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Detroit Food Law Clinic: Legal Advocacy for Businesses

“Detroit can only benefit by having Michigan State leverage its deep expertise in food and agriculture here,” Jackson said.

Detroit’s Eastern Market has never been shy about its intentions. Since its inception in the 1800s, it has shown relentless commitment to nourishing the community around it—nutritionally, culturally, and economically.

The market is a place for local farmers and growers to sell their bounty. It is a place for culinary entrepreneurs to network, seek funding, and rent low-cost kitchen space to make their food business a reality. It is a place that teaches the value of eating nutritiously—and makes nutritious food choices accessible. Above all, it is a vibrant hub of activity and a gathering place for entrepreneurs and consumers from Detroit, Southeast Michigan, and beyond.

Organizations like The Kresge Foundation, whose Detroit Program uses a comprehensive framework to promote long-term economic opportunity in the city, provide major support to Eastern Market and its role in Detroit’s rebirth.

“Food entrepreneurship is one of the exciting developments on Detroit’s economic horizon today,” said Wendy Lewis Jackson, deputy director of The Kresge Foundation’s Detroit Program.

Naturally, every exciting development brings its own set of challenges for the city and its people, but it is within those challenges that MSU College of Law found a need it could fill: legal assistance.

Local entrepreneurs, community groups, and nonprofits looking to launch their own food businesses at Eastern Market face the same health, safety, and agricultural regulations as large, commercial grocery stores and restaurants, but seldom have access to the same top-notch legal advisors. “Detroit-based entrepreneurs – especially low-income individuals – that focus on Detroit’s food system need strong advocates to cut through the red tape and clarify the gray areas of law.” Jackson said.

A $150,000 grant from The Kresge Foundation, enables the MSU College of Law Detroit Food Law Clinic to do just that. “We are grateful for The Kresge Foundation’s generosity so that we can support these efforts,” said Joan W. Howarth, dean of the MSU College of Law. “With our roots in Detroit, it makes sense for MSU Law to be such a vital part of its rebirth and continued growth.”

Under the direction of Adjunct Clinical Professor Jayesh Patel, the Detroit Food Law Clinic will be staffed by second- and third-year law students. “This is an opportunity for students, too, to grow their legal skills and cultivate a lifelong commitment to the needs of low-income, underserved populations,” Howarth adds.

These future lawyers will have all the tools they need to succeed in this niche. As the former Detroit College of Law, MSU is familiar with the territory. It has an intensive commitment to clinical legal education. It has a Global Food Law program and an Urban Food, Farm, and Agriculture Law Practicum from which to pull experience and expertise. And, 90 miles to the west, it has MSU’s vast array of academic resources in food and agriculture at its disposal.

 “Detroit can only benefit by having Michigan State leverage its deep expertise in food and agriculture here,” Jackson said. “The Detroit Food Law Clinic is well positioned to anticipate and work through the complex legal and regulatory issues that could otherwise hamper this important field. It is providing needed advocacy while fulfilling our foundation-wide mandate to expand opportunities for vulnerable people living in America’s cities.”

For more information on making a gift to the MSU College of Law, contact Director of Development Tina Kashat Casoli at casoli@law.msu.edu or by calling (517) 432-6842.

Author: Devon Barrett

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