Our Mission: Providing pro bono legal assistance, workshops, and trainings to farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related organizations in order to foster a sustainable, resilient, and just food system.
At CLF, we believe that a thriving New England means a thriving local food system—the region’s environment, climate, and economy depend on it. There is a robust movement afoot to sustain New England’s communities with locally grown food, but many farmers and food entrepreneurs struggle to overcome the high legal fees associated with starting a farm or business, acquiring land, entering into contracts, transferring land to family members, or other essential business matters. Legal services can be so costly that some farmers and food entrepreneurs either go without, or pay more than they can afford, harming other aspects of their businesses’ economic viability. In the worst-case scenario, farmers or food entrepreneurs lose their businesses or exit the field due to these and other financial hurdles. CLF seeks to help address this problem through the Legal Food Hub.
Our History: Legal Food Hub’s Mission Deeply Rooted in Early History of CLF
Although it is one of CLF’s most recent programs, the Legal Food Hub’s mission and services closely mirror the work of CLF’s earliest days, almost 50 years ago.
Founded in 1966, CLF was originally comprised of a volunteer Board of Directors that was drawn together by a shared concern for preserving open space in Massachusetts. Most of the organization’s work involved dispensing free legal advice to local Conservation Commissions that had been formed to preserve open space.
“We served as customer service to people out there worried about conservation and open space,” said Stephen Ells, an original CLF board member who served for ten years.
This advice also served a growing number of private landowners interested in conserving their property by either telling them directly how to do it, or by referring them to land trusts specializing in these transactions.
“We would answer all kinds of questions phoned in to us by any sort of person you could ever imagine,” said Judy Pickett, a staff attorney from 1975–83.
When CLF did get involved directly in local land battles, the cases were usually taken on by members of the Board for no pay. Even the first full-time staff attorney volunteered his time and paid his secretary’s salary.
By 1973, CLF was able to hire a second staff attorney, and, in 1988, the organization won its first big farmland protection case in Vermont by opposing permits for a beltway around Burlington. This case resulted in an unprecedented package of measures to preserve farmland in the towns through which the highway would pass.
Now almost 50 years later, the Legal Food Hub is revisiting these early days of providing pro bono legal services in an effort to support a thriving New England environment, this time by working directly with our region’s farmers and food businesses.
Since our launch in June 2014, we’ve placed 754 cases and leveraged more than $3.8 million in pro bono legal services. Here are just a few highlights of the farmers, food entrepreneurs, and organizations who have been helped by the Legal Food Hub. Click to read our 2020 Annual Report.