Guide to Grassroots Financing for California Farmers
This Guide discusses options for obtaining funds for farm enterprises in California through methods other than bank and institutional loans. With growing consumer interest in local sources of food, there are increasing opportunities for farmers to include their customers, friends, family, neighbors, and other community members in the farm enterprise as investors. Receiving investment dollars from community members instead of larger institutions may also be more feasible for many beginning farmers, since banks and other institutions generally only lend to well established businesses with steady revenues.
However, numerous state and federal laws apply to soliciting investments from individuals and organizations, which this Guide will explain in detail. These laws are collectively known as securities law and they are primarily designed to protect investors from entering into fraudulent or overly risky investment deals. Before asking anyone for money, farmers should be aware of the basic of securities law.
Click here to view and download the guide.
Released in September, 2017
Written by Christina Oatfield, Policy Director for the Sustainable Economies Law Center. This guide was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Grant of the USDA-NIFA program titled, Growing Roots: Deepening Support for Diverse New Farmers and Ranchers in California, Grant # 2015-70017-22868.
The Practical Guide to Starting a Legal Cafe is Now Available
By Sustainable Economies Law Center Staff Attorney, Cameron Rhudy
It’s Here, it’s Here, it’s Finally Here! Our Guide to Starting a Legal Cafe
Over the years we have received many inquiries from attorneys who want to start legal clinics in their community that resemble our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe. In response, we have created our Practical Guide to Starting a Legal Cafe, a comprehensive guide for how to do just that. In the guide you will learn how to get the basics of your Legal Cafe in place and how to create that unique Legal Cafe experience. The guide also includes sample intake documents and a breakdown of tasks for scheduling and planning your Legal Cafe.Read more
Learning to Think Outside the Boss
Host your own "Learning to Think Outside the Boss" workshop!
Thank you for your interest in hosting"Learning to Think Outside the Boss: An Introductory Workshop on the Legal Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Worker Cooperative!" Below, find resources we've created to teach about how the law works in, against, and for worker cooperatives. This is a shorter, participatory, discussion-orientated version of our half day "Think Outside the Boss" workshop.
View and download the Facilitator Guide here
View and download the Participant Guide here
View and download the Powerpoint Slides here
NOTE: These materials are updated at irregular intervals and might change from time to time. Updates are based on feedback from participants and those who facilitate the "Learning to Think Outside the Boss" workshop. Please send questions, feedback, or comments about this guide to [email protected].
What is it?
This workshop provides an introduction to the practical steps individuals and groups need to take to establish, build, and successfully manage a cooperative enterprise. This introductory workshop attempts to bring forward basic legal and structural questions such as what is a cooperative, what is a legal entity, what rules govern fundraising and financing for cooperatives, and more. This workshop provides an overview of the content contained in Sustainable Economies Law Center's Think Outside the Boss: How to Create a Worker-Owned Business manual.
Why Do it?
This workshop is meant to provide an introduction for those looking to support cooperative development and for entrepreneurs and activists seeking to build a worker cooperative. By the end of the workshop, participants should be able to
- have a basic understanding of the cooperative form from a functional and principled perspective,
- understand the Cooperative Principles in practice,
- distinguish cooperatives from other business forms,
- distinguish between the different kinds of cooperatives,
- understand basic questions that should be asked when founding a worker cooperative,
- and think about cooperatives as they relate to the needs in their lives.
Facilitators should use a combination of lecture (minimal), experiential learning, and popular education techniques to engage the group actively in the process of learning about worker cooperatives and cooperative business development.
Beginning in 2013, SELC and the East Bay Community Law Center have been hosting half day workshops called "Think Outside the Boss" three times per year in the San Francisco Bay Area. These Think Outside the Boss workshops provide community members an introduction into the nuts and bolts of starting and running a cooperatively owned business. We go over legal issues in an accessible way to help you understand the relationships between cooperatives, employment, and community wealth-building. Attorneys, law students, and experienced cooperative professionals give short presentations on legal issues, governance structures, financing, and more. We also typically host breakout sessions on specialized topics with attorneys, cooperative accountants, business planning specialists, and discussions led by cooperative worker-members. To find the next Think Outside the Boss workshop, please visit theselc.org/events.
This facilitator’s guide was originally prepared for the 2014 JACKSON RISING: NEW ECONOMIES CONFERENCE in Jackson, Mississippi. Their clarion call to build a broad based solidarity economy in the southern US led us to deepen our intention of making legal education accessible to those building economic democracy all around the country. With feedback from the worker cooperative community, allies, and others who use our resources, we have attempted to refine this facilitator’s guide in order to increase its usefulness to the movement. We hope this guide can introduce cooperative entrepreneurs, practitioners, and cooperative developers to the basic legal concepts when starting and operating a worker-owned cooperative.
THIS GUIDE WAS PREPARED FOR A 2016 WORKSHOP ON STARTING A WORKER-OWNED BUSINESS. THE CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE AND ACCOMPANYING THINK OUTSIDE THE BOSS MANUAL SHOULD NOT BE RELIED ON AS LEGAL ADVICE.
ALSO, SOME OF THIS INFORMATION COULD BECOME OUTDATED, AND LAWS VARY FROM PLACE-TO-PLACE. FURTHERMORE, ALTHOUGH WE TRIED TO COLLECT ACCURATE INFORMATION AND GIVE THE LAWS OUR BEST INTERPRETATION, SOME INFORMATION IN THIS GUIDE AND ACCOMPANYING MANUAL COULD EVEN TURN OUT TO BE INCORRECT OR SUBJECT TO OTHER INTERPRETATIONS BY COURTS OR REGULATORS! WE SURE HOPE THAT’S NOT THE CASE, BUT, WHAT CAN WE SAY? LAW IS COMPLICATED STUFF! THAT'S WHY WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY BEFORE USING THIS INFORMATION TO FORM OR OPERATE A COOPERATIVE.
Housing Program Projects and Resources
Legal Resource Library
We conduct legal research on land and housing issues and publish easy-to-read legal information on our online legal resource library - CommunityHousingLaw.org. This website is still a work in progress, so stay tuned for more information on starting housing cooperatives, community land trusts, and other forms of shared, cooperative, and equitable housing!
Incubation of East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative:
In partnership with the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network, the Law Center is piloting a new model of collective land ownership that mobilizes community capital to preserve affordable and democratically controlled housing and commercial spaces. Read more about this model on our PREC Pilot Project page, or visit EBPREC’s website.
Supporting Permanently Affordable Housing
In this video, the Northern California Land Trust, Oakland Community Land Trust, and the Law Center cover the legal nuts and bolts of permanently affordable/shared equity housing, including different legal models and funding mechanisms to remove housing from the speculative market.
Elders deserve to live with housing security in a community of their choosing and retain self-determination for as long as possible. The Sustainable Economies Law Center is increasing its legal support for cooperatively-owned, resident-controlled housing options for seniors. That's why we've brought on a Borchard Fellow for Law & Aging, Julie Gilgoff, to help realize this vision. To find out more, please visit our Aging Cooperatively webpage.
Legal Services at the Resilient Communities Legal Cafe
The Resilient Communities Legal Cafe provides direct legal advice, workshops, teach-ins, discussions, and legal services supporting the creation of:
Find the dates and locations for each Legal Cafe on our Legal Cafe events calendar.
Teach-ins at the Legal Cafe
Our Teach-ins provide practical, participatory, and action oriented discussions around food, housing, livelihoods, transportation, and more! Many of our most popular teach-ins focus on housing co-ownership, innovative ways of financing land and housing, and more. Check our events calendar for upcoming events and teach-ins!
Past Teach-ins have included:
- The Gritty, Moral Solution to the Housing Crisis with David Giesen
Legalizing Tiny Homes: The Ten-Year Plan
Chapter 9 of the Law Center’s book, Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy, focuses on legal tools for the creation of more economically sustainable housing models.
Legal Case Studies
The Law Center is creating detailed legal case studies of communities and housing solutions that emphasize sharing, affordability, and sustainability. This work looks particularly at models of shared housing, including cohousing communities, ecovillages, and housing cooperatives. The legal case studies are designed to allow other groups to replicate existing housing models. Click here for one legal case study by the Sustainable Economies Law Center.
Community Energy Education and Resources
Mapping the Regulatory Terrain
Developing a community energy project turns out to be quite the puzzle because our current legal system favors centralized and for-profit ownership of energy infrastructure by the wealthiest sectors of society. So we are mapping the legal and regulatory landscape to help communities navigate building community projects.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center's expert panelists discuss the legal barriers, policy opportunities, and steps to creating a new energy future. Click here to watch the webinar.
Piecing Together the Community Energy Puzzle
Subin Varghese, Director of Community Renewable Energy, explains how Sustainable Economies Law Center is piecing together the puzzle of community ownership in the energy sector.
Read more here.
City Policies Resources & Education
Policies for Shareable Cities: A Primer for Urban Leaders
Policies for Shareable Cities is the first policy handbook of its kind. It includes 32 recommended policies that enable cities to benefit from the sharing economy in the priority areas of food, jobs, housing, and transportation. Click here to read or download the brief.
UrbanAgLaw.org - The Legal Resource for Urban Farming
The Sustainable Economies Law Center's (SELC) free, comprehensive online legal resource library for urban agriculture. Key topics:
Planning & Zoning Soil
Animals and Livestock Employment Law
Food, Ag, and Health Regulations Water
Liability, Risk, and Insurance For-Profit Urban Ag
Land Access Building Codes
Homeowners Associations Non-Profit Urban Ag
Many thanks to the our volunteer researchers and volunteer research attorneys who contributed to this free online resource for urban farmers. View the eResource at UrbanAgLaw.org.
Tiny House Ecovillage Teach-In Series
Click here to view or download the powerpoint presentation by East Bay Cohousing's Betsy Morris.
Community Renewable Energy Webinar
Community renewable energy is clean, small-scale, and owned or sponsored by communities. That's why it creates democratic, resilient energy grids with distributed economic benefits. SELC’s expert panelists discuss the legal barriers, policy opportunities, and steps to creating a new energy future. Click here to watch the webinar.
Community Currencies Legal Resources
Legal Resource Library: CommunityCurrenciesLaw.org is Sustainable Economies Law Center's legal resource library on barter, time banks, and local currencies. It is a place to collaborate and share legal research and practical information related to these topics.
Money Soup: A Legal Guide to Bartering, Giving, and Getting Stuff Without Dollars, by Janelle Orsi
Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy, Chapter 5, New Kinds of Exchange, by Janelle Orsi
Legal Services: Beginning in 2013, SELC will offer limited legal advice and services to time banks, local currencies, and barter groups around the United States. For projects located in the SF Bay Area, visit our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe for in-person legal services!
Workshops: SELC has developed several workshops on the legalities of barter, time banks, and local currencies for legal professionals and community members. These workshops will be offered as webinars in 2014, so check our events page for upcoming learning opportunities. We also host frequent community teach-ins and conversations on various aspects of the local economies movement - visit our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe calendar for more information.
Legal Basics for Time Banks and Barter Exchanges
Legal Basics for Complementary Currencies (part 1)
Legal Basics for Complementary Currencies (part 2)
Governance is Life: Organizational Governance for the Next Economy
Guides and Toolkits
Jump to Legal Guides for: Worker Cooperatives | Worker Self Directed Nonprofits | Radical Real Estate and Housing | Fundraising and Grassroots Financing | Mutual Aid Projects
Disclaimer: The contents of these manuals should not be relied on as legal advice. Also, some of this information could become outdated, and laws vary from place-to-place. Furthermore, although we tried to collect accurate information and give laws our best interpretation, some information in these booklets could even turn out to be incorrect or subject to other interpretations by courts or regulators! We sure hope that's not the case, but what can we say? Law is complicated stuff! That's why we strongly recommend that you consult an attorney before using this information.
Legal Guides for Worker Cooperatives
2021 California Worker Cooperative Law Practice Guide: For Lawyers Advising Worker Cooperative Corporations
By Sustainable Economies Law Center, with contributions from authors Alex Glancy, Allison Curtis, Brett Heeger, Hasmik Geghamyan, Jennie Msall, Jonathan Ward, Kelsey Jae, Kim Arnone, Neil Aaron Helfman, Sam Gray, Sarah Kaplan, and Van Baldwin
Create Your Co-op's Employee/ Member Handbook: A tool for worker-owned cooperatives in California.
Click here for the Employee/ Member Handbook for cooperative corporations.
Think Outside The Boss: How to Create a Worker-Owned Business
By East Bay Community Law Center, Green Collar Communities Clinic, Sustainable Economies Law Center
7th Edition; Revised April 2016
Legal Guide to Cooperative Conversions: A Business Owner's Legal Guide to Cooperative Conversion Including Conversion Models, Case Studies, and Sample Documents
By East Bay Community Law Center, Green Collar Communities Clinic, and Sustainable Economies Law Center, with contributions from authors Janelle Orsi, William Lisa, and Sushil Jacob
El Proceso Legal Para Iniciar Tu Negocio Cooperativa: Una Guia para todos tipos de negocios
Creado por: East Bay Community Law Center, Green Collar Communities Clinic, Sustainable Economies Law Center
¿Qué son las cooperativas de trabajadores? Las cooperativas de trabajadores son entidades de negocio que están (1) en posesión de los trabajadores, (2) gobernadas por los trabajadores, y (3) operadas por y para el beneficio de los trabajadores. Puesto que las cooperativas son propiedad y están controladas por y para los empleados que trabajan allá, son operadas diferentemente de las empresas tradicionales en unos aspectos clave.
Legal Guides for Worker Self Directed Nonprofits
Legal Guide for Board of Directors of Worker Self Directed Nonprofits
By Sustainable Economies Law Center
Bylaws Toolkit for Worker Self Directed Nonprofits
By Sustainable Economies Law Center and Harmonize with contributions from the following authors: Chris Tittle and Simon Mont
Released January 2021
Legal Guides for Radical Real Estate and Housing
How to Start a Permanent Real Estate Cooperative
By Sustainable Economies Law Center
Seeds of Land Return
By Sustainable Economies Law Center
Released Dec 2022
SB 1079 Legal Toolkit - Know Your Rights
By Sustainable Economies Law Center, with contributions from the following authors: Tia Katrina Taruc-Myers, Christine Hernandez, Hope Williams, Alejandra Cruz, and Mwende Hinojosa
Released May 2021
Legal Toolkit for Commercial Tenants | CA Fair and Just Commercial Lease Cartoon Template, explainer videos, and more!
By Sustainable Economies Law Center and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, with contributions from the following authors: Tia Katrina Taruc-Myers, Tobias Damm-Luhr, Janelle Orsi, and Cunmei Zhang (Cooley)
Released September 2020
Cohousing Legal Toolkit 3.0
By Jill Jacobs
Fundraising and Grassroots Financing
Legal Guide for Mutual Aid Projects
Mutual Aid Legal Toolkit | FAQs from Mutual Aid Organizers
By Sustainable Economies Law Center, with contributions from the following authors: Samuel Karlin, Molly Keller, Janelle Orsi, Tia Katrina Taruc-Myers, Erika Sato, Chris Tittle, and Charlotte Tsui. We are also grateful for the support of the following advisor: Michael Haber, Andrea Tan, and Bruce Wegner.
Released August 2020
Bite-Sized Legal Guides
Have a legal question but not quite ready to read a full legal guide? These Bite-Sized Legal Guides are a great place to start!
¿Tiene una pregunta legal pero no está listo para leer una guía legal completa? ¡Estas Guías Legales Cortas son lugares excelentes para empezar! Desplácese hasta la parte inferior de la página para obtener recursos en español.
JUMP TO Bite-Sized Legal Guides for: Worker Cooperatives | Nonprofits | Food and Farming | Employment Law | Misc | Radical Real Estate Law
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: These Bite-Sized Legal Guides have been prepared by Sustainable Economies Law Center staff and volunteers as handouts for the Resilient Communities Legal Cafe. The contents of the Guides should NOT be relied on as legal advice. Furthermore, some of this information could become outdated, laws may vary from place to place, and although we've tried to collect accurate information and give the laws our best interpretation, some information in these Bite-Sized Legal Guides could be incorrect or subject to different interpretations by courts and regulators. We hope that's not the case, but, what can we say? Law is complicated stuff! That's why we STRONGLY recommend that you consult with an attorney before using this information.
Food and Farming
Radical Real Estate Law
See other radical real estate resources here.
AVISO LEGAL: Estas Guías Legales Cortas han sido preparadas por personal y voluntarios del Sustainable Economies Law Center como documentos para el Café Legal de Comunidades Resilientes. El contenido de las Guías NO se debe confiar como asesoramiento legal. Además, parte de esta información podría quedar obsoleta, las leyes pueden variar de un lugar a otro, y aunque hemos intentado recopilar información precisa y dar a las leyes nuestra mejor interpretación, parte de la información en estas Guías legales de tamaño reducido podría ser incorrecta o estar sujeta a diferentes interpretaciones de los tribunales y los reguladores. Esperamos que ese no sea el caso, pero, ¿qué podemos decir? ¡La ley es algo complicado! Es por eso que recomendamos encarecidamente que consulte a un abogado antes de utilizar esta información.
Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy:
Helping People Build Cooperatives, Social Enterprise, and Local Sustainable Economies
Buy the Book! - use discount code PAB21SHR for 50% off!
What People Are Saying
About the Author and Contributors
Buy your copy today!
All royalties from this book go to the nonprofit Sustainable Economies Law Center!
An e-book version is also available.
About the Book
To most law students and lawyers, practicing transactional law isn’t an obvious path to saving the world. But as the world’s economic and ecological meltdowns demand that we redesign our livelihoods, our enterprises, our communities, our organizations, our food system, our housing, and much more, transactional lawyers are needed, en masse, to aid in an epic reinvention of our economic system.
This reinvention is referred to by many names—the “sharing economy,” the “grassroots economy,” the “new economy.” This new economy facilitates community ownership, localized production, sharing, cooperation, small scale enterprise, and the regeneration of economic and natural abundance. Sharing economy lawyers make the exploding numbers of social enterprises, cooperatives, urban farms, cohousing communities, time banks, local currencies, and the vast array of unique organizations arising from the sharing economy possible and legal.
There are nine primary areas of work that sharing economy lawyers should become familiar with, and each is addressed in a chapter of Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy:
- Designing and Drafting Agreements
- Choosing, Forming, and Structuring Entities
- Advising on the Legalities and Taxation of Exchange
- Navigating Securities Regulations
- Navigating Employment Regulations
- Navigating Regulations on Production and Commerce
- Managing Relationships with and Use of Land
- Managing Intellectual Property
- Managing Risk
The work of lawyers helping to build the sharing economy will often be challenging, but will always be interesting and demand creativity. Perhaps best of all, these lawyers will contribute greatly to the creation of a world in which innumerable people have now decided they want to live.
What People are Saying
“This monumental treatise defines, legitimates, and elaborates the key legal challenges facing U.S. new economy advocates, and in terms that even non-lawyers can understand. Whatever your angle – cooperatives, cohousing, alternative currencies, CSAs, social enterprise, crowdfunding – this book belongs front and center on your desk.”
- Michael Shuman, JD, author of Local Dollars, Local Sense and The Small-Mart Revolution
“Every once in a while someone sees the emerging pattern of a new order of things and is able to bring conceptual clarity and useful tools to it, thus defining a new field. That is what Janelle Orsi has done in her remarkable book on the sharing economy.”
- James Gustave Speth, JD, author of America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (Yale Press, 2012)
“A unique and indispensable handbook for anyone working in the field of alternative ownership design. We’ve long needed this book, and at last it’s here.”
- Marjorie Kelly, Fellow, Tellus Institute, and Director of Ownership Strategy, Cutting Edge Capital; author of Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution
“As Orsi notes in this invaluable book, lawyers often ‘work for firms that grease the wheels of the very economic system that is causing the widespread ecological and social distress.’ But this does not have to be the case! In Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy, she and her contributing co-authors provide an impressive roadmap to a range of innovative legal forms that can help communities build wealth and create the building blocks of a new economy.”
- Gar Alperovitz, author of America Beyond Capitalism, and Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy, University of Maryland
“This is a book for those who have hoped and dreamed of a way to practice law that was good for lawyers, clients and the planet.”
- J. Kim Wright, JD, Founder of Cutting Edge Law & Author of Lawyers as Peacemakers, Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law
“This book contains a wealth of substantive information and practical advice for any lawyer interested in participating in and creating more collaborative communities and a more sharing world.”
- Emily Doskow, JD, co-author of Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnership & Civil Unions, and The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Building Community
“Janelle Orsi is a visionary. Practicing Law in a Sharing Economy is an eye-opening work and an outstanding resource that belongs on the bookshelves of every attorney and law student who wants to become part of the growing movement to build sustainable, collaborative economies.”
- Don De Leon, JD, www.GrassrootsLawyers.com
“Can a sharing economy emerge from and transform capitalism? Janelle Orsi’s brilliant exegesis argues it can. Her book is a welcome clarion call to lawyers to learn and apply the rules that can support new forms of sharing and cooperation and to identify and change the rules that could inhibit or even endanger their continued growth.”
- David Morris, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, author of Self Reliant Cities: Energy and the Transformation of Urban America, and Seeing the Light: Regaining Control of Our Electricity System
“Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy is an excellent practical guidebook for lawyers, sharing economy companies, communities, and anyone interested in understanding what the sharing economy is, what’s necessary to help sharing-based enterprises thrive, and the fundamentally important role of appropriate policies in place for new shared models. It makes a significant and ground-breaking contribution to the legal landscape and is an invaluable resource for the entire sharing economy moving forward.”
- April Rinne, JD, Director of WaterCredit, Water.org
- Phil Heiselmann, JD, Sustainable Food Law
Read the complete book review by Don De Leon, JD, of www.GrassrootsLawyers.com
About the Author
Janelle Orsi is the Director of the national nonprofit Sustainable Economies Law Center, and she is a “sharing lawyer” in private law practice in Oakland, CA. Her work is focused on helping communities, share, barter, and create cooperatives, social enterprises, cohousing communities, urban farms, local currencies, and community-supported enterprise. In 2010, Janelle was profiled by the American Bar Association as a “Legal Rebel ,” an attorney who is “remaking the legal profession through the power of innovation.”
Janelle is co-author of The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community (Nolo 2009), a legal and practical guide to shared ownership and cooperative activity. Janelle earned her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
- Jenny Kassan, CEO of Cutting Edge Capital, on securities law, entities/organizations, and barter exchanges
- Inder Comar, on intellectual property
- Linda Barrera, Attorney at Law, on community energy
- Edgar S. Cahn, on time banking
- Marjorie Kelly, on entity design
- Brian Howe, Attorney at Law, on Washington social enterprise entities
- Daniel Fireside, Capital Coordinator for Equal Exchange, on corporate social responsibility
- Janelle J. Smith, on community-owned enterprise and local currencies
- Brendan Conley, on law collectives
- Christen Lee, on 501(c)(3) law firms
- Loren Rodgers, Executive Director of the National Center for Employee Ownership, on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs)
- Clementine Blazy, on social enterprise in France
- Mike Leung, on the proposed Worker Cooperative Federal Credit Union (unchartered)
- Wesley Roe, William G. Sommers, and Marjorie Lakin Erickson, on the Permaculture Credit Union
- Tree Bressen, on consensus policies
- Gaya Erlandson, on sociocracy/dynamic governance
- Gordon Ng, on local currencies
- Julie Pennington, on zoning and shared housing