Legal Food Hub Launches in the Green Mountain State

Photo: Liz West (CC BY 2.0)

We’re teaming up with our friends at Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) to offer the Legal Food Hub’s free legal services in the Green Mountain State. “Vermont is home to many innovative, sustainable farms that not only provide delicious and healthy local food but also sequester carbon and provide other invaluable environmental benefits,” says Jen Duggan, director of CLF Vermont. “We are eager to support our farmers, small food businesses, and Vermont’s local food system.”

Sophia Kruszewski, CAFS Clinic Director, also expressed excitement about the opportunities the Legal Food Hub will provide to Vermont Law School students. “Many of our students are passionate about supporting farmers and building the local food economy,” Kruszewski says. “Hosting the Hub at CAFS is a great way to give them hands-on experience working with farm and food business clients.”

Starting a farm or food-related business comes with many associated legal needs, such as acquiring or transferring land or entering contracts. Farmers or food entrepreneurs sometimes go without legal services or pay more than they can afford. In the worst-case scenario, they may leave the profession due to these hurdles.

“A thriving local food system depends on the success of farms and food businesses,” says Kruszewski. “Yet many of these businesses lack legal support. Our goal is to connect them with the assistance they need to be resilient and grow.”

Jennifer Rushlow, who now serves as director of Vermont Law School’s Environmental Law Center, established the nation’s first Legal Food Hub in Massachusetts in 2014 as director of CLF’s Food & Farm Program. Since then, Hubs have expanded to Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. We have placed more than 460 clients with attorneys, leveraging more than $3 million in pro bono legal assistance. CAFS will serve as the primary administrator of the Vermont hub, the first of its kind in the state.

“We’re proud to bring the Legal Food Hub to Vermont,” says Duggan. “Supporting local farmers and food businesses leads to vibrant communities and a healthier environment for everyone.”

The Vermont hub has already recruited attorneys from 10 law firms and placed two pilot cases. One involves a group aiming to protect land for a farmers market and community garden in Putney.

“Forming a nonprofit is complicated, but applying to the Vermont Legal Food Hub was simple,” says client McKenna Hayes. “We were quickly paired with a pro bono attorney who is helping us navigate the process, ensuring the longevity of our farmers market and community garden.”

The Hub also benefits attorneys. By working with the local food sector, law firms gain access to a quickly growing practice area. In other states, nearly half of surveyed Hub attorneys reported continued relationships with their clients, often on a paid basis, as businesses have grown.

“Providing legal services on a pro bono basis offers our firm the possibility of a long-term relationship,” says Jeff Bernstein, an attorney with BCK Law, who is representing Hayes. “And it’s satisfying to help establish a new venture that will enrich the local community.”

The Hub is currently recruiting additional attorneys and accepting applications for legal assistance from Vermont farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related organizations.

Interested attorneys should contact us at legalfoodhub@clf.org to get involved!