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In recent years, and most recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural direct marketing has seen a resurgence in popularity as customers seek out more locally produced fresh foods. According to the 2017 USDA Ag Census, the value of food sold directly from Maryland farms to consumers doubled from $28 million in 2012 to $54 million in 2017.
Direct marketing can provide many advantages to farm operators but will likely also present legal challenges. Legal specialists at the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) developed the Legal Guide to Direct Farm Marketing for Maryland Produce Growers to assist growers who are beginning, pivoting to, or expanding direct marketing activities to understand their compliance requirements and potential liability exposure.
According to Ginger Myers, Marketing Specialist with University of Maryland Extension and one of the experts consulted during development of the guide, "Marketing is the root of all money for any operation, but direct marketing can be an overwhelming process for any size operation. Growers who are interested in direct marketing at any level should attend a presentation and hear from the knowledgeable legal specialists at ALEI how to maximize their marketing efforts.”
Producers will learn about the legal aspects of direct marketing and receive a free copy of the Guide by attending one of the following upcoming presentations:
University of Maryland Extension (UME) Winter Vegetable and Fruit Meetings, December 2 & 10, 2020, and February 10, 2021 (registration information: https://extension.umd.edu/events/series/6434).
Future Harvest CASA Pre-Conference on January 14, 2021 (registration information: https://www.futureharvestcasa.org/conference/2021-conference.
Legalities of Direct Marketing Webinars, February 18 & 23, 2021; for more information and to register visit: https://legaldirectmarketing.eventbrite.com.
The Guide is laid out in three main parts to address different areas of concern for growers engaged in various stages of direct marketing. The first part of the Guide includes legal considerations for producers who need an overview of potential legal obligations. The Guide will help farmers keep track of the laws that need consideration, and provide references and links to resources for taking necessary steps toward compliance.
The second part of the Guide covers basic contracting principles and provides a framework for evaluating direct marketing contracts. Although not all direct marketing methods need a contract (sales at roadside stands), other methods can require the grower to sign or create a contract, such as Farmers Market Vendor Agreements or Community Supported Agriculture Agreements. Critically reading a contract to make sure the terms are clear and the “what ifs” are addressed can help protect the interests of both the farmer and purchaser, and the Guide includes a helpful one-page checklist for evaluating contract terms.
The final part of the Guide addresses legal issues commonly encountered when advertising and making sales online through social media platforms and a business website. For example, considerations related to online ordering and delivery.
Creation of the guide was partially funded by the MDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Funding for The Legal Guide to Direct Farm Marketing for Maryland Produce Growers was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM190100XXXXG020. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.