What Does Food Law Mean?
I have come to believe that answering this question in simple or brief terms is impossible. Unlike Corporate, family, tax, and property law, food law is not often considered a discrete legal focus. Food law instead encapsulates a large swath of legal areas of expertise. Property, land use, water law, municipal ordinances, the 1st Amendment, and other issues play significant roles in the legal apparatus affecting farmers.
Farmers must navigate this complex web of varying laws in order permissibly operate their farms. In order for farmers to advocate for preferred policies, they must first correctly identify in what area of law their particular issue falls. This is often a very difficult task for farmers because the law creates distinct categories that are counter-intuitive in the context of agriculture. An Individual navigating the legal system must isolate which issues fall are governed by water law, land use code, or another legal authority and often must pursue each issue individually. Farmers face the daunting task of operating a farm profitably while navigating a legal apparatus, and they often lack legal aid. As a student entering my final year of law school, I hope to help facilitate a more substantive relationship between the law school and the local farming community.
I believe that continuous efforts on the part of the FYFC to appeal to the law school for assistance and efforts by both the staff and students of the law school to reach out to organizations like FYFC will establish a standing relationship between these entities. FYFC is far from alone in being able to benefit from such a relationship. Organizations with similar goals to FYFC exist throughout Boulder County and the Front Range. I believe CU has the ability to play a more active role in working with these organizations, their constituent farmers, and local communities as a whole. This would be far from a simple process with an immediate effect. This is a goal that demands a continuous proactive effort from all parties. However, I am confident this goal is entirely possible.
I mentioned before the variety of legal areas that affect farmers, and providing examples will help illustrate this point. Most, if not all, farmers are familiar with the subcategory of law specifically dedicated to water rights. This area of law certainly overlaps with land use and property law, but water is an issue of state law with a narrower focus. In Colorado, there exists an entire court system throughout the state dedicated to water issues. Agriculture and local food systems also carry with them significant 1st Amendment issues. These issues have to do with how farmers market their food and what information that can or must provide to potential customers. On top of these, farmers are subject to county building and land use codes. A faemer must advocate for themselves while relying on the correct legal authority that addresses their legal issue.
In the practice of farming, all of the previously mentioned issues interconnect. Creating more efficient irrigation systems and more productive harvests often require building and development. Farmers who wish to pursue direct-to-consumer sales must be familiar with what they are allowed to or must say to the public. These challenges for farmers make legal aid essential to these communities.
As I stated before, my hope as a law student is work towards a relationship whereby CU Law presents faculty and students with the opportunity to engage with the complex legal apparatus that governs an essential part of the local economy and environment. Since food law incorporates such a large swath of areas of expertise, a wide variety of professors and their students would have the potential to be invaluable resources. I hope that CU Law can eventually become a model for how institutions can connect to their communities and help our food systems progress in a time where public health is of the utmost importance.
Lucas has been an integral part of FYFC's 2020 Policy Committee. He is assisting with the creation of a policy platform that can unite FYFC under one voice.