University of Maryland Extension

Tips on how to work with regulators and permitters

Nicole Cook, B.S., J.D., LL.M., Environmental and Agricultural, Faculty Legal Specialist, Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), University of Maryland Eastern Shore

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Working effectively with the many agencies that regulate your urban farm is an important tool to have in your legal risk management toolbox. There is no downside to implementing a decisive strategy of consistent, constructive engagement with regulators, and creating relationships with people inside regulatory agencies before a problem arises. An avoidance or antagonistic approach to regulators, however, often does lead to needless and costly adversarial interactions and increased angst and anxiety on the part of the farm owner, and could wind up subjecting your farm to increased scrutiny or maybe stiffer penalties in the event of a violation.

Like you, most regulators take pride in the work that they do. Like you, they choose to serve the public good. And like you, they take seriously their role in ensuring a safe food supply and healthy environment for the public. And most farmers, in turn, are trying to do the right thing and meet the regulations that apply to their farm. As noted in the What if I Want to Change a Law? Action Item Box below, engaging often with your regulators from the start helps build trust. Most regulators aren’t out to get farmers or put farmers out of business. Regulators have to eat, too. The vast majority of regulators view their job as finding solutions to problems. Developing a dialogue with the people who enforce the laws that impact your farming business and who can help you understand your options for solutions if and when a problem occurs “is the best path to complying with your regulatory burdens while running a profitable business.”

And that honest dialogue shouldn’t necessarily end should you receive a notice of a violation. If you receive a notice of non-compliance, it is certainly prudent to quickly obtain legal representation to protect your rights, however, as your attorney will surely advise you, the best way to manage the risks associated with an investigation is to be honest and cooperate with the regulatory body. Deceit and delay very rarely serve a farm that is under investigation. The only winners, then, are the lawyers who represent you in the protracted administrative proceedings and your competition who will seek to gain an advantage in the marketplace by publicizing your misfortune.

For more information about working effectively with regulators and permitters, see “Working With Regulators” and “Dealing with Regulators Tipsheet: An inspector, certifier or other regulator has made a decision I disagree with. What can I do?” from Farm Commons:

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