Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program

About VTAMP

The Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program (VTAMP) is the official United States Department of Agriculture certified agricultural mediation program for Vermont. VTAMP provides free mediation services to the agricultural community to help resolve disputes before they end up in court. For background information about mediation, click here.

VTAMP is a valued and trusted resource that helps the agricultural community in Vermont resolve disputes. Over the past several years VTAMP has helped hundreds of farmers, lenders, and others in the agricultural community reach agreements and get back to work. I urge you to contact them if you need assistance concerning a dispute. —Chuck Ross, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture
  • What Kinds Of Agricultural Disputes Can Be Mediated?
    • Adverse Decisions from USDA agencies
    • Compliance Issues with USDA Farm and Conservation Programs
    • Farm and Rural Development Loans
    • Farm Credit/Debt Issues
    • Wetlands Determinations
    • Crop Insurance
    • Pesticide Issues
    • Other Agricultural Disputes

How Much Does Mediation Cost?

VTAMP provides free mediation services to the agricultural community in Vermont on the issues listed above. For other agricultural issues, VTAMP will provide the mediation services free of charge when other funding sources are available. In some cases, VTAMP may ask parties to pay based on a sliding scale.

Steps To Request Mediation Through VTAMP

  1. Fill out the Request for Mediation form below.
  2. VTAMP staff will confirm that the other party (or parties) is willing to participate in the mediation.
  3. VTAMP staff will conduct brief confidential interviews to learn background information about the dispute.
  4. VTAMP will assign a mediator from the Agricultural Mediation Roster or VTAMP staff based on subject matter expertise, geography, and availability.
  5. The mediator will contact the parties to arrange a date, time and location for the mediation session.

Request for Mediation Form

Please complete the form below to request mediation from the Vermont Mediation Program. If you would rather print the form and mail it to us; click here. Once your request has been received we will review your information and contact you.

 

You’ll also need to fill-out and submit the VTAMP Release Form.

VTAMP Request Mediation Form

VTAMP Request Mediation Form

List people, and/or USDA agency you are requesting mediation with

List additional participants in the mediation

Sending

Subscribe to the VTAMP mailing list

* indicates required



View previous campaigns.


View The Autumn 2016 Newsletter
View The August 2016 Newsletter

VTAMP Blog Posts

  • Although most people think they know something about mediation, it remains a mysterious process to some. Often, people talk about mediation, arbitration, and negotiation almost interchangeably. Sometimes, others may confuse mediation and meditation. Mediation is the use of an impartial person (the mediator) who facilitates the conversation and helps the parties try and resolve their differences. Unlike a judge, the mediator cannot impose a settlement on the parties. The parties decide in the end whether a settlement is acceptable to them or not. On the other hand, in a negotiation the parties meet without an impartial person and each side......

  • Farmers sometimes find themselves in a Catch-22 situation. They need to obtain supplies or equipment to get crops in the ground, but there’s a problem — they don’t currently have the operating capital to cover those expenses. A loan from USDA Farm Service Agency or other lender can help fill that gap, and the loan officer will work with the farmer to determine a workable loan and payment amount, but there may still be a problem: the farmer has outstanding debts that must be addressed to qualify for the loan. Old debts can be intimidating, especially if a number of......

  • The family farm is more than a business. For many Hawaiians, it is a way of life passed down generation to generation. Most families want to see that tradition continue, but often fears about causing conflict or making a difficult situation worse prevent families from openly discussing a transition plan to help family members operate the farm when a death or a crisis strikes. Even in the best of circumstances, it is not uncommon for the head of the family to feel uncomfortable about discussing personal matters such as finances, current health issues, or the idea of retirement. Added to......

  • Mediators generally refer to mediating “disputes” or “cases” because in most instances the parties are involved in some kind of dispute and litigation could even be pending. It may be that they disagree on the facts or how to apply the facts to a regulation. But in some situations, the parties may agree about both the facts and the law. They may even get along just fine, it’s just that one party has an obligation they cannot perform. It does not matter whether you call it a dispute or not, the important thing is that in many of these situations,......

  • Mediation is often used as an alternate method of conflict resolution. Mediators are looked upon as crises responders swooping in at the last minute to disarm an explosive situation. In some cases this is true—news outlets often carry stories of union and management settlement mediations that go on through the night and resolution coming about at the eleventh hour just before a strike starts. However, the perception that one needs to be engaged in a hostile conflict or about to be embroiled in a lawsuit in order to make use of mediation is not accurate. In the work we do,......

  • Hawaii’s agricultural community is a place where most people know one another well. In some communities, farms go back generations with neighboring farms working side by side, season after season. Doing business on someone’s word and a handshake is still the way many people prefer to work together. Farmers favor oral agreements for a few reasons, first, in many cases the agreement is with a neighbor, a friend, a fellow farmer and there is a history of trust between them. Requiring a written contract may give the erroneous impression they no longer trust or are on friendly terms with the other......

  • Would you trust a judge who is related to one party to be fair? Of course not and hopefully the judge would recuse him or herself from hearing the case. Would you trust someone who has an obvious agenda to help you resolve a dispute? Likewise, the answer is of course not. One of the fundamental principles of mediation is that mediators can be impartial because they do not have a stake in the outcome. In fact, the success of mediation is dependent on the impartiality of the mediator. This requires that first, the mediator act fairly and in a......

  • While a verbal promise may be acceptable in certain situations, what happens when memories fade or circumstances change? Years later, the parties may disagree on what exactly was promised or how to apply the verbal agreement to changed circumstances. As a result, in most situations the agricultural mediation program encourages written settlement agreements. Before drafting a settlement document, the mediator will first make sure that all parties fully understand and accept the terms of the settlement. If the mediator senses that a party is uncertain about entering into a settlement, the mediator may meet separately with that party to talk......

  • One reason mediation works is because the mediators take the time to prepare parties to constructively engage in mediation. In agricultural mediations, most often parties are not represented by an attorney and need some assistance before the session. The preparation begins with pre-session confidential interviews where the mediator learns about the nature of the dispute and the parties who are involved. The importance of these in-depth confidential conversations cannot be under-estimated, in fact, much of the “heavy lifting” of the mediation process takes place during this stage. During these conversations, the mediator will attempt to learn about not only the......

What Is Mediation?

  • An informal process where parties meet with a neutral person who helps them in the negotiation of their differences.
  • It is a voluntary and confidential alternative to traditional legal and regulatory processes.
  • The mediator does not determine who is legally right or wrong nor will the mediator tell either party what to do.
  • Mediation leaves the decision-making power totally and strictly with the parties.

Who Are The Mediators And What Do They Do?

Mediators on our roster are all highly trained and well regarded professionals in the dispute resolution field. Our mediators have specialized experience and training in the agricultural fields. Mediators work with all parties to:

  • Eliminate communication obstacles
  • Facilitate a calm and rational discussion
  • Identify and clarify the issues
  • Explore options
  • Record agreements

Advantages Of Mediation

Mediation works because the process:

  • Is informal and impartial
  • Encourages open discussion
  • Helps the parties create their own solutions
  • Restores communication between disputing parties
  • Preserves and enhances important business relationships
  • May save all parties time and money as compared to litigation
  • Has fewer implementation issues since the parties agree to all terms

What Is A Mediation Session Like?

We have created a video that includes information about mediation and a mock mediation session. To view the video visit the New Hampshire or Vermont program page.

 

Mediation sessions begin with a joint session with all participants present. The purpose of the joint session is to define the issues and ascertain the interests and concerns of all parties. The mediator begins by welcoming the participants, explaining how mediation works, and explaining the ground rules for the session. After introductory remarks, each participant has the opportunity to make a brief opening statement and provide their perspective on the problem.

 

Following the opening statements, there is generally a discussion to clarify the issues, consider the relevant information and data, and explore options. Sometimes, a joint session is followed by a private meeting between the mediator and each party. This allows each side to explain and enlarge upon their goals for the mediation in confidence. Depending on the nature of the dispute and the dynamics of the mediation session, the mediator may alternate between private and joint sessions until the parties have resolved their differences, decided to reconvene for additional sessions, or determined that further mediation is no longer constructive.

How Can Parties Make The Most Of A Mediation Session?

  • Gather and organize the documents and paperwork
  • Create a written time line with the events to be discussed
  • If important information is missing, tell the mediator and see if they can help locate the necessary information
  • Make copies of important documents and label the paperwork prior to the mediation so that its easier to use it during the mediation.
  • Flag any documents that you do not want the other parties to see so that the mediator knows to keep the document confidential.
  • Remember your point of view may be different from the other parties
  • Be prepared to listen to what they have to say as well.
  • It is common in mediation to come up with more creative, open and collaborative ways to resolve the problem than can be found in other forums such as in a courtroom or before a hearing officer.
  • Keep an open mind about what might work to fix the problem.
  • Try to encourage more ideas by not immediately saying “no” to a proposal.
  • During the mediation, if you need time to think about about an issue, or would like to speak to an adviser whose opinion you value, you can do so.
  • Think of the mediation session as a conversation between you and the other parties with the mediator there to ensure that the conversation is productive and that each of you has the opportunity to speak, reflect and work together to come up with joint solutions.

Matt Strassberg, Director

Matt is the director of the Environmental Mediation Center and the administrator of the EMC’s agricultural mediation programs. He is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of experience in environmental law and mediation. He was the founding director of Green Mountain Environmental Resolutions, a dispute resolution firm focused on developing collaborative solutions to environmental and land use disputes. He is also a senior consultant with the Consensus Building Institute. He serves on the Steering Committee of the Coalition of Agricultural Mediation Programs and is listed on the roster of the US Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution.

Julie Hoyt, Associate Director

Julie Hoyt is the Associate Director of the Environmental Mediation Center. Julie has worked with EMC since 2007 and currently assists in the administration of both the Vermont and New Hampshire Agricultural Mediation Programs. Julie is an attorney admitted to practice in both Vermont and Massachusetts. Julie’s mediation experience includes a variety of producer-creditor disputes, adverse decision letters arising from FSA loans, NRCS programs, Rural Development loans and many others.  Julie has experience working in the agricultural community working on issues affecting dairy and goat farms and fruit and vegetable growers.

Neal Rodar, Mediator

Neal Rodar has over 16 years of experience in professional mediation. He was Director of the Woodbury Dispute Resolution Center for ten years. Neal’s Board and Committee memberships include the Professional Responsibility Board of the Vermont Supreme Court, the Vermont Board of Bar Examiners, the Environmental Mediation Center, the Oversight Committee of the Vermont Family Court Mediation Program, and the Vermont Environmental Court Mediation Program. Neal has worked extensively developing mediation programs with State Governments and serves as Mediator-in-Residence at the Woodbury Institute at Champlain College in their Masters in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies program.

Susan Terry, Mediator

Susan is a nationally recognized mediator, facilitator, and consultant working in complex issues in the public and private sector. She teaches in the Masters in Mediation Program at the Woodbury Institute at Champlain College and is adjunct faculty at Vermont Law School. She is also a contract mediator with a number of state agencies and is recognized for her thoughtful and creative approach to problem solving. Susan lives on a diversified tree farm and has worked with numerous dairy farm families in planning farm succession.

Emily Gould, Mediator

Emily has close to 30 years experience as an attorney, mediator and facilitator. She is a former criminal prosecutor and general counsel to the Agency of Agriculture. Emily is in solo practice at Empatia Resolutions in Montpelier Vermont as a mediator and facilitator serving farmers and agricultural organizations as well as non-profits, individuals and families.  Emily also provides training and coaching to other mediators, attorneys and people in conflict situations. Learn more about Emily at her website: www.empatiaresolutions.com

Alfred Mills, Mediator

Alfred has worked as a mediator for over thirteen years. He is a member of the Vermont Bar and an active member of the Vermont Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee. Alfred is an Adjunct Professor in the Masters in Mediation (teaching Legal Issues in Mediation and Negotiation) and Masters of Science in Law (teaching Constitutional Law, Torts, and Alternative Dispute Resolution) programs at the Woodbury Institute of Champlain College and an active member of the Vermont Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee. In his past life, he spent four years as a Wilderness Ranger in Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state. Today he lives and works in and around Montpelier, Vermont. Learn more about Alfred at his website: www.riverstoneresolutions.com

Julian Portilla, Mediator

Julian is currently the director of the Master’s in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies of the Woodbury Institute of Champlain College. His experience ranges from interpersonal situations to multistakeholder dialogue processes primarily to help people and communities resolve differences over managing their natural resources, specifically land use, distribution and ownership, fisheries management and coastal development. He has assisted communities in developing ad hoc systems for resource management as well as community-led policy recommendations to be adopted by government actors. Julian has worked to resolve disputes in over a dozen countries. He has consulted for the UN, national governments, universities and colleges and other institutions. In addition to English, he is fluent in Spanish and French.

Jennifer Larsen, Mediator

With a background in science, education and mediation, Jennifer brings a breadth and depth of knowledge in technical science, forestry, and agriculture to her mediation and facilitation practice. Her work includes facilitation, conflict consulting, trainings and mediation for non-profits, towns, the agricultural community, the U.S. Forest Service, and in Chittenden County Small Claims Court. Jennifer served as a field and lab scientist for 24 years before becoming a mediator and facilitator. For more than a decade, Jennifer supervised soil and plant tissue analysis in the UVM Agricultural & Environmental Testing Lab, interpreting lab results for, and building collaborative relationships with farmers, feed dealers, extension agents and researchers. Active in the community garden behind her house, Jennifer has also been a longtime supporter and member of a CSA. Learn more at: www.jenniferlarsenassociates.com.

Request Mediation Form

Please complete the form below to request mediation from the Vermont Mediation Program. If you would rather print the form and mail it to us; click here. Once your request has been received we will review your information and contact you.

 

You’ll also need to fill-out and submit the VTAMP Release Form.

VTAMP Request Mediation Form

List people, and/or USDA agency you are requesting mediation with

List additional participants in the mediation

Sending

Case Studies

Farm Loans Complicate Family Farm Transition

Farm loan and other credit issues can make a family farm transition complicated and challenging. When the next generation takes over control of the farm, there are difficult conversations required both within the family and between the family and the lender. There are questions about cash flow, debt, workload, and fairness and equity between siblings. Conflicts can arise between parents and their children or between siblings concerning management of the farm, farm credit and other financial issues. If the conflict is not resolved early on and in a constructive manner, families and businesses can be torn apart. The agricultural mediation program has helped several families deal with these issues by working with all family members to focus on their interests and resolve financial and other management issues.

NRCS Cost Share Dispute

A farmer entered into a cost share arrangement with NRCS for a manure storage system. The farmer was concerned that the contractor who performed the work did not follow all the specifications in the contract and refused to pay the contractor the remaining balance. At the mediation, the farmer, NRCS, and the contractor had an opportunity to talk about exactly what was done differently and why it was done that way. Once all the parties had a greater understanding of the nature of the work performed, the mediator facilitated a discussion on possible ways to resolve the dispute. Since mediation sessions are confidential, each party could talk openly about which options could be acceptable. The parties were then able to reach an agreement that was acceptable to all parties and most importantly it provided a means for dealing with any future problems.

Farm Loan Denial

A farmer was seeking a loan guarantee from USDA to purchase the family farm. After months of back and forth discussions between the farmer, a commercial lender, and USDA, the loan guarantee was denied. The process stalled and the farmer did not know where to turn to next. The farmer contacted the agricultural mediation program in his state and requested mediation. At the mediation, all the parties were at the table together for the first time. Mediation enabled the parties to dispel preconceived notions about each other and address each party’s concerns. The mediator assisted the parties in generating options that addressed concerns raised by the various parties and ultimately the parties were able to work together to develop a loan package that worked for all.

Restructuring Farm Loan To Feed Supply Store

A farmer owed his feed supply store a significant balance. Interest was accruing on the principal and the farmer who was struggling to make ends meet did not know how he was ever going to pay the entire debt. The feed supply store was in a tough bind. If it continued to provide feed, the farmer’s debt would likely continue to grow. If it stopped proving feed to the farmer, the farm would fail. Either way, it was not clear how the farmer could pay back the debt. The farmer contacted FSA and FSA referred the farmer to his state’s agricultural mediation program. At the mediation, it was clear that all parties had an interest in the farmer succeeding. The parties discussed several options for restructuring the loans that would enable the farmer to pay back his entire debt. Ultimately, the parties agreed to a settlement that worked for both the farmer’s and the feed supply store’s balance sheet.

Wetland Determination

A farmer disputed a determination by NRCS that a particular field was a wetland. The field was designated as a wetland on soil maps but due to past activities on the field, it was difficult, if not impossible, to conduct a new wetland determination. The farmer wanted to plant the field as soon as possible but risked a penalty and his ability to participate in USDA programs if he planted in a wetland. The parties were stuck and the farmer was concerned that the window for planting would soon pass. He requested mediation to resolve the stalemate. The mediator helped the parties make a list of possible methods to make the wetland determination and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Ultimately, the parties agreed to have their wetland experts work side by side to conduct a wetland determination on a similar adjacent field that was also designated a wetland on the soil map. Since all parties agreed to the process and conducted the test together, each party accepted the results.


The above case studies are either compilations of cases with similar facts or include changes to minor details to protect the confidentiality of the mediation process and the privacy of the parties. Photos of farms and or farmers are used for decorative purposes. These farms and farmers were not involved in the above case studies.

Testimonials 

USDA Employee

The dedication of Agricultural Mediation Program mediators and their ability to get all the necessary parties willing to work together constructively made it possible to reach a positive outcome in a case where it didn’t seem likely.

Farmer

I tried to resolve my dispute on my own for 18 months but was shot down on every avenue I tried. Once we got into mediation, they really started to listen to me for the first time and we were able to resolve the dispute quickly.

Commercial Lender

The mediation enabled the parties to communicate their interests clearly and effectively and reach a resolution quickly that was acceptable by all parties. I felt really good about how the mediation was conducted and would use Agricultural Mediation Program’s services again.

USDA Employee

Mediation has proven itself to be a cost effective way to deal with any disputes farmers may have with USDA. Compared to the appeals process, it also saves a huge amount of time.

Farmer

I was struck by how fast it went. The mediation was set up right away and the dispute was resolved within a week. If you want to fight, hire an attorney. If you want to get something done and reach an agreement, hire a mediator.

Matt Strassberg

Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program
177 Paddy Hill Road
Moretown, VT 05660
(802) 583-1100 ext 101
(800) 511-2213 (toll free)
cell (802) 498-8448
matts@emcenter.org

 

Julie Hoyt

Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program
177 Paddy Hill Road
Moretown, VT 05660
(802) 583-1100 ext 102
(800) 511-2213 (toll free)
julieh@emcenter.org

Join Our Mailing List To Receive Our Quarterly Newsletter:
VTAMP Newsletter Extended
First
Last
Sending