When I started my career as a law librarian, I was confident I’d work in law firms for my entire career. Law firm librarians felt like my people and I enjoyed the fast pace of work. But I wanted to be sure. After a short-lived role as an academic law librarian, I I decided to return to the law firm world. Despite looking for new opportunities everywhere, there were very few law librarian openings. So, I contacted a library staffing company to pick up some contract work at a law firm. As it turned out, the company had an opening for a law librarian at the USDA National Agricultural Library (NAL). Why would an agricultural library need a law librarian? I declined solely based on the subject area. I grew up in the Midwest and was definitely not interested in “cows and corn” law. After some persuasion, I agreed to complete a three-month contract position at NAL and then head back to a law firm library.
Fast forward nine years later I’m glad I revisited that decision and my initial reaction.I am a very proud (and loud) law librarian who specializes in agricultural law. I quickly learned that my narrow views about agriculture were entirely off base and that we are all impacted by the laws and regulations related to food and agriculture every day. I spent the first few years in my job learning the wide breadth of agricultural law – real estate and leasing, immigration and employment law, import/export, and more. I studied USDA and agricultural history in the U.S., including a deep dive into the muddied history of the land grant college systems created by the 1862 and 1890s Morrill Acts, pivotal scientific research, and the rise in corporate farming. Over time, I began gravitating toward agricultural and food issues linked to inequities for minoritized people and the impact of poor nutrition on the communities most in need, both urban and rural. I learned about the many organizations advocating for more equitable food access, pushing for improved safety for farm and meat processing workers, addressing systemic and historic Black land loss though heirs’ property issues, and the importance of culturally appropriate foods for Indigenous communities. I learned about Black food justice during the civil rights movement and the role of Fannie Lou Hamer’s “pig bank” and the Freedom Farm Cooperative. I learned about SoulFire Farm, an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm in New York committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system. Agricultural law is so much more than it appears on its face. I’ve found my professional passion in a place I previously shunned. I’m disappointed in my past acceptance of stereotypes and rural stigma about agricultural work before my work at the National Agricultural Library.
I’m looking forward to writing about the agricultural and food issues I am passionate about, such as environmental justice, food sovereignty, nutrition security, micro-food systems in urban food apartheid zones, and so much more. I hope that by contributing to NBU, I can inspire others to look beyond “cows and corn” and consider the significant equity issues related to agricultural and food law.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not those of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.