Legal Services Food Hub Supports Growth of Local, Sustainable Food in New England
May 18, 2015 (PORTLAND, ME) — Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) launched the Maine Legal Services Food Hub today at a networking breakfast with local government leaders, attorneys, farmers, and food entrepreneurs. Recognizing the role of farmers and food businesses in the economic and environmental health of Maine communities, the Legal Services Food Hub is the first of its kind network that connects smaller-scale farmers, food businesses, and food-related organizations with pro bono legal services to help start, grow, and operate their businesses. CLF launched the first Legal Services Food Hub in Massachusetts last year.
“Local farmers and food businesses are at the heart of a healthy and thriving community. A sustainable food system is essential to the health, environment, and economic growth of our communities in Maine and throughout New England,” said Ben Tettlebaum, Conservation Law Foundation Attorney, Rhodes Fellow, and Coordinator of the Legal Services Food Hub in Maine. “The Legal Services Food Hub will provide free legal support to small-scale farmers and food businesses that cannot otherwise afford legal services.”
Through the Legal Services Food Hub, CLF connects eligible participants with a large network of experienced attorneys who offer legal services pro bono. The goal of the Hub is to help build a more resilient and just local food system for Maine and all of New England.
“The Legal Services Food Hub is going to be a fabulous program and a great addition to the CLF mission,” said Beth Boepple, an attorney at Lambert Coffin, a firm in the Hub network. “It is challenging sometimes to make time for pro bono work. This work, however, struck me as a way to do good and do it in a field that is my passion.”
One study found that only 10% of surveyed farmers use legal services, in contrast to 70% of small businesses in general. There are numerous legal needs associated with starting a farm or business, acquiring land, entering into contracts, transferring land to family members, and other essential business matters. Some farmers and food entrepreneurs who cannot afford the associated legal fees either go without or pay more than they can afford, harming other aspects of their business’ economic viability. In the worst-case scenario, farmers or food entrepreneurs lose their business or leave the field due to these and other financial hurdles.
“It’s wonderful to have legal services available to people who need it,” said Noah Fralich, owner of Norumbega Cidery and a recipient of legal services through the Hub. “To farmers and food businesses I have this advice: don’t neglect basic issues around being a small business owner—they are very important!”