5 Questions with a Regional Navigator
Farmland for a New Generation New York Regional Navigators provide training and on-the-ground customized support for farmers and landowners in regions throughout New York.
Featured Regional Navigator: Jon Brown, Director of the Food and Beverage Law Clinic at Elisabeth Haub School of Law, Pace University
1. Where in New York State do you work?
Primarily in the Hudson Valley, Capital Area, Catskills, NYC, and Long Island.
2. What brought you to this work?
I practiced corporate finance law at a firm for eight years before moving into “clinical” law teaching and community economic development work. In doing so, I was drawn to working with the small farms, community groups, and other food revolutionaries doing so many exciting things to change our food system. I don’t have a background in agriculture but was always interested in farms and in growing my own food; now I love learning new things every day from the amazing farmers that work with our clinic.
3. In what ways do you typically work with farmers and farmland owners?
Our clinic provides pro bono legal support to farmers, food businesses, and nonprofits. Our services cover a broad range of “transactional” legal work, which can include forming and structuring businesses and nonprofits, drafting and negotiating contracts, and advising on certain regulatory matters. As a Regional Navigator, our work includes helping farmers gain secure access to farmland by representing them in negotiating lease agreements or other land contracts, and for landowners our work has included establishing cooperative ownership of farmland or other unique ownership structures.
4. Can you give an example of one farmer or farmland owner you are currently working with, the challenges they are facing, and how you are helping them work through those challenges?
We are working with a community farm that wants to create shared ownership of farmland amongst a group of people. Doing so is complicated for a variety of reasons, and we are helping them navigate legal issues and establish an ownership structure that provides for fair sharing of responsibilities and benefits.
5. What is one piece of advice you have for farmers seeking land or farmland owners hoping to keep their land in farming?
Take the time to develop well thought-out written agreements for land arrangements. For a farmer seeking land, finding the land is only part of the battle – it’s also so important that the access to the land be secure. Unfortunately, I have worked with many farmers who originally accessed land on the basis of a “handshake” agreement or an inadequate lease at a time when their relationship with the landowner was great; later, when the landowner’s plans changed, these farmers found themselves in tough situations that could have been avoided with sound written agreements. For landowners, the advice is the same: careful documentation is important for positive long-term relationships and managing expectations, whether in the context of a succession plan or a lease.