A ‘Legal Food Hub’ for Nova Scotia?
Building new legal resources and connections to support food entrepreneurs and advocates in the province.
As communities across Nova Scotia redouble their efforts and energy to build stronger, more equitable regional food systems, we are gaining greater awareness of the gap in legal supports for food entrepreneurs and advocates. Consumer demand for more local food in Canada is likely growing, but as farmers, food businesses and organizations advocating for systemic changes move to meet that demand they can face overwhelming legal and regulatory obstacles, with little hope of accessing affordable legal advice or forms of related support. A recent survey of 197 food entrepreneurs across Nova Scotia found that nearly 20% needed some type of legal advice mentorship, with even higher proportions of need in related areas such as business, tax and succession planning (Mentoring Plus 2020).
Addressing this gap in support will require help from a range of actors and organizations both inside and outside the legal system. We envision a role for a “legal food hub” in the province (the name and idea comes from this organization in New England)–a means to start building a network of people, organizations and resources with useful legal knowledge and experience and to make these more easily accessible to those who need them. A hub or network like this would be only a first step, but has the potential to relieve some of the burdens on food entrepreneurs and advocates in the near term so that they can focus on what they know best: providing our communities with the food that sustains them.
What Would a “Legal Food Hub” Do?
Because the practice of law is a regulated profession in Nova Scotia, only licensed lawyers can give legal advice or provide legal services. A legal food hub does not itself provide legal advice. Instead, it could provide access to:
information resources that identify key legal issues in food and help guide individuals and organizations to find the answers they need;
tools to help non-lawyer advisors or “trusted intermediaries” provide better support; and/or
a network of legal practitioners with expertise in relevant legal issues and a commitment to strengthening regional food systems who can answer questions and provide advice (these lawyers generally charge fees for their services and those fees vary depending on the nature and complexity of the issues involved).
1. Legal Information
Law is complex, and food laws and regulations are no exception. Although many individuals–up to 70 percent in some contexts–represent themselves in legal proceedings rather than hiring a lawyer (Macfarlane 2013, 34), getting even basic information about the law and the legal system can be an enormous challenge. This challenge is compounded for food entrepreneurs and advocates, who often work within highly specialized legal regimes and rules. While there are excellent but more general legal information resources available in Nova Scotia, and good repositories for food law information in other jurisdictions, those working in Nova Scotia’s food system lack critical legal resources that address their particular problems, within their particular contexts of law and food.
By working with potential users of legal information about food and with legal practitioners who have expertise in this area, our aim is to develop a series of accessible information guides addressing key legal issues for those working in the food system. Alongside and in support of this goal, we are also developing a research strategy to find out more about which legal issues are encountered most frequently and how people respond to them.
2. Support for Non-Lawyer Intermediaries
Rural communities in Nova Scotia experience unique challenges in accessing justice compared to urban areas. These include fewer lawyers, lack of expertise, high costs, conflicts of interest and inaccessibility to digital communications (Aylwin and Moore 2015, 5; Baxter and Yoon 2014). “Trusted intermediaries”–community leaders who who assist people with their legal problems but who are not lawyers themselves–are one important component of addressing access to justice problems (Cohl et al. 2018, 4–5). These non-legal advisors do not provide formal legal advice, but they help people in their communities identify legal issues, find legal information, and coordinate referrals to other professionals.
Examples of trusted intermediaries are healthcare workers, librarians, and social workers. In the food context, these intermediaries might include members of non-profit and financial organizations that support community development. Trusted intermediaries are often the first point of contact for people facing legal issues because they already hold well-established and trusted relationships (Aylwin and Moore 2015, 39).
Supporting trusted intermediaries by equipping them with the appropriate tools and resources can help bridge the access to justice gap. This may involve inter-professional collaboration, relationship-building with the legal community and legal training or other supports to build the capacities of those playing this unique role (Cohl et al. 2018, 5–6).
3. A Network of Food Lawyers
For some problems or circumstances, food entrepreneurs and advocates will need to find a lawyer to help them. This process of finding a lawyer can be daunting and time-consuming, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, there is a growing awareness within the legal community that lawyers have a crucial role to play in building stronger regional food systems. Individuals lawyers and firms, however, may be working largely in isolation from other another, foregoing the benfits of collaboration for improving access to justice.
In addition to its other functions, a legal food hub for Nova Scotia could provide a means to link these lawyers and firms together and to foreground their role in the broader food system. Beyond building awareness and strengthening connections, some jurisdictions have also taken the further step of matching lawyers with clients, making it easier for those working in the food system to find the advice services and support they need at a feasible cost.
Laying the Groundwork
A legal food hub can only begin to provide access to the kinds of legal supports that food entrepreneurs and advocates in the province need. But such an initiative would be a beginning and can help to lay the groundwork for future initiatives and new kinds of engagement offering more robust supports.
As first steps, we are beginning to develop a model for legal information resources and a process for creating and vetting these, along with outreach to lawyers across the province interested in building a network to support Nova Scotia’s regional food system.
Aylwin, Nicole, and Lisa Moore. 2015. “Rural and Remote Access to Justice: A Literature Review.” Toronto: Canadian Forum on Civil Justice.
Baxter, Jamie, and Albert Yoon. 2014. “No Lawyer for a Hundred Miles-Mapping the New Geography of Access of Justice in Canada.” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 52: 9.
Cohl, Karen, Julie Lassonde, Julie Mathews, Carol Lee Smith, and George Thomson. 2018. “Trusted Help: The Role of Community Workers as Trusted Intermediaries Who Help People with Legal Problems (Part 1).” Toronto: The Law Foundation of Ontario.
Macfarlane, Julie. 2013. “The National Self-‐Represented Litigants Project: Identifyingand Meeting the Needs of Self-‐Represented Litigants.” National Self-‐Represented Litigants Project.
Mentoring Plus. 2020. “The Mentoring Plus Nova Scotia 2020 Survey: Agri-Food, Food and Beverage.”