Intro to Food and Ag Law


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STOCKSCH 297 FL – Intro to Food and Agricultural Law

Instructor: Billy Peard         Instructors Bio


Course Description: 

Farmers are expected to be many things: marketer, manager, accountant, etc.  A maze of laws and regulations can make a farmer wonder if she needs to be a lawyer as well.  This course aims to demystify some key areas of law for the small food producer or aspiring food producer.  This course will provide an overview of the various federal and state laws that a small farmer or food processor is likely to encounter, and a glimpse into how government interacts with farmers.  Students will make sense of the various federal agencies dealing with agriculture, the array of government programs that help small farmers, laws related to food safety, legal considerations when hiring outside employees, and basics of environmental regulation for farms.  At the end of the course, students will be in a better position to assess in their own businesses when they may be able to resolve their own legal issues and when it may be wise to rely upon outside legal counsel. This course will focus on areas of agriculture and food law that are relatively uniform throughout the country, so a student will learn relevant legal concepts regardless of which state they plan to launch their business.

Course Structure:

This course is offered during the winter session, meaning that it is fast-paced and requires diligence in keeping up with readings.  The various topics will be presented in four segments, each with its own set of required readings, pre-recorded mini-lectures from the instructor, homework questions, and online class discussion questions posted to the “discussion forum” section of Blackboard.  At the end of the course, there will be an “open-book” exam which students will have several days to complete.

About the Instructor:

Billy Peard is an attorney focusing on employment law, immigration law, and litigation.  In his law practice, he represents a large number of migrant farmworkers and has represented migrant workers in employment disputes with their large farm employers.  Billy sometimes advises small farmers and other businesses on a range of legal issues.  Billy received his law degree from Vermont Law School and spent two summers working as a farmworker in Michigan and North Carolina.


  • Class Participation and Discussion Assignments: 40%
  • Homework Assignments: 30%
  • Final Exam: 30%

Learning Objectives:

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  1. Understand the different roles of state law and federal law in regulating farms and food businesses, and understand how the two interact with one another
  2. Explain the different roles of the key federal government agencies, and identify which government farm programs they administer
  3. Explain the advantages and disadvantages of the various businesses entities as related to farming
  4. Identify the key federal environmental laws relating to farmers
  5. Describe the basic employment laws applicable to farmers and explain why the law treats farmers differently than other employers
  6. Identify at least three federal government programs that are designed to assist small farmers and organic farmers, and explain the parameters of eligibility.
  7. Given specific hypothetical situations, identify where the small farmer took the appropriate legal steps and where he may have been better off seeking professional legal assistance.

Course Outline:

  1. Unit One: Basics of American Law and Government Regulation of Agriculture
    1. What are the sources of law and how are laws made?
      1. Statutes vs. regulations: Example of Food Safety Modernization Act
      2. An overview of the various federal agencies dealing with agriculture and why they matter to small farmers
    2. A brief history of agriculture laws since the 1930s and why farmers are treated differently under the law than almost every other group of businesspeople.
    3. What is a “farm” and what is “agriculture”? An exploration of definitions in the law
    4. How to do your own legal research as a farmer
  2. Unit Two: Getting Started as a Farmer or Food Producer
    1. Incorporating your business and which entity to choose
    2. A word about taxes
    3. Buying, leasing, and selling land: an overview of legal concepts
    4. Financing your operation: the legal considerations around loans, collateral, and CSAs as a form of financing
    5. Protecting your operation: an overview of federal crop insurance programs
  • Unit Three: Producing Your Product
    1. Food safety laws: An introduction to the Food Safety Modernization Act and lawsuits surrounding food-borne illnesses
    2. Hiring workers: an overview of employment laws for farmers
    3. Environmental laws: pesticides, clean water laws, and animal welfare laws
    4. Zoning laws and “Right to Farm” laws
  1. Unit Four: Selling Your Product
    1. Introduction to negotiating contracts
    2. Food labeling laws, GMO labeling, meaning of “all natural”
    3. Laws around organic certification
    4. When you don’t sell enough: Overview of bankruptcy law for small farmers

Enroll Here

This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program.   To register for upcoming classes, see UMass Online.  Most classes cost $472/credit.  If you would like to register for the Certificate program, you may apply here. And for more winter classes….

Winter Term

For more online classes in this program, see:

Sustainable Food and Farming Online

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