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Volume 8, Issue 1
November 2015

Detroit Food Law Clinic Connects Emerging Entrepreneurs at Eastern Market with Legal and Academic Resources

  • Jayesh Patel, J.D.
  • Director, Detroit Food Law Clinic
  • Adjunct Clinical Professor
  • College of Law

The MSU College of Law prepares graduates to take on society's challenges. As part of that education, the Detroit Food Law Clinic course offers second and third year students the experience of addressing the urban agricultural problems of low-income citizens and nonprofits.

Administered as part of the Legal Clinic, the Detroit Food Law Clinic offers direct assistance to clients regarding urban agricultural law issues, along with research, education, policy development, and public programming.

The Kresge Foundation's Detroit Program recently granted the Detroit Food Law Clinic a $150,000 two-year grant to foster a collaborative partnership with Eastern Market so that emerging entrepreneurs can access legal advisers and gain information about MSU's academic and community engagement pursuits related to food systems.

Jayesh Patel is the director of the Detroit Food Law Clinic. Patel was born in Detroit and wears multiple attorney hats. In addition to his involvement with the College of Law, he is a founding partner of the Talati and Patel law firm in Metro Detroit and serves as president and managing attorney of Street Democracy, a legal services nonprofit focused on legal issues related to poverty.

Collaborative Efforts

According to the Detroit Historical Society, Eastern Market is the largest historic public market district in the United States and is the largest U.S. open-air flowerbed market. It houses more than 150 food and specialty businesses in the market district, with farmers, growers, vendors, and merchants offering everything from produce, meat, poultry, and spices to jams, salsas, and artistic creations.

The Kresge Foundation's Detroit Program grant for the collaboration between the College of Law and Detroit's Eastern Market aims to support and maintain the vibrancy and energy of Eastern Market, and promote long-term economic opportunity in the city.

Challenges

Urban agriculture is an evolving issue, introducing legal and administrative challenges based on existing or non-existing local, state, and federal regulations. The Detroit Food Law Clinic was begun in 2012 with a seed money grant from the DeWitt Holbrook Memorial Fund. The Urban Food, Farm and Agriculture Law Practicum student clinicians connected with members of the community by conducting outreach events to inform potential clients of the legal services provided by the Practicum. Supervising attorneys worked with student clinicians to address the necessary legal matters for the duration of the academic semester.

Picture for Detroit Food Law Clinic Connects Emerging Entrepreneurs at Eastern Market with Legal and Academic Resources

The course is now known as the Food Law Clinic and Patel refines the focus of the class semester by semester.

"This semester there has been a focus on contractual work between farmer/grower needs and Eastern Market needs," said Patel. "Last semester we looked at those varying needs, and there are always plenty of considerations."

Possible clients might include: nonprofits, farms (ranging from small for-profit to large corporate or nonprofit status), community or religious organizations, growers, merchants, vendors, individuals, and food-based businesses located in Detroit and throughout the surrounding communities.

As the food industry and consumer awareness grows there are new questions that impact economic vitality around Eastern Market and related ventures.

"How do people get in the game and navigate the complexity of growing, creating, selling, purchasing, or consuming fresh, nutritious food that is affordable? " Patel said.

Challenges often begin with city, state, and federal regulations, or absence of regulations.

"We often begin with what is the proper regulatory posture," said Patel. "Our clients are creating questions where there are no formal answers."

He and the students break down those questions and navigate local zoning ordinances, current Michigan legislation, federal guidelines, licensing requirements, and environmental concerns.

"This is really systems-level change," said Patel. "The hope is that a structure can be established that allows scale up or down, to address the challenge so that any size organization or individual can apply it to their particular situation as it relates to urban agriculture."

Multidisciplinary Efforts

Patel has set a rapid pace to learn as much as possible about the vast network of resources available at MSU that can advance the efforts of the Detroit Food Law Clinic and the clients it serves.

"I'm focused on what's going on with all things food-related," said Patel. "Research, community engagement, new projects, and new opportunities. The MSU Product Center, Extension, and researchers at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources all provide increased opportunities for collaboration. In turn, we are connected to the clients and we rely on them to inform us about happenings on the local scene."

Patel sees the effort through the lens of solving food problems of the poor. "How can we best utilize these structures to connect, inform, and solve the problems of food justice, sovereignty, and security?"

Detroit Food Law Clinic Services

Among the types of legal matters that may be addressed:

  • Evaluating the language of current state legislation and municipal ordinances and their impact on urban agriculture endeavors
  • Assisting those who wish to use urban land for agricultural purposes with environmental concerns
  • Consulting with nonprofit entities working in the urban agriculture area about their legal needs and drafting legal documents as required
  • Forming a food or farm related business, nonprofit, or cooperative
  • Licensing, certification, or compliance with guidelines established by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Drafting contracts, memoranda of understanding, and other agreements pertinent to an agriculture, food, or farm issue
  • Organic regulation and certification requirements
  • Interpreting, contesting, and complying with local zoning ordinances
  • Purchasing or selling real property in the state of Michigan

For further information or client applications contact the Law Clinic at (517) 336-8088, or email clinic@law.msu.edu.

  • Written by Carla Hills, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photographs courtesy of Eastern Market Corporation, and Jeremy Deputat, for Eastern Market Corporation