Two clinics at the Yale Law School launched the Connecticut Legal Food Hub earlier this month, a free legal service that connects low-income farmers, nonprofit organizations and food entrepreneurs to legal services.

The clinics — the Ludwig Center for Community and Economic Development and the Environmental Protection Clinic — are partnering with the Conservative Advocacy Foundation, a New England environmental advocacy agency, to help these groups navigate the many legal issues they encounter.

“Farming is very challenging, both physically but also financially,” explained Jeff Casel, a Connecticut farmer working with the Connecticut Legal Food Hub. “Financial budgets are so light that getting proper legal advice can be difficult and hard to afford.”

Producing food comes with lots of legal complications and liability risks and farmers need resources like the Legal Food Hub to protect them, he added.

The Conservation Law Foundation started the Legal Food Hub in 2014 in Massachusetts. It has since expanded to Maine, Rhode Island and, now, Connecticut. Since its founding, the organization has helped eligible groups connect with lawyers to handle over 200 cases. This month, the Connecticut branch has connected seven businesses and organizations to legal help.

According to a Law School press release, the cases handled by the Connecticut Legal Food Hub range from “dealing with increasingly complex food-safety and consumer-protection rules to helping young farmers work with retiring farmers on important succession planning.”

People and organizations using the Legal Food Hub are charged at a pro-bono rate by the lawyers with whom they are connected. Both the Ludwig Center for Community and Economic Development and the Environmental Protection Clinic are composed of professors and students at the Law School.

Brian Fink, the Farm and Food Legal Fellow at the Law School and one of the coordinators of the Connecticut Legal Food Hub, explained that he started the organization to help farmers with what he perceives as adverse conditions.

“Local producers face tremendous pressure from rising farmland costs, increasingly complicated regulations, national competition and loss of farmland to non-agricultural purposes,” he said. “Many farmers go without legal help at a substantial disproportion compared to other industries. This results in great uncertainty and the potential for losses or even ruin.”

He added that his work aligns with other projects underway at Yale to connect the University community with New Haven and Connecticut at large, citing Yale Hospitality’s recent initiatives to work with local farmers.

In future, he said, he hopes to expand the Food Hub by collaborating with other organizations in Connecticut doing similar work.

Niki Anderson |