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Stories and Profiles
VERMONT LEGAL FOOD HUB TO DELIVER FREE LEGAL SERVICES TO FARMERS, FOOD ENTREPRENEURS, AND RELATED ORGANIZATIONS
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 22, 2020
SOUTH ROYALTON, VT.
Today Vermont Law School (VLS) and Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) announced the launch of the Vermont Legal Food Hub. Located at VLS’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) in South Royalton, the program will match income-eligible farmers and business owners with skilled attorneys willing to provide free legal services.
“A thriving local food system depends on the success of farms and food businesses,” said Sophia Kruszewski, director, CAFS’s Food and Agriculture Clinic. “Yet many of these businesses lack legal support. Our goal is to connect them with the assistance they need to be resilient and grow.”
One survey by Farm Commons found that only 10 percent of farmers used legal services, in contrast to 70 percent of small businesses in general. 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.
Jennifer Rushlow, who now serves as director of VLS’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. They have placed more than 450 clients with attorneys, leveraging more than $2.5 million in pro bono legal assistance. CAFS will serve as 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,” said Jen Duggan, vice president and director of CLF Vermont. “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 farmer’s market and community garden in Putney.
“Forming a non-profit is complicated, but applying to the Vermont Legal Food Hub was simple,” said client McKenna Hayes. “We were quickly paired with a pro bono attorney who is helping us navigate the process, ensuring the longevity of our farmer’s 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,” said Jeff Bernstein, attorney with BCK Law, who is representing Hayes. “And it’s satisfying to help establish a new venture that will enrich the local community.”
Vermont Law School students will help to manage the program under the supervision of licensed attorneys, according to CAFS Director Laurie Beyranevand. “Not only will the Legal Food Hub provide a service to our community,” she said, “but students in our Food and Agriculture Clinic will also have the opportunity to fill a needed role, working on real-world cases that support Vermont’s food system.”
The Hub is currently recruiting additional attorneys and accepting applications for legal assistance from Vermont farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related organizations. For more information, visit legalfoodhub.org or contact Whitney Shields, program coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-831-1307.
This project is funded by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Elizabeth Boepple – BCM Environmental Land Law
With her focus on farm and food law, Beth is a staunch supporter of the local food system across New England. She has been a champion of the Legal Food Hub since its launch in Maine in 2014. She serves her clients with a wealth of knowledge garnered from years of experience working with clients in farming and food production throughout New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. Beth’s broad expertise in real estate, land use, corporate, and commercial and banking law has been a great asset to the Legal Food Hub. After taking on one of Maine’s first Hub cases in 2014, Beth has been assisting participants since then on a range of issues. Beth, we can’t thank you enough for your dedication to your clients, farm and food law, and the Legal Food Hub!
Josh Fox – WilmerHale
Josh has been a tremendous partner of the Legal Food Hub in Massachusetts, generously volunteering his valuable time to ensure that farms, food businesses, and nonprofits have the legal advice they need to thrive. As a partner in corporate law at WilmerHale, he has expertise in representing companies throughout the stages of their lifecycle. His experience counseling entrepreneurs on the formation of their businesses is particularly helpful to the Legal Food Hub’s many new enterprises that seek help getting started.
In addition to directly serving Legal Food Hub participants, Josh has helped place many more cases as the pro bono coordinator for his firm. He has provided invaluable advice to the Legal Food Hub coordinators on a variety of topics. Thank you, Josh, for all of your hard work supporting local food systems in Massachusetts!
Legal Need: Suzie and James planned on selling their first crop – about five tons of fresh kelp – to a wholesaler. To prepare for this, they wanted to formalize their business structure, then determine whether they needed to modify their aquaculture site’s lease with the State.
Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub matched Suzie and James with attorneys Robert Day and Bill Rock of Shipman & Goodwin, who were able to leverage their collective experience in business and real estate law to assist Stonington Kelp.
Legal Need: MFFM sought assistance with filing for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. In addition, MFFM wished to file for trademark protection.
Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub matched MFFM with attorneys David B. McConnell (Perkins Thompson) and Kenleigh Nicolletta (Brann & Isaacson). David utilized his expertise in intellectual property law to assist MFFM with its trademark issues, while Kenleigh brought experience assisting nonprofits to qualify for tax-exempt status.
About: Born to a milk-making family, Amy Rowbottom makes artisanal cheeses at her company, Crooked Face Creamery. Based in Norridgewock, Maine, the creamery’s signature cheese is her cold-smoked Applewood Smoked Ricotta. Amy sells her award-winning cheeses, which are made with limited ingredients and without preservatives, at farmers’ markets, specialty shops, and farm-to-table restaurants across Maine.
Legal Need: As the business has grown – the creamery now has about 40 wholesale accounts in Maine, as well as two distributors – Amy sought legal help in protecting her products and her brand.
Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub matched Amy with attorney David B. McConnell of Perkins Thompson. David has an active practice in trademark and copyright issues and brings a wealth of knowledge to assist Crooked Face Creamery with its intellectual property needs.
About: Fresh Food Generation is a Boston-based farm-to-plate food truck and catering company that serves healthy, affordable prepared food inspired by Latin and Caribbean cuisine across Boston. In addition to its food truck and catering business, Fresh Food Generation also boasts a café located at a community health center in Dorchester. The company is dedicated to serving low-income neighborhoods, and co-founders Cassandria Campbell and Jackson Renshaw take a local approach to the business by hiring from the communities served by the food truck and sourcing ingredients from local suppliers.
Legal Need: Poised to receive sizeable investments, Cassandria and Jackson sought assistance in reviewing and negotiating the terms of the investment agreements.
Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub matched Cassandria and Jackson with Josh Fox at WilmerHale. The Legal Food Hub had previously matched Fresh Food Generation with Josh to create an operating agreement and advise regarding a term sheet for a possible investment. With his strong background in advising entrepreneurs and startups, Josh has been able to assist Fresh Food Generation with its legal needs.
About: Freedom Food Farm is an 88-acre organic-certified farm in Raynham, Massachusetts, that produces a wide variety of produce, herbs, eggs, grains, honey, and pasture-raised meat. Chuck Currie and Marie Kaziunas started the farm in 2012, and they strive to provide nutritious food using holistic practices such as cover-cropping and field rotation. Freedom Food Farm has a CSA and sells at farmers’ markets around the region.
Legal Need: Chuck and Marie sought legal assistance through the Legal Food Hub when the land they leased was sold to new owners. They wanted assistance in reviewing and negotiating the terms of the new operating agreement to ensure the farm would have a smooth transition.
Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub matched Chuck and Marie with attorneys Jasmine Haddad and Robert Burke of WilmerHale. Both Jasmine and Robert are experienced in business law, making them well-positioned to help with advising regarding an operating agreement that will provide stability for the farm’s future.
About: Jeff Casel is taking over Stone Wall Dairy Farm in Cornwall, Connecticut, through a lease-to-own agreement. The farm, which Jeff renamed Calf & Clover Creamery, produces raw milk, eggs, and vegetables without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, or pesticides. In the future, Jeff wants to expand his dairy production to include yogurt, chocolate milk, and ice cream.
Legal Need: Jeff wanted to enter into a lease-to-own agreement with a farmland investor, who planned to purchase the currently operating dairy farm and then lease it to Jeff. The structure of the transaction would allow the current farmer to get a retirement income and would keep the farmland in production as Jeff smoothly transitions to ownership.
Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub matched Jeff with attorney Brian Fischer. With Brian’s experience in financing transactions, he was the perfect fit to help Jeff become a farm owner.
About: All Farmers supports autonomous groups of refugee and immigrant farmers in western Massachusetts in accessing land, training, and resources. The organization’s work supports over 60 families’ ability to farm; half of what the farmers grow feeds their families directly. All Farmers understands the barriers immigrant and refugee farmers face, including structural racism, language and cultural barriers, and limited financial resources. The organization works to ensure the farmers can succeed despite these challenges.
Legal Need: All Farmers sought fiscal sponsorship from an existing nonprofit organization. Fiscal sponsorship can provide an opportunity for newly formed nonprofits to apply for grants and benefit from the sponsor’s administrative capacity without going through the lengthy and difficult process of gaining 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub matched All Farmers with attorney Sarah McGarrell at Pierce Atwood. Sarah’s experience organizing businesses and charitable organizations and her strong interest in supporting a vibrant local food system made her the perfect fit to assist All Farmers.
About: Bootblack Brand in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, makes and sells small-batch cocktail and soda simple syrups. Paul Kubiski and Jackie Duhamel built the business on the premise that they do not eat or drink anything inferior. To meet that standard, Bootblack Brand creates complex syrups using natural ingredients, including fresh produce, herbs, and spices. Flavors include Ginger Cardamom Lime, Classic Citrus Tonic, Traditional Old Fashioned and Cranberry Jalapeño Lime which recently won a Yankee Magazine Food Award for 2018.
Legal Need: Paul and Jackie sought legal assistance converting the food business from a sole proprietorship to a member-managed LLC. With several distributor contracts lined up, they needed to make the change prior to signing the new contracts.
Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub connected Bootblack Brand with attorney Nicole Matteo at Pierce Atwood, who was able to resolve the matter quickly so Paul and Jackie could keep their business moving forward.
About: Logan Higger is a beginning farmer and butcher who recently purchased a 200-year-old farm in Jefferson, Maine. He has started to raise animals including pigs, chickens, and sheep on the property. He processes his livestock into culinary meats and sells it through his butchery business, Sowbelly Butchery, at local farmers’ markets. Logan also hosts butchery workshops throughout Maine. He hopes to develop more educational programs and wholesale availability on the farm.
Legal Issue: Logan sought legal assistance with entity formation for the farm.
Lawyer: The Legal Food Hub matched Sowbelly Butchery with attorney Ian Green of Perkins Thompson. Ian brought a particular focus on offering practical legal advice to businesses. He was able to help Logan form an LLC for the farm, designate ownership of the LLC’s property, and create waivers necessary to host workshops. Logan found Ian to be an invaluable resource in starting his small business.
About: Farm Fresh Rhode Island is a non-profit 501(c)3 founded in 2004. The organization’s mission is to grow a local food system that values the environment, health, and quality of life for farmers and eaters of Rhode Island. Goals include, preserving Rhode Island farmland, building healthier communities, strengthening RI community-based businesses, increasing access to fresh food, and improving the impact of food production and distribution on the environment. Their programming ranges across areas, from access, to education, and distribution, and includes: farmers markets, market mobile produce aggregator and distribution system, Harvest Kitchen providing training and employment for youth from DCYF’s Juvenile Justice Corrections Services, bonus bucks SNAP incentives, Veggie Box subscriptions, farm to school programming, education and access programming for low-income seniors. Farm Fresh is an integral component of the Rhode Island food system.
Legal Issue: Farm Fresh came to the Legal Food Hub seeking legal assistance to review labor and employment policies and practices and ensure that they are up to speed on future expected changes in the law.
The Relationship: The Legal Food Hub connected Farm Fresh RI with labor and employment attorneys at Nixon Peabody to provide guidance as Farm Fresh RI works on updating employee handbooks and makes plans for its future practices. Nixon Peabody’s Rhode Island office has special expertise in employment law, so it was a perfect fit, ensuring that Farm Fresh, an important organization supporting Rhode Island’s food system, receives the legal support it needs.
About: Simmons Farm is a 120 acre family farm in Middletown, RI, specializing in traditional and heirloom produce, meat, dairy, eggs, cheese, and hay. The farm has passed down within the Simmons family through several generations and for the past twenty years has been run by Karla and Bryan Simmons.
Legal Issue: Karla and Bryan came to the Legal Food Hub looking for legal assistance to help them add a feature to their customers’ experiences. They hope to open the farm for nature walks and picnics, and sought assistance of an attorney to create a liability waiver to present participants who sign up for these additional activities.
The Relationship: The Legal Food Hub matched Karla and Bryan with attorney Kristen Whittle from Barton Gilman’s Rhode Island office. Kristen has extensive experience in insurance related matters and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work with Simmons Farm, helping them to grow their business and supporting a farm that is part of our Rhode Island food system.
About: Kaylyn Keane, owner of Lost Art Cultured Foods LLC, produces and sells wholesale fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut and pickles. Launching her business in November 2015, Kaylyn uses the shared kitchen space provided by culinary incubator Hope & Main, located in Warren, Rhode Island. Lost Art Cultured Foods sells to local markets and local retailers.
Legal Need: Kaylyn needed trademark advice for her logo as well as assistance ensuring her LLC filing (done online) was completed properly.
The Relationship: The Legal Food Hub matched Kaylyn with the Business Law Legal Clinic at Roger Williams University School of Law. The Clinic was a great fit for Kaylyn as students seek to get exposure to a range of issues that arise for new businesses. The students were able to hone their skills and gain experience, and Kaylyn was able to access the legal assistance necessary to take her food business to the next level.
About: Jayne Merner-Senecal runs her family’s farm, Earth Care Farm, located in Charlestown, RI and plans to take over ownership of the farm in the future. Earth Care Farm was started by Jayne’s father, Mike Merner, forty years ago and has a diversified production of produce, meat, and compost. They use organic practices though they are not organic certified (fun fact: Mike Merner wrote the original organic standards for Rhode Island).
Legal Need: Jayne and Mike sought legal assistance to better understand how best to transition the farm to Jayne from a tax and estate planning standpoint. They also wanted guidance on when best to make this transfer and help determining the optimal relationship between the farm business LLC and the land.
The Relationship: The Legal Food Hub matched Jayne and Mike with attorney Deb Foppert of Archer & Foppert. Deb and her partner specialize in tax planning, small business and corporate work, estate planning, and real estate. Through their work with Archer & Foppert, Jayne and Mike were able to make a succession plan suited for their needs.
About: Cassie Seawell and her partner Michael Saucier have both worked on farms and are eager to start their own. Cassie and Michael identified 200 acres in Washington, ME that is ideal for their future vegetable and animal production.
Legal Need: Cassie reached out to the Legal Food Hub for assistance with reviewing and negotiating a lease. Cassie also wondered whether there should be two leases- one for the farmhouse and another for the farmland.
The Relationship: The Legal Food Hub matched Cassie with attorney Tom Kelly of Robinson, Kriger & McCallum. Tom specializes in real estate and helped Cassie and Michael redraft a lease that will allow their nascent farm, Leaf & Caul, to thrive.
About: Waltham Fields Community Farm is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting local agriculture and hunger relief through farmland preservation and education. WFCF practices socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable agriculture and provides farming, cooking, and science-based programs for children and adults alike. With a goal of distributing $80,000 worth of fresh produce in 2017 through emergency food programs, subsidized CSA shares, farm-to-school distribution, and the Waltham Fields Outreach Market, WFCF explicitly seeks to provide low-income and disadvantaged communities with fresh, nutritious, and sustainably-produced foods.
Legal Need: As both a farm and a non-profit, Waltham Fields Community Farm has a unique mix of employees. Shannon Taylor, WFCF’s Executive Director, sought legal assistance through the Legal Food Hub to understand the new overtime law requirements, particularly with deciphering what category certain employees fall into.
Lawyer: Legal Food Hub connected WFCF with Mary “Beth” O’Neal and Kathleen O’Toole at Conn Kavanaugh, who each specialize in employment law. Mary and Kate successfully prepared WFCF to comply with the new law.
Background: Kristen has been making cheese for about five years. For the past year, she has been employed by two dairy farmer friends, Caitlin Frame and Andrew Smith, who own The Milkhouse creamery in South China, ME. Now, Kristen is ready to start her own cheesemaking business and contacted the Legal Food Hub for assistance in making it happen.
Legal Need: Kristen plans to produce her own Nomad Cheese Company cheese using The Milkhouse’s infrastructure, but needed legal assistance to choose and form an appropriate business entity and to draft a contract for use of The Milkhouse’s facilities.
The Relationship: Legal Food Hub matched Kristen with Patrick Brady and Wendy Paradis at Bernstein Shur, who brought their deep expertise in startups and commercial strategy to Kristen’s business. Patrick and Wendy continue to work with Kristen to set Nomad Cheese Company on the path to success.
Background: Wolf Meadow Farm in Amesbury, MA began in 2010 when Luca Mignogna missed the flavor of fresh mozzarella cheese from his native Italy so much that he decided to start making his own. Born in Campbasso, Luca boasts that he imported the cheesemaker, not the cheese. Luca creates all his cheeses by hand using only fresh milk from three local dairies, and he and Wolf Meadow Farm have been highlighted twice in the Boston Globe, as well as in Edible Boston, which praised his “beautiful and delicious cheeses” that give an authentic taste of Italy.
Legal Need: Luca and his business manager, Christina Barbieri, sought legal assistance to establish the business’ future development. They wanted to trademark Wolf Meadow Farm’s name and logo, to explore adding Christina as a co-owner of the LLC or transitioning to another business entity, and to draft contracts with their local milk suppliers to guarantee their continued partnership.
The Relationship: Legal Food Hub matched Luca and Christina with Josh Fox at WilmerHale. Josh brings his deep experience in counseling startups and other emerging companies to bear as he continues to help Wolf Meadow Farm plan for the future. Josh is joined in WilmerHale’s representation of Wolf Meadow Farm by attorneys Eric French, Bill Caporizzo and Mike Bevilacqua.
Background: Operating on 2.5 acres of town-owned land, the Newton Community Farm in Newton, MA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit farm that provides year-round educational opportunities to the local community while also selling its produce through an 80-member CSA, a farmers’ market, and a farm stand. In addition, the farm donates a portion of their produce to local food pantries. With the farm now in its eleventh season, farm manager Greg Maslowe and the Board of Directors are focusing anew on sustainability measures to carry Newton Community Farm through its second decade.
Legal Need: Greg wanted to install solar panels on the barn’s roof but had numerous questions about panel leasing, financing, and licensing as a 501(c)(3). Additionally, several community members had expressed interest in providing loans to fund the solar panel project. Greg sought legal assistance to determine what approach to installing the solar panels would best suit the farm’s needs, whether loans from the community members were possible, and, if so, to finalize the arrangement.
The Relationship: Legal Food hub connected Greg with Brook Detterman at Beveridge & Diamond. Brook has helped address Newton Community Farm’s questions and concerns and continues to work with them to bring the project to fruition.
Background: Kelly and her husband, Anil, founded Pumpkin Vine Family Farm in Somerville, ME in 2008, keeping six-generation farmland in production and building a beloved resource for their community. The farm produces milk and cheese from its purebred goats and cows, as well as pastured pork, hay, garlic, and daffodils, and hopes to begin an apprenticeship program to help educate a new generation of farmers. The family also hosts three weeks of farm camp each summer, inviting children ages 4–10 to come and learn about plants and animals while helping with farm chores and other related activities.
Legal Need 1: Kelly and Anil are planning to hire employees and contacted the Legal Food Hub for help in reviewing their personnel policy and employment application and to ensure that they are in compliance with other employment-related requirements.
The Relationship: The Legal Food Hub connected Kelly and Anil with Rudman Winchell’s Anne-Marie Storey, who specializes in employment and human resources law. With her extensive experience in small businesses’ hiring and labor issues, Pumpkin Vine Family Farm now ready to hire their first employee.
Legal Need 2: Kelly’s husband, Anil, was the sole proprietor of Pumpkin Vine Family Farm, and the two sought legal assistance in forming an LLC together. They also needed legal review of the camp registration form and medical treatment authorization forms to ensure that they and their campers were fully protected.
The Relationship: The Legal Food Hub connected Kelly and Anil with Beth Boepple at BCM Environmental Land Law, who assisted them with forming an LLC and ensured that their forms were comprehensive and protective.
About: Myranda has been experimenting with and making her own almond milk for over 15 years, constantly tweaking her recipes and testing them on willing friends. Now, Myranda is slated to begin producing her sprouted almond milks at Fork Food Lab in Portland, ME, with the goal of providing the state of Maine with the highest-quality almond milk. In addition to her organic almonds, she will use locally-grown strawberries and blueberries in her flavored almond milks and plans to later produce milk from local grains, as well.
Legal Need: Myranda contacted the Legal Food Hub for assistance with forming a single member LLC and trademarking her business name, The Whole Almond.
The Relationship: Legal Food Hub connected Myranda with Andrew Kraus at Opticliff Law. Andrew specializes in trademark law and startup business strategy, and with his help, Myranda is off on strong legal footing.