!
  3. Read more about the aftermath of a recent clawback bankruptcy case in OFA's Organic Voice magazine (Pages 11 & 21).

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This article was written by Rachel Armstrong for OFA.

As the founder and Executive Director of Farm Commons, Rachel Armstrong has led dozens of webinars and workshops for thousands of farmers nationwide and created the organization’s innovative approach to farm law risk reduction. Rachel believes that farmers have what they need to be expert legal risk managers and that the right tools can awaken that capacity. As a leading authority on direct-to-consumer farm law, Rachel has authored many publications on farm law matters for farmers, published academic and trade articles for attorneys, and teaches university classes in farm law. She is a graduate of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the University of Wisconsin Madison, she lives in Northern Minnesota (where she grew up) with her family. She is licensed to practice law in Wisconsin and Minnesota.