The What and Why of the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit, Part 1: Governance

DarWolnik2017 March 5, 2018

By Darlene Wolnik, FMC Senior Researcher |

In partnership with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, and the Farmers Market Coalition, the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit was developed for market leaders looking for legal tools and resources to help them build resilient farmers markets in their communities. This is Part 1 of a four part series highlighting each section of the toolkit.

In 2013, I did a workshop for NOFA-VT at their Direct Marketing Conference, which is held in South Royalton, Vermont at the beautiful Law School campus. On that visit, I spoke about the governance of markets and the need for the right incorporation and the right management structure based on that incorporation.

Directly after my workshop ended, I saw Laurie Ristino, the brand-new director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems making a beeline for me. “Hey!” she said enthusiastically, “can we talk about doing a project here at the Center for markets on incorporation issues?”

Soon after, she and I, along with NOFA-VT’s Direct Marketing director Erin Buckwalter, came up with a research project funded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to create a legal toolkit for markets. We decided to focus on the 3 areas where we had the most questions: Governance, SNAP/Currency, and General (mostly market day) Risks. This is a series of brief posts of what and why we decided to cover in the toolkit.


How markets incorporate is supremely important and yet the decision as to which incorporation is chosen is often an under-researched idea. In many cases, markets’ strategy is to look to their closest neighboring markets and simply duplicate their version. Or in other cases, put off making incorporation decisions which means the incorporation is decided for you by the state. Neither of those can be defined as a “best practice” for markets!

The most sensible strategy is to decide up front exactly what the market organization is planning to offer its community, to enlist a legal assistance (often found through pro bono services offered by many firms, including some of the fanciest) and to get your paperwork in order.

That first decision is meant to be reflected in the mission statement or in a statement of purpose. The mission should be clear and concise, actively worded, and allow for measurable results. The following two markets’ mission statements are good examples:

Durham Farmers Market, North Carolina: “The Durham Farmers’ Market is an ALL LOCAL, PRODUCER-ONLY market. Our vendors are all located within 70 miles of the market and sell only items that they produced.”

ReFresh Farmers Market, New Orleans: “Promoting the physical, mental, social and economic health of the N Broad community, a community that is particularly affected by limited access to health and wellness resources.”

Governance also includes the type of management the market expects to use and can adequately manage. This is definitely an area that continues to evolve in market operations, and one that needs constant refining to make sure the market is properly managing the staff and/or volunteers, and has written rules and regulations that help staff to know how to manage each situation well.

The Farmers Market Legal Toolkit offers detail on all of the usual types of incorporations used by farmers markets, including sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, for-profit corporation, nonprofit, cooperative and umbrella organizations, and also highlights a specific case study and some added tips.

Please let us know how you use the site or email me when you add a new resource to the FMC Resource Library that would be useful for those in the Toolkit.