gathering and mobilizing the growing community of lawyers for farmers
WHO WE ARE
Agrarian Lawyers are practitioners, professors, and students of law and related fields that want to support next generation sustainable farmers, and a legal system aligned with the Agrarian Trust Principles. This Agrarian Lawyer Network is a partnership with our friends at the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), Farm Commons, Conservation Law Foundation, and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) at Vermont Law School.
WHAT WE DO
Our goal is to interpret to the legal community the needs of farmers, and interpret to the young farmer community the benefits of pro-active communication and formal agreements. We want to make sure lawyers can get the training they need to help farmers gain secure land tenure, have access to the tools to protect their legal rights, and build professional agreements that support the best interest of farmers and land. We want to help lawyers help farmers, help farmers find lawyers, and support the infrastructure for training the legal community in new agriculture law.
The Law as it exists is designed to answer yesterday’s problems; together we can look forward, think longer-term, and build a new economy. Join us by sending your name, email, and website through the form below. We will keep you apprised of next steps, look out for an email this summer with information about our inaugural gathering in California.
In the words of our friends at Sustainable Economies Law Center: We have reached a critical moment in history, and lawyers are needed, en masse, to aid in the epic reinvention of economic systems throughout the world. Every single community needs legal practitioners who can assist in establishing the cooperatives, land trusts, enterprises, and organizations that will create locally-owned and sustainable sources of food, healthcare, energy, housing, transportation, and jobs.
SHOULD YOU JOIN?
Are you a Lawyer, law student, or retiree interested or trained in sustainable agriculture or farm and land law? Join our email list with the form below to stay abreast of developments, trends, gossip in the sector!
Are you a farmer looking for a referral to a lawyer? Contact our friend Rachel at Farm Commons firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are an attorney whose current practice already serves the local food and farming community, contact Rachel about the Farm Commons Attorney Network, a problem-solving forum by lawyers for lawyers committed to sustainable agriculture.
Are you a lawyer, legal worker, law student, or legal apprentice (what’s that?) interested in connecting with peers and building the legal foundations for new economies–farming and beyond? Click here to receive your invitation to join the Sustainable Economies Law Center’s Next Legal network.
About the Regalia
Robins have a red breast, oriels have a yellow one, When they twiddle or swoop past you, the color flashes, catches your eye. Birds eat mosquitoes and dust off corners. Thats the principle behind our “Agrarian Lawyer Regalia.”
As you can see, its an embroidered badge we’ve commissioned from illustrator Cassie McGettigan. It’s created to be worn on the chest of a trained lawyer committed to sustainable agriculture, to catch the attention of farmers who need legal services.
The robin lives in a forest context. Our context can be a conference setting, at a networking event, a film screening or farmers market. There may be light refreshments, overhead fluorescents, or garlic baked into the hot tarmac, it could be a hotel or a hayloft. Attending are a mixture of stakeholders typical of a sustainable agriculture event.
Lets look at the typology of our attendees: Farmers and farmworkers are recognizable by their brown arms, red shoulders, dirty knees– it is clear they are the protagonists of place and building a new economy by sheer willpower. There may be tidy, tucked-in chefs with clean finger-nails, food hub professionals with clipboards, distributors or farmers market managers hob-nobbing numbers-talk with growers. You’ll generally have a few Government stooges, and NGO types, extension agents often quite recognizable, they have little plastic name tags in most counties. Often there are some gentlemen farmers wearing tweedy things, food justice advocates with silkscreened fists, some school-lunch activists (usually moms), maybe some homesteaders, backyard farmers, and educational farm/ summer camp staffers, they generally carry water bottles. Having spent 3 years getting a J.D., working as an intern, and piling up mountains of debt, your typical agricultural lawyer may be looking quite pale, dressed professionally for too many days in a row, and not particularly going to stand out in a crowd. Thus the badge!
As you likely know, rebuilding the infrastructure for a regional farm economy will take some time, and some coordination, in fact it may be a generation-long project. We’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years, with a massive expansion in farmers markets and CSA’s, farm-to-school, farm-to-institution, multi-farm CSAs, local food at the grocery store. But lets face it, to provide a majority of calories regionally, the complexity of the farm business environment is going to grow. The butcher, the baker, the candle-stick maker, the contract between the cider-maker and orchardist, the insurance of the pickle-maker and the community kitchen, the purchase agreement between the yogurt maker and the veggie-box delivery service, etc. So, we’re talking about more relationship and business action between farms, but also between aggregators, processors, distribution companies, cooperatives. We’re talking about women-powered farm businesses that lease ground for men in their 80’s, and cooperatives running a contract for beer-brewers on land trust land. Sounds fun so far, right? No drama, or misunderstanding, everyone working together like a storybook to build the new economy.
Unfortunately, we’re forgetting that farmers are stubborn, strong.
We’re also talking about a context and a farming culture that has a habit of leasing land on a handshake, where many of the landowners are over 70 years old, and their barns haven’t had an upgrade since the 1950’s. It is estimated that more than 60% of farmers lease some portion of their land, and that more than half of that is on a handshake. We’re talking about a time when liability, food safety regulations, and economic precarity of startup means that entrepreneurs must be pretty sharp, pretty precise. There’s a famous book The Poor had no Lawyers, by Andy Wightman, which traces the history of the Scottish clearances, where farmers were hastened off the land by large estate-owners, many of them to emigrate to the US (including my ancestors), but his book also covers the novel legal work done by crofters (feudal tenants) on the island of Arran and Harris, who put together some of the first community land trusts to buy out those same landlords. (See also Soil and Soul, Alistair McIntosh)
With this badge the well-trained, gold-hearted young lawyer can attract attention of farm entrepreneurs, and have a preliminary conversation about the legal considerations involved in their next phase of operations. That may be starting a line of hot-sauce, or a farm summer camp, it may mean setting up a contract agreement with a third party who wants to make brandy from the apples in the back orchard. In many cases, these operators have trouble accessing legal help for such evolutions in their business, and in many cases they don’t know need a lawyer yet– but a short consultation may help them figure out where and when they will.
With a farmers busy schedule, taking time in the winter, often in a conference or party context, is the exact right snatch of time to make a connection like this. Then, to schedule a calm moment to think through formal steps, precautions and agreements can mean the difference between success and liability.
We hope that this Agrarian law badge and regalia can help shift the farm culture towards greater formality, give lawyers greater visibility, and letting us formalize the emergent, more flexible, more cooperative, and relationship-driven culture of farm business.