New Program Offers Free Legal Help to Farmers

May 18, 2015

The Conservation Law Foundation Monday formally launched a initiative that provides pro bono legal assistance to local farmers, food entrepreneurs and the organizations that support them.

The Legal Services Food Hub is modeled on a similar program in Massachusetts. Proponents say it aims to scale up the local food system by taking some of the pressure off small-scale farmers and others in Maine's food production business.

Ben Tettlebaum with the foundation says the program intended to help those who otherwise could not afford legal assistance.

"[The program] primarily helps out with transactional issues, so legal issues around contracting, land transitioning, choice of entity issues," he says.

Noah Fralich (left) and Norma Vela
Credit Tom Porter / MPBN

Norma Vela runs a diversified family farm in Washington County — one of several Maine farmers who've been taking part in a pilot project ahead of today's formal launch.

She says there are many legal considerations to bear in mind when running a farm.

"As soon as anybody set foot on the property you have a liability issue, as soon as you sell any product from the farm you have a liability issue, and food safety issues," she says.

"It's going to help me to grow the size of the business in terms of how much I can produce," says Noah Fralich, who is among those enrolled in the hub and runs a cider farm in New Gloucester.

He says even with straightforward issues like trademark registration, legal bills can soon exceed $1,000.

To quality for the program, participants need to earn less than $30,000 a year.