BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC, NH, VT, MA
“Food and cooking and farming is part of what I do, part of what I love.”
Beth Boepple’s experiences before going to law school made her uniquely suited to later serve farmers, restaurant owners, and hospitality clients. Beth had always thought of going to law school, but her father was the director of theatre at the University of Vermont and she pursued theatre while in college. After graduating from the University of Vermont with her Bachelor of Arts, she worked as a lighting designer in the theatre, while also doing freelance writing design for different companies. Her husband had studied under a classical French chef and had always wanted to own a restaurant. When the opportunity arose in southwest Vermont in the mid-1980s, Beth left her theatre work and the couple purchased their first restaurant business.
They owned the restaurant before sourcing local ingredients became a popular trend in the marketplace. As a result, Beth and her husband inadvertently become involved in the local food movement before it was even a movement. They wanted to procure the best quality food that they could – and that meant sourcing locally wherever possible. At first, they began sourcing fish from a couple starting a local food business called Earth and Sea. Then Beth began sourcing local vegetables from farmers in the area. All these years later, Beth recalls with a smile how she was able to purchase “butter crunch lettuce that you would never find in the supermarket.” They both had an “appreciation for having good quality ingredients,” because then, “food doesn’t have to be that complicated.” Beth’s husband wanted to use his French cooking expertise, but remove some of the heavier sauces. Beth notes that when you do that, “the flavors of the underlying food start to come through and if that’s what you have coming through, it better be really fresh.”
Over the next several years, Beth had a son, the restaurant business became “all-encompassing,” and her involvement in local politics – particularly serving on the local planning board and the board of trustees – rekindled her interest in law school. Beth then earned her JD from Vermont Law School and eventually became a partner at the law firm of Witten, Woolmington, Campbell, and Boepple in Vermont. She later became a partner at the law firm of Lambert Coffin in Maine before joining BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC, in 2016. Over the years, Beth has counseled businesses and various stakeholders in a wide array of land use, development, and commercial transactions. She also represents clients throughout the sale and purchase process of large and small businesses, while advising clients on issues such as selecting a business entity, forming a business, contract negotiating, business governance, and financing.
Her experiences working for various businesses and owning her own business prior to law school benefit her as she counsels farming and food entrepreneurial clients. Beth “knows what it’s like to have a payroll, to market a business, to source what you need for your business.” She also has had several land use cases where she advocated saving farmland from development. For example, a hospital in Bennington was trying to build a retirement community on farmland in an area that, as Beth recalls, “just screamed for keeping it rural and in farmland and made no sense whatsoever.” Beth represented several neighbors of the proposed site and challenged the Department of Agriculture’s practice of allowing development as long as mitigation occurs later. She worked with Conservation Law Foundation to have farmers testify before the state regarding the impact of the proposed development on their land and soil quality. Beth believed that the farmers were a group in need of legal representation and she wanted to serve that need. She credits her firsthand experience in the food business coupled with her legal experience for providing her with the knowledge necessary to serve her farm and food clients.
Beth advises new attorneys to “talk like a person, not like a lawyer.” She notes that new attorneys are often steeped in the language that they learned in law school and when they are beginning to practice law, they tend to forget that “people don’t necessarily know what you mean when you say something like ‘gross negligence.’” She recommends that attorneys always keep their audience in mind. Beth also advises taking a step back: when a client brings an issue to a new attorney, she suggests not diving into research mode straight away, but instead considering whether “there is a practical solution instead of a legal solution.” In addition, Beth believes that foundational, basic law courses are crucial to providing solid grounding for serving farm and food clients. Beth advocates for developing the skills learned in contracts, business associations, torts, constitutional law, and civil procedure courses.
For attorneys who wish to serve the needs of farm and food entrepreneurs, Beth says, “You need to know the clients – you need to know what their problems are.” She recommends talking with restaurant owners and talking to farmers at farmers markets. Beth also notes that it is helpful when people have varied life experiences before practicing law because “there’s a lot to be said for real-world experience.” Finally, Beth says, “it never hurts to ask for help” from a more experienced lawyer.
The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems is an initiative of Vermont Law School, and this toolkit provides general legal information for educational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute, and should not be relied upon, for legal advice. Each farmer’s circumstances are unique, state laws vary, and the information contained herein is specific to the time of publication. Accordingly, for legal advice, please consult an attorney licensed in your state.