Nurturing a Community-Based Approach to Food Access
On a sweltering August morning, a group of teenagers from a city north of Boston and surrounding suburbs harvested vegetables on a one-acre farm tucked between an elementary school and rows of houses nestled on narrow streets. While some of her peers picked fragrant green peppers, 16-year-old Daniela washed carrots, kale, and Swiss chard, prepping them for affordable farmers’ markets and mobile markets. Both the farm and the markets are part of The Food Project, a nonprofit that hires teenagers from different racial, socioeconomic, and gender identity groups to grow food, learn about social justice, and work to improve access to healthy food. Despite learning she couldn’t be on the same crew as her sister, Daniela took the job. The acceptance she found among her new coworkers motivated her to apply for a role with the advanced team when her initial program ended.
“The bonds that are created here are so strong,” Daniela said. “It’s a great way to work.”
Daniela is one of 120 young people hired annually by the Lincoln, Massachusetts-based nonprofit to cultivate about 70 acres of urban and suburban farmland while also developing their leadership skills. Through the 200,000 pounds of food they grow, distribute, and donate, they also contribute to reducing food insecurity, or the lack of access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food, often experienced by low-income people and communities of color.
Behind the scenes, the organization increasingly turns to Mintz for pro bono assistance with real estate and employment issues, and in the past year, the firm also advised on governance, privacy, and litigation concerns. The relationship began about a decade ago when attorney Peter Demuth did a pro bono business consulting project for The Food Project through a volunteer program and blossomed into a larger commitment a few years ago when he put the organization’s executive director, Anne Hayes in touch with Sue Finegan, the Chair of Mintz’s Pro Bono Committee. Peter also increased his own commitment last year, joining the board and spearheading an effort to rewrite their bylaws, code of conduct, and conflict of interest and disclosure policies, with assistance at the early stages from former Mintz attorney Allyson Wilkinson.
“It’s rewarding to help an organization that’s helping the world,” Peter said.
Much of the firm’s other guidance addresses real estate issues associated with the organization’s headquarters building and leases for two other offices, four greenhouses, and six farms scattered across the Dudley neighborhood in Boston, conservation land, school grounds, and land trust property. Attorneys Chelsea Wood and Anne Loeb evaluated leases for The Food Project, with Anne focusing on leases for urban farms and greenhouses. Earlier this year, when a landowner sought to increase the fee it charged the organization to pass through an adjoining parcel, attorney Geoff Smith developed a negotiation strategy after meticulous research into real estate records with former Mintz legal specialist Rachel Lipton.
"Food insecurity has been an issue on everybody’s mind throughout the pandemic, and an organization that’s providing access to food in our own backyard is vital,” Geoff said.
Many other attorneys assisted with employment matters, including Delaney Busch, who provided guidance on staffing issues and overhauled the employee handbook with oversight from Geri Haight; Danielle Bereznay, who revised the organization’s safety manual with Natalie Groot, The Food Project is extremely grateful for Mintz’s invaluable assistance with real estate, employment, and many other legal issues. The firm’s incredible support is transforming our organization and enabling us to focus our attention and resources on youth development and building a more equitable food system. Executive Director The Food Project who also provided counsel on wage and hour issues; and Kathryn Droumbakis, who updated the emergency contact form and addressed COVID-19-related issues. Attorneys Jennifer Budoff and Brendan Lowd, along with former Mintz attorney Gauri Punjabi, also assisted with employment questions. Cynthia Larose, the Chair of Mintz’s Privacy & Cybersecurity Practice, counseled the organization on privacy issues, while attorney Jane Haviland provided strategic guidance on potential litigation with input from attorneys Keshav Ahuja and Matthew Levitt. Senior research analyst Jessica Bumpous and research services manager Reeves Gillis also provided valued assistance.
With Mintz’s support, The Food Project can focus more resources on programming, such as teaching teens in the advanced crews how to write a cover letter, lead workshops, and plan events. Molly, a 17-year-old who said she applied to The Food Project because people in her school thought the opportunity sounded awesome, has enjoyed both the social and educational aspects of the job.
“I’ve loved having space outside of school to be with people and feel like I’m accomplishing something,” Molly said.