Wanted: Legal Support for Sustainable Agriculture

A growing number of concerned Americans are becoming more aware of the need to radically change the way our food system operates, and make the shift to truly sustainable agriculture. This is no small thing, and nothing short of revolutionary. The shift from out of control, chemical ridden monoculture to organic, small-scale local food producers is huge, and in order to achieve such a feat, all kinds of changes and support is needed. One facet of changing the food system that has been somewhat overlooked is legal support. In order to navigate a legal environment that largely supports big agriculture versus small, sustainable agriculture, idealistic farmers and local food advocates need help. Luckily, some law firms are beginning to heed the call for support, tailoring their services to the legal needs of sustainable agriculture and helping to carry it to the next level.

Small-scale sustainable agriculture often finds itself in messy legal territory, caught up  in everything from land use  regulations and a complex system of food safety rules that are tailored to industrial agriculture and factory food. More specifically, farmers and small-scale food producers may very well have to deal with corporate formation law; employment and labor laws; wills, estates, and land transfer; trademarks; food safety compliance; sales and marketing regulations; land use and zoning regulations over the course of their career. As if choosing a career as a farmer isn't daunting enough already, all of the legal issues that can crop up can make even the toughest farmer nervous.

Enter legal help dedicated to the specific issues and quandries that small farmers and food producers face. Although many lawyers and legal consultants are tailoring their services and honing their skills to aid the small-scale farmer, there are a few initiatives that are truly focused on helping craft a new food system by the books. The Vermont Law School is already home to a well-regarded and very focused environmental law program, and recently announced the upcoming opening of a Center for Agriculutre and Food Systems. The center will focus on  legal  issues related to community-based agriculture, navigating the Farm Bill and agricultural subsidies, energy-efficient food production, energy independence for farmers and other policy and legal issues key to supporting and developing a healthy working landscape. On a more direct level, Law for Food LLC based out of Vermont and Connecticut provides legal and business counsel aimed specifically to support sustainable agriculture and local food production.

To all lawyers and prospective lawyers out there, sustainable agriculture could use your help. Changing an entire food system takes many hands and many skills. Apply your expertise to the cause of sustainable agriculture and local food, and help sustainable agriculture conquer a system that services industrial development and monoculture.