Jennifer helped low-income immigrant and beginning family farmers in Minnesota navigate myriad legal issues and access government programs through direct representation, outreach and education, and administrative advocacy.
Need Addressed By Project
Many of Minnesota’s new farmers come from Hmong, Latino, and other immigrant communities who aspire to make a living by reclaiming their cultural traditions in farming. Often living in poverty, these farmers have achieved a fragile success, which is threatened every day by significant legal, administrative, and cultural conflicts and misunderstandings. Farming is a heavily regulated industry that requires thorough understanding of zoning, food safety, environmental, and other applicable laws. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) agricultural loan, insurance, and risk management programs are critical financial lifelines, but require adherence to strict criteria and deadlines. Minnesota USDA officials often lack the cultural competence needed to effectively help immigrant farmers whose native language is not English. Also, USDA officials often are unfamiliar with the smaller, diversified operations managed by many beginning farmers. Immigrant and beginning farmers need legal assistance to ensure access to government benefits critical to small farm surviva
During her Fellowship, Jennifer:
• Provided full representation to nearly 100 immigrant and beginning farmers on such matters as lease negotiations and drafting, cooperative formation and governance, and accessing government farming programs
• Collaborated with partner organizations to hold 26 workshops and trainings that reached more than 500 immigrant and beginning farmers on a wide range of legal topics, including government cost-sharing programs for farmers, civics, loan programs, labor and employment law for small-scale vegetable farmers, farm internships, farm transitions and leasing, accepting food stamp vouchers, and licensing requirements for produce reselling
• Researched, written, and published the “Farmers’ Guide to the Farm Service Agency Microloan Program,” a comprehensive guide to help all potential borrowers—from immigrant farmers with no credit history to more seasoned borrowers—access the agency’s microloan program
• Created and distributed legal educational materials to nearly 1,000 farmers
Nick provided pro bono transactional legal services to individuals, nonprofit corporations, and for-profit businesses engaged in urban agriculture in Detroit.
Due to economic downturn in recent decades, Detroit has a large proportion of abandoned properties. While Detroit has incentivized private redevelopment in some areas of high abandonment, it has yet to provide a systemized or viable redevelopment solution for some of its most depressed neighborhoods. Urban agriculture is a great and cost-effective urban revitalization tool, but is sadly underutilized in Detroit’s neighborhoods. Not only could urban farms provide Detroiters with a degree of autonomy regarding how their neighborhoods are redeveloped, they could also provide them with a much needed source of fresh food. Nicholas’ project will provide vital and sustainable legal assistance to Detroiters promoting urban agriculture.
In the past two years, Nick Leonard has:
- Helped dozens of urban growers set-up and structure a nonprofit corporation, cooperative corporation, or limited liability company
- Counseled urban growers on a variety of legal topics, including tax law, employment law, and local property maintenance law
- Participated in several public education events focused on teaching urban growers about the laws that may impact their urban farm or garden
- Authored both the Detroit Good Food Entrepreneur Legal Handbook and the Community Land Trust Bylaws Drafting Guide
Where are they now?
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Nick Leonard plans to:
- Continue to work for the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center as a Staff Attorney
- Continue to manage the project dedicated to providing pro bono legal services to urban growers