WANTED: Transactional Lawyers for Farmers and Food Entrepreneurs

Elena Mihaly | @ElenaMihaly

Imagine you’d like to start a local farm. You’ll want land, equipment, seeds, and that special ingredient that few people think about: a lawyer. Surprised? You’re not alone! Few people recognize how necessary lawyers are in building the farms, food businesses, and food cooperatives that make up our local food system. Acquiring land, negotiating agricultural preservation restrictions (APRs), and entering into contracts are all examples of the types of complex transactions where a farmer would benefit from the help of an attorney to ensure terms are clear and enforceable.

Likewise, imagine if your friend wanted to start a hot sauce company using your farm’s chili peppers. She could benefit from a lawyer, too! Her hot sauce company needs to file as a legal entity, register her trademark, negotiate contracts with buyers, and review commercial leases, among other transactions.

inline-legalservicesfoodhub-clfBut how can lean start-ups and small- to medium-scale farm operations afford to hire a lawyer? Enter the Legal Services Food Hub, a new project of Conservation Law Foundation.

Just as a local food hub serves as a resource for farmers to get their products to consumers, the Legal Services Food Hub is a resource for farmers and food entrepreneurs to get their legal issues in the helpful hands of a lawyer. Piloting this project for its first year in Massachusetts, CLF will connect MA-based participants with an attorney from our growing network who will work on their transactional legal issues for free.

Who’s eligible? (for the pilot year, all participants must operate in Massachusetts)

  • Farmers predominantly producing agricultural products for human food consumption
  • Food entrepreneurs
  • 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations whose primary constituency or membership base is farmers or food entrepreneurs
  • Community groups whose mission is to address social justice issues related to the food system (e.g., food co-operatives, farmers’ markets, community garden associations)

Is there an income cap?

  • Yes, a farm or food business’s gross annual sales must not exceed $75,000, and the applicant’s household income must not exceed 400% of the Federal Poverty Level.

What types of cases are accepted?

  • CLF will pilot the Legal Services Food Hub with an initial focus on cases involving transactional issues, such as land acquisition/transfer, estate issues, taxes, contracts, and corporate formation, among others. We are partnering with Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic to create a legal manual on transactional issues specific to farmers and food entrepreneurs to help guide attorneys who join our network.

Through the Legal Services Food Hub, we hope to help farm and food constituents navigate legal issues in order to help improve economic stability in the sector, increase regional food production, and build a more just food system for all New Englanders. We plan to expand this project to additional New England states after the Massachusetts pilot.

Have you been itching to start your own farm, hot sauce company, or food co-op? Thinking about enrolling your farm in the APR program? Are you a farmers’ market manager trying to establish your market as a legal entity? Or, are you an attorney looking for pro bono opportunities in this field? If so, contact us! Check out the new Legal Services Food Hub website in mid June or contact Elena Mihaly, the Legal Services Food Hub Coordinator, at (617) 850-1720 or legalservicesfoodhub@clf.org.

We encourage attorneys interested in joining our network to attend our free Legal Services Food Hub Launch/Training Event on Monday, June 23, from 8:30–10:30am at Nixon Peabody. Contact us to register for the event where you will meet other attorneys interested in using their skills to bolster our regional food economy, and enjoy a delicious locally sourced breakfast.

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