Report Highlights Legal Risk Management Solutions for Maryland CSAs
A recently released report, “Legal Risk Management Solutions for Community Supported Agriculture in Maryland,” by Mayhah R. Suri and Paul Goeringer, highlights a multi-year project aimed at helping CSA growers manage their legal risk.
The community supported agriculture (CSA) farm model is a popular business strategy for many Maryland farmers, with 119 Maryland farms currently reporting using the CSA model in their farm operations. The CSA model allows farmers to gain financial support from community members by selling shares in the farm instead of traditional financial venues such as borrowing capital from a lender. In return for purchasing a share, members receive produce over the course of the growing season.
The report details potential risks associated with the CSA model. Most significantly, crop failure in a CSA model can mean CSA members will not receive their produce shares, despite having paid for them. This is different from the conventional farming model and can cause conflict and confusion.
Concerns over managing these legal risks led Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) to partner with the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (AREC), Maryland Farm Bureau, and the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) to develop resources for CSA operators to manage risk, specifically through membership agreements.
From survey results collected by MDA in summer 2014, it was discovered that despite farmers’ reports that they specifically discuss risks with their members, few members reported learning or hearing about those same risks. One solution to this issue was developing a model contract that includes appropriate language describing the risks associated with agriculture, such as lower yields.
The report highlights one state, California, which currently has a certification program for their CSA operators and how this program may work in Maryland. The report also includes suggestions for how other states may be able to replicate this project to assist CSA growers nationally.
The partnership has worked to develop resources addressing many of the concerns raised in the report. Currently, a model agreement, membership agreement guide, and videos discussing managing legal risks are available on the UM Ag Law Extension website.