Strengthening Vermont’s Local Food System

In February, Vermont Law School and Conservation Law Foundation celebrated two years of the Vermont Legal Food Hub. Launched in January 2020, Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) operates the program.

The Hub connects income-eligible farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related organizations with attorneys willing to provide free legal assistance. Since it launched two years ago, students, faculty, and staff in CAFS’s Food and Agriculture Clinic have been fielding requests from Vermont’s farm and food community and placing cases with local attorneys in the Hub’s volunteer network. The results so far are impressive: Participants have saved more than $103,270 in legal fees, leveraging more than 473 hours of pro bono legal services. 21 cases have been resolved, while more than a dozen are in the works.

“We have seen tremendous interest since launching in 2020 and are so pleased to have been able to meet the demand because of our incredible attorney network,” says Vermont Legal Food Hub program coordinator Whitney Shields. “While COVID-19 slowed down so many programs, we were able to function at full capacity due to the generosity of our volunteer attorneys.”

We caught up with one of the Hub’s clients from the past year to learn more about the legal issues they faced and how a Hub attorney pitched in to help.

Supporting a Women-Led Latinx Food Collective

Viva El Sabor is a women-led collective dedicated to introducing the food and culture of Mexico and Central America to Vermont and promoting community and economic justice for its members. A dozen or so cooks from Mexico and Guatemala – many of whom have been cooking for the local farmworker community for years – launched the collective in the summer of 2021 with a pop-up dinner featuring tamales, tacos, and gorditas in Middlebury. As requests poured in for catering gigs following the successful launch, members looked to expand the business. They contacted the Vermont Legal Food Hub for an attorney’s guidance.

Attorney Drew Kervick of firm Dunkiel Saunders consulted with the collective on various legal aspects of business development, from filing an LLC with the Secretary of State, to drafting an operating agreement outlining the roles of the owner and others involved in operating the business. Some Viva El Sabor members are now fully established, registered, and permitted for home-based catering. “Drew produced well-drafted documents and was quick to follow up and respond to questions,” says Elizabeth Ready, who works with the women of Viva El Sabor. “We hope he and his firm will continue to help if business-related questions come up in the future.”