Here at TSL, we have a long history of identifying programs and initiatives that benefit sustainability and green living. That’s why when we heard about Conservation Law Foundation’s Legal Services Food Hub, we thought it was the perfect chance to return to the spotlight.
First things first, TSL did our due diligence by reaching out to Elena Mihaly, Legal Services Food Hub Coordinator, for the lowdown on the initiative. Elena was a bevy of knowledge on the Food Hub and sustainability in general, and we learned a lot – but for our readers’ sake, we’ll try and keep it brief.
The Legal Services Food Hub, in simplest terms, is a legal services network that will provide pro bono services to lower income farmers, food entrepreneurs and food related organizations/groups (hereby known as the three f’s). Pretty brief right? Well there’s more…obviously. TSL didn’t make a comeback for just one sentence!
The origins of the initiative are simple: about a year ago, folks at CLF working on the organization’s Farm & Food Initiative started to hear from their community partners that the three f’s were having difficulty navigating the legal maze that affects their farms and businesses. They either didn’t have access to a lawyer for financial reasons, or didn’t think to involve a lawyer in the first place. An idea was born to create a pro bono legal referral service for the three f’s, but that wasn’t enough. Over the next four months, CLF set out to ground truth whether this group of constituents was in need of such legal aid through a series of interviews. What they found was all they needed to hear:
- The three f’s generally didn’t have identified lawyers to turn to when it came to answering questions or providing legal advice on issues like land acquisitions, contracts, estate planning issues, corporate formation, and more
- There was an absence of lawyers making themselves available pro bono to these professionals
- The three f’s were receiving support from other community groups and organizations, but there was a shortage of legal help
- Many of the three f’s operate on tight budgets, and a lawyer was often a luxury they couldn’t afford (or one that would “break the bank”).
- Lawyers and law firms were eagerly looking for transactional pro bono opportunities
- CLF saw what we can clearly see based on the above – the three f’s had an unmet legal need , and attorneys were willing to help out to meet that need.. Now all CLF had to do was organize the entire project. Easy, right?
Needless to say, CLF worked out the logistics internally. The process is similar to a lawyer referral service: CLF recruits and pre-screens attorneys to be part of the volunteer network and runs an intake hotline for the three f’s. They vet the issues/cases they receive, check for income eligibility (since the program targets lower-income folks), and then place them with an attorney based on experience and area of expertise. Done.
With that taken care of, CLF is ready to launch their pilot program –which they will do with a free kickoff and training session on June 23 at Nixon Peabody. At the kickoff, interested lawyers will get a crash course in some of the issues they’ll be dealing with when helping farmers, get pressing questions off their chests, and hear from Roger Noonan, a farmer and President of the New England Farmers Union. They’ll also get their hands on a hot off the presses legal guide chock full of common issues the three f’s encounter, created by CLF’s fellow foodie friends at Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.
So, consider the Legal Service Food Hub officially endorsed with the TSL stamp of approval (actual stamp pending). If you’re a lawyer who:
- wants to help the three f’s
- cares about creating a more robust and just local food economy
- believes actions speak louder than words
- wants to use your expertise to help someone who’s making the world a greener place
- thinks providing legal advice to a farmers market is a pretty cool thing to do
….we know you’ll be heading to 100 Summer Street on the 23rd. Make sure to register online so you get your share of the delicious (and yes, locally-sourced) breakfast. See you there.