By: Traci Picard
December 9, 2016
SEG’s Community Table hosted Max Greene of the Conservation Law Foundation to hear about their Legal Food Hub, an organization new to Rhode Island which provides pro-bono legal services to people working in the food industry. Throughout the food industry, from production to distribution, processing to composting, there are many regulations to navigate and entrepreneurs might need some support. From succession planning for farmers to intellectual property issues and administrative concerns, the Legal Food Hub can provide resources and support to those in need.
Greene talked about some of the problems that the organization is trying to solve here in Rhode Island. “The state has lost quite a bit of its farmland over the past few years,” he says, “It is one of the most paved states in the country.” There is work to be done in ensuring that the needs of development are balanced with the needs of preservation and protection of our land. The future of this land is entwined with the future of our whole environment, as the wellness of land and water and people are all connected. He shared information about an active coalition working to protect farmland and open spaces, and there is a meeting coming up here in Providence to discuss this initiative.
Once we’ve got Rhode Island’s new farms up and running, we might turn to the processing part of the food puzzle. There are laws which govern the who, what, when, where and why of turning raw materials into products. These laws are intricate and detailed and can sometimes be confusing to an aspiring food entrepreneur, causing frustration. Whatever the laws, it’s important for those who are doing the work to have some support in the process of complying with current regulations. This is also an area where advocacy around policy may provide long-term support. “Once you’re looking to expand, grow and thrive, that’s when you need [legal] help.”
After food entrepreneurs’ products are compliant with our state’s current laws, they must be distributed. More legal issues arise here, such as how to work with Rhode Island’s colleges, hospitals and other institutions which might purchase some of their food from local producers. Entrepreneurs may need assistance making legal documents and contracts or negotiating deals.
Max Greene says the Legal Food Hub is open-minded to what the needs of food entrepreneurs will be in the future. The CLF doesn’t just work one-on-one with individuals. “We are trying to pay attention to what issues arise,” he says. “How can we think about those through a policy lens?” There is work being done on the individual level and the big-picture level at the same time.
The CLF also functions as a matchmaker between the producers and makers and the attorneys. They can provide ongoing support as these teams move forward together. Right now, they are reaching out to attorneys in Rhode Island who might be interested in joining their network. There is also an effort to reach out to those who are working in a food-related business, advocates working on food issues, and policy makers. If you’d like to learn more about the Conservation Law Foundation or the Legal Food Hub, check out their website and attend one of their upcoming events. If you’re interested in food policy, SEG is hosting the RI Department of Health at a Community Table event here in our Hub on January 24th. And if you are a food lover, you have a role in this, too! Support farmland preservation, seek out farmers and food producers, and tell your local representatives that local food access is important to you.
Venture Development Assistant
Traci Picard is a VISTA serving as Venture Development assistant here at SEG. She comes from the world of alternative health, running a small herbal business and teaching classes like Critical Thinking for Herbalists and Asking Better Questions. Traci is also a writer pursuing a Journalism degree, a mother of 3 and a passionate fan of books and the Public Library. Born in Providence, she has lived all over but continues to return home.