Conservation Law Foundation is launching the first national program in its 50-year history, a multistate expansion of Legal Food Hub, an initiative that provides local farmers and food entrepreneurs with pro bono legal services.
The Hub started in Massachusetts in 2014, and has since opened in Maine. It will be available in Rhode Island in October and in Connecticut by 2017. The Boston-based environmental advocacy group hopes to bring the program to other states over the next several years.
"We know that farmers and food entrepreneurs all around the country face many of the same challenges as those here in New England, and we look forward to replicating the success of this program," Jenny Rushlow, director of CLF's Farm and Food Initiative, said Thursday in a statement.
The Hub focuses on legal issues that come with running a business. It assists farmers and food business owners with everything from filing paperwork for taxes, leases, and contracts to advising them on what legal entity their company should be.
CLF spent over a year doing research before launching the Hub. The 2012 Census of Agriculture report showed them that the majority of farms in the United States were losing money.
"Farmers were not getting legal help," Rushlow said in an interview. "And when you combine that information with the economics and what it costs for legal help, it's clear there's a divide there. As a legal association, we wanted to make a difference."
The Hub has 95 firms from Massachusetts and Maine in the program, and its network of attorneys has provided $825,000 in pro bono legal services for over 150 farmers and businesses throughout New England.
A few of those businesses include CommonWealth Kitchen, a Boston nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs build food companies; Fresh Food Generation, a Boston cafe, catering, and food truck business; and Round the Bend farm, a Dartmouth-based farm and nonprofit.