(In 2016, the Rural Roles series featured 12 different voices within the agriculture industry who make a difference and often go unrecognized. This is the final piece in the series.)
COLUMBUS — “Sometimes when I tell people that I do ag law, they go ‘what is that?’ Well, take just about any area of law and apply it to agriculture and that’s ag law,” said Peggy Hall.
From water laws to zoning laws, to employment and labor, “there are so many areas that apply slightly differently to agriculture,” said Hall, an assistant professor and field specialist in agricultural and resource law at Ohio State University. And one of her favorite parts of agricultural law is finding that balance and helping farmers understand their rights and maintain their production.
Hall grew up in the rural town of Richwood, Ohio, in Union County. “We lived in a farm community so we all got involved in 4-H and FFA as soon as we got out into the country, but my parents were not farmers,” she said. Hall showed horses and pigs and took special-interest projects through the local 4-H program and joined FFA at North Union High School. “I and three other girls were the first girls in our FFA chapter,” said Hall.
She was actively engaged in the FFA program, taking on an officer role and soaking up all she could learn from her teacher, Harold Karcher. “Actually, I think it was my ag teacher who really drew me into agriculture,” Hall said. “It’s one thing to live in the country, but it’s another thing to really get engaged in the business of agriculture. I was just pulled into that and I just loved it,” she said. Taking in everything she could in her agriculture classes, Hall knew she wanted to pursue a career related to agriculture.
When she started college at Ohio State University, she pursued natural resources. “It’s kind of strange to think of it like this now, but I thought, because I didn’t come from a farm, I guess I didn’t think majoring in ag was something I could do,” she said. So she studied natural resource policy, “which has been, actually, a good complement to what I do now in agriculture,” she said.
After undergrad, Hall moved to Jackson, Wyoming. “I went there kind of on a whim. I had some friends out there and took up writing for the newspaper there,” she said. Hall found herself becoming more and more interested in natural resource issues, so she came back to Ohio State to get her master’s degree in natural resource policy.
“It was about that time that I discovered that I could combine agriculture into that,” she said. “That’s when I decided to go to law school.” Hall moved back out to Wyoming because the University of Wyoming law school allowed her to study both agricultural law and resource law. “So I got back to ag eventually, but boy, I wish I would have just started in it,” she said.
While studying in Wyoming, Hall became more convinced she had chosen the right track in life while she was working for a law firm in Cheyenne. “All they did was represent farmers and ranchers on public lands because Wyoming is mostly public land,” said Hall.
Hall explained the farmers there are very dependent on federal lands for grazing and water rights, and Hall was in the middle of all those issues. “When I had a chance to work with that firm that summer and see, really see, from that kind of inside view, all those issues that a rancher had to deal with … that really just pulled me in,” she said.
After law school, Hall reconnected with her high school sweetheart — Dan Hall, who was the president of the North Union FFA chapter while Peggy was the secretary. Dan and Peggy would move to Michigan for a couple years before Dan’s job would transfer them back to the Buckeye State. It was back in Ohio where things started to come full circle.
They bought a farm in Union County that had been homesteaded by the Hall family in 1880. “It’s just a small grain farm, around 200 acres. Not big, but we both have careers off the farm,” she said. Over the years, the Halls’ three children have had 4-H projects of their own on the small farm.
She took a job working private practice for a law firm in Dublin, Ohio, working mostly with clients in agriculture. Her boss, Paul Wright, had taught at Ohio State before retiring and opening the law firm. Ohio State Extension approached Wright about bringing an ag law class back to the university. “So Paul asked me if I would like to do that — teach the class and do some work for Extension — and I said, ‘sure’,” said Hall.
That eventually lead to Ohio State creating a full-time position for Hall in the late ’90s. Hall helped recreate the agricultural law program at Ohio State, adding a natural resource law program.
Along with teaching and being an Extension field specialist, Hall is also a member of the American Agricultural Law Association (AALA), where she has served as president and was recently awarded the Excellence in Agriculture Law Award. Peggy has served the association as president, presenter, moderator, committee member and in almost every capacity that the organization has called upon her for service, said Beth Crocker, a past AALA president.
Hall currently serves as the chairperson of the strategic planning committee, providing guidance into meeting the needs of current and new members. Jesse Richardson, who served on the board while Hall was president, said Hall made significant changes in the organization that led to great improvements.
“Basically, Peggy forced everyone to quit thinking in the mode of ‘this is how we have always done it,’ and to switch to ‘how should we be doing this,’” he said. “Peggy started the organization on a strategic plan,” said Richardson. “No more ad hoc decisions. Instead, we are now planning for the future, and make strategic decisions.”
He explained, when Hall took over as president, “we were at a crossroads.” Older members wanted to keep the status quo while younger members wanted change. “Peggy tipped the balance in favor of re-examining the status quo,” said Richardson.
“Personally, I have found Peggy to be a wonderful mentor, encouraging me to pursue topics of interest, reaching out to members and believing in me to take on certain leadership roles within AALA,” said Crocker.
With water quality at the forefront of agricultural issues right now, Hall said one of her latest projects is in agricultural nutrient management. “I’m looking at approaches all around the country,” she said. “How are other states handling this issue of trying to address ag nutrient management and land application of ag nutrients in light of water quality, and how do we navigate that?
“It’s like going back to Wyoming and some of the issues I started with, and here we are — dealing with a slightly different issue — but still trying to find that balance.”
5 minutes with Peggy Hall
Family: Husband, Dan; son, Riley; and daughters, Maggie and Grace.
First job: Working dispatch for the Richwood Police Department in high school.
Best family memory: Traveling to her grandparents’ place in Harlan, Kentucky, as a child. “They had a little cabin in the holler of Kentucky, and I loved going there.”
Favorite vacation destination: Lakeside, Ohio. “That’s where we have taken the children for years. It’s one of Ohio’s best kept secrets.”
Something from your bucket list: “I’ve always wanted to go to Italy and see the countryside.”
Someone might be surprised to know: “I waited on Harrison Ford.” While living in Jackson, Wyoming, Hall worked as a waitress at a diner that Ford frequented. “He’s a very private person, but he had his favorite places to go … He was very nice but he really didn’t want to be noticed or fussed over. You knew if you waited on Harrison you just kind of gave him his space.”
Best advice you ever received: When Hall first started law school, she was a bit overwhelmed with everything she thought she had to know. “I just felt like, how am I ever going to learn all of this?” Her law professor told her, “You don’t have to know everything, you just have to know where to find what you need to know.”
Advice for someone considering agricultural law: “I think it’s a very good field to get into right now. There’s always been a need for it, but as agriculture becomes more complex, as we become more regulated, and as we continue to expand and diversify, I think that creates need for people who are well versed in both law and agriculture.”
By Catie Noyes