Food & Ag student clinicians share experiences

L-R: Sam Ingraham, Lauren Wustenberg, and Sedona Chavez. Photo courtesy Sedona Chavez.

By Sedona Chavez, Forum Contributor

Working as a student clinician for two semesters in the Food and Agriculture Clinic has been an eventful and fulfilling experience. During my first semester, I was assigned to work on the Food Safety Modernization Act project, which was honestly not my first choice as I was not interested in food safety. However, as the semester progressed, the subject matter and project grew on me and I was ultimately left feeling like I had created an end product that was useful and something I could be proud of.

I am now in my second semester of the clinic and I have the opportunity to publish an article based on my work from last year. This suggestion came from the project’s advisory group, where one member mentioned that she used my memo in her legal practice. Needless to say, I was almost in tears knowing that my work was actually useful to an attorney trying to resolve a real foodborne illness issue. Working in the Food and Agriculture Clinic has been rewarding in many ways but that was definitely the most gratifying experience over these past two semesters (so far), and I know experiences like that are not uncommon among student clinicians.

Overall, I’m so glad I decided to earn my experiential credit in the Food and Agriculture Clinic. Not only has the experience given me something of substance to put on my resume, but it has also broadened my interests in agriculture law and has given me many networking opportunities. I would recommend working in the Food and Agriculture Clinic, whether you are an “ag person” or not.

• • •

By Sam Ingraham, Forum Contributor

Do you wake up screaming about the co-constitution of agriculture, environment, and social justice? Do you live and breathe project rounds presentations? Is professional development your jam? Do you shout “send it!” about sending emails to clients and partners?

Do any of the previous statements apply to you in a less hyperbolic and foolish way?

If so, you, like myself, may find yourself enjoying the Food and Agriculture Clinic. You may find yourself enjoying being assigned to suspiciously dry research projects.

Soon, you may even find yourself enjoying being drawn in. Some of this is just due to hopeless emotional investment after spending so much time pouring your efforts into research. Most of this is because the questions turn out to have interesting legal implications, and you, as a law student, can’t help but be engaged.

In earnest, there is both unique and practical value to joining the clinic. It is an opportunity to have a policy job, with all its attendant difficulties and experiences, while still in school. You develop work plans. You lead webinars. You meet with third party project partners and try desperately to sound competent and sometimes you do. You meticulously track hours. You have supervisors and co-workers. You are obligated to “complete deliverables” and you learn to stop internally scoffing at language like that. You go to conferences. You research and write and rewrite and supplementally research and in general work enormously hard and then you, like myself, end up with the single finest experience you’ve been able to have in law school.

• • •

By Lauren Wustenberg, Forum Contributor

How many times in law school can we work on new law? Especially new law that represents a tide change in the turbulent seas of regulation? How often does a state regulator read your work and say, “I’ve had the same question. Do you think you can figure it out?”? My guess? Not many.

That is what sets the Food & Agriculture Clinic experience apart. The projects focus on new, developing areas of law and policy that affect farmers, eaters, and everybody in-between at the local, state, national and (sometimes) international levels. Even if you’ve never heard of the law you’re working on, you soon realize that A) you’ve probably eaten something that’s been affected by it and B) it impacts far more people than you ever imagined.

Plus, it provides opportunities to apply what we learn in other classes. Want more property law? Assess heirs’ property issues, which drive the loss of black-owned agricultural land in the South. Want to study prisoners’ rights? Research new Farm-to-Corrections programs. Corporations? Dig into when a federal agency can pierce the veil of an incorporated farm. International law? Assess how vulnerable new U.S. laws regulating food safety are to challenge as a trade restriction when applied to imported produce (oh wait—I’m taking care of this one).

Like many students here, I was drawn to VLS by its commitment to using the power of the law for the good of the community and the world. It’s a value I shared and wanted to fill my toolbox so I can put that commitment to work. My time with the Food and Agriculture Clinic has provided me that opportunity and more. After writing memos, preparing fact sheets (to be used by real people in the industry!), hosting webinars, collaborating with amazing project partners, presenting at conferences, and meeting with an advisory group that flew from across the country to meet us, I appreciate more than ever the need for the work of this clinic. It works on laws that influence what we eat and the people who produce it every day. To be involved in this clinic is a unique and powerful experience, and I will be a better lawyer for it.

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