Food is one of the few things that unites us all – no matter where we live, what we do, whom we know, at least one thing is true and the same for everyone: we all have to eat.
While food plays a vital role in our lives and cultures, we often don’t think about how it arrives on our plates. Too many of us are disconnected from the people who grow, package, and sell our food, and they are often forgotten when we talk about needs and gaps in our food system. Our farmers and small food enterprises are integral to our economy, yet these businesses subsist on increasingly narrow margins. One way to help support this important part of our food system is to help these businesses access legal help that can allow them to build, grow, and continue to play a critical role in supporting a sustainable, resilient food system.
By connecting these small farmers and food entrepreneurs with free legal services, Conservation Law Foundation’s (CLF) Rhode Island Legal Food Hub helps keep our farmers and food businesses afloat.
The Rhode Island Legal Food Hub has made great progress since its launch in November 2016. We now have 27 law firms in our Rhode Island network and 20 cases have been placed. The Hub also allows us to identify and address issues facing farmers and food entrepreneurs so we can cater our work to their needs through resources such as workshops and webinars. As we get a deeper sense of the legal needs facing the farm and food space here in Rhode Island, we are also looking to change state and local policy as necessary to better support the state’s robust local food economy.
We are fortunate in Rhode Island to have a strong network of collaborators all working toward the common goal of strengthening our local and regional food systems. To advance this goal, we frequently partner with kitchen and small business incubator programs, other nonprofits including local land trusts, and Rhode Island government entities. On matters from food waste to farmland access, CLF has had the opportunity to work with partners on solutions to problems that affect not only the food system, but also the environment and public health – areas that all interconnect to impact our collective quality of life.
CLF is incredibly grateful for the support from The Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust. It is gratifying to see the results of serving real people in real time. The Hub has helped a farmer avoid getting dragged into costly litigation between two other parties, assisted new farmers with the formation of their business, and assisted with the formation of farm and food nonprofits. The Hub has connected new food entrepreneurs with invaluable trademark advice and provided farmers with important liability guidance. And the Hub has engaged a valuable network of dedicated volunteer attorneys who are devoting time, energy, and excitement toward this work.
Healthy communities and healthy economies go hand-in-hand, and without a healthy food system, neither is possible. We look forward to continuing to work together with our food system partners toward an affordable, just, sustainable, resilient, and healthy Rhode Island, and New England, food system.