Pro Bono Spotlight
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Article Date: Friday, January 01, 2010
Written By: Tod M. Leaven
The General Counsel for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Ray Starling, along with Commissioner Steve Troxler and Assistant Commissioner David McLeod, is expanding the breadth of pro-bono services in North Carolina, while simultaneously assisting one of the state’s most valuable assets: its farmers.
North Carolina is home to seven law schools, yet none of them offer a class in agricultural law. This is surprising because North Carolina is ranked ninth in the nation for farm income and ranked second in the nation for hogs and pigs (including gross number of pigs on farms, quantity of pork produced, amount of commercial slaughter and total value of production). On top of this, North Carolina State University has one of the premier agricultural science programs in the country. Given the absence of any agricultural focus in the law schools’ curriculum, how does the State’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services foster interest among law students in helping North Carolina’s farmers? The answer: by providing a progressive network of pro-bono projects.
|Assistant Commissioner David McLeod and General Counsel Ray Starling.
The phone rings constantly at the General Counsel’s Office with questions from farmers, business owners, regulators, and county attorneys. These questions range from how to interpret or appropriately apply one of the many laws administered by the Department, to registering for sales tax exemption for farm purchases, to whether an individual should have received a ticket given the size and weight of his or her vehicle when it was hauling agricultural products. This is where the Department’s new pro-bono vision comes into play.
The Department is designing an electronic resource for North Carolina’s farmers. Still in its developmental phase, this resource will have answers and interpretations on a wide range of topics of importance for farmers. It will be accessible to farmers who are confused about seed contracts, beekeepers looking for help navigating complicated state codes and regulations, and family farms wishing to incorporate. More than a simple agency FAQ page, it will be a road map, an interpreter, and a reference source all in one. This resource is being constructed on a pro-bono basis by students. The sheer breadth of topics ensures that there is something for every volunteer. It does not matter if a student’s interest is intellectual property, tax, or employment law, there will be something to contribute and the results will be immeasurably valuable.
According to General Counsel Ray Starling, the only thing better than mentoring law students is mentoring law students that want to volunteer their time to help farmers. As he puts it, it is a beautiful situation. The students gain experience that not only sets them apart from other law students, but also makes them feel good at the end of the day. Farmers, would-be farmers, and agribusiness owners have greater access to legal assistance and more opportunities to improve and promote their livelihoods. The Department has the help and manpower it needs to broaden its assistance to the citizens of North Carolina. Everybody wins.
As part of its approach, the Department is also implementing other hands-on opportunities, such as researching, drafting, and helping to revise portions of the North Carolina Administrative Code. In addition, students can gain experience with large agency contract and employment issues or with tracking state and federal legislation.
Though it is the backbone of North Carolina, agriculture often takes a legal backseat to other interests. Our state’s farmers historically have taken a back seat in receiving pro-bono services, as well.
Fortunately for North Carolina’s farmers, and those who enjoy the food that they grow, the Department of Agriculture and Community Services is engaging students with a desire to help our state, and those who farm it.
Tod M. Leaven is a third-year law student at the University of North Carolina School of Law.
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