Alumni Q&A: Susan Schneider '85
As a lawyer, professor, and academic program director, Schneider has unique insight into the growing niche of agriculture & food law
Susan Schneider '85 has taught food and agricultural law and policy courses for more than 20 years, and now serves as the director of the University of Arkansas School of Law’s LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law. In a special online-only extra to our magazine, Schneider recently answered a few questions about her field of practice, career path, and how they connect to her experiences at Minnesota Law.
What sparked your interest in Agricultural & Food Law?
An agricultural law survey course in law school was my introduction. It was a challenging course that raised complex issues about how the law impacts those who grow our food and even what they grow. Because I had grown up on a farm, the issues were very real to me.
What makes you passionate about this area of law?
Food is our most basic human need. Law frames our food system, from farm policy to food marketing, impacting each step of the supply chain. Food security, diet and health, food safety, labeling, animal welfare, the impact of food production on the environment and on climate change—it touches every aspect of our life.
What, if any, Minnesota Law courses or experiential learning opportunities did you participate in that pertained to agricultural & food law?
Minnesota Law offered an Agricultural Law class, and we used a casebook co-authored by the director of the Agricultural Law LL.M. Program in Arkansas. Little did I know that I would go on to lead that program myself! Thanks to meeting a guest speaker that visited my class, I was able to clerk at a Minnesota law firm with a regional agricultural law practice. I joined the firm after law school.
You worked in private practice, serving farm clients with firms in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C. Can you describe those experiences? What kinds of matters were you involved with?
My practice experience in the Midwest involved small and mid-sized farms and financial challenges. At Farmers Legal Action Group (FLAG), I worked on systemic litigation and educational materials for low-income farmers. In D.C. we represented very large operations with disputes over farm program payments. Today, practice is often more integrated, e.g., involving environmental issues, food safety, direct-marketing, and labeling claims based on production methods.
You have taught food and agricultural law and policy courses for more than 20 years, and now direct the University of Arkansas School of Law’s LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law. Can you discuss the transition to academia and the work you do with the LL.M. program?
Practice taught me how to deal with my client’s specific problems. Academia allows me to ask why the problems arise and what improvements can be made within our food system. Because our LL.M. Program focuses on real world issues from farm to plate and attracts experienced attorneys as well as recent graduates, my career feels like a seamless progression. As director of the program, I mentor our students, teach several of our core courses, and help chart the future direction of the program.
What do you see as some of the key trends today in agricultural and food law?
Food law and policy, a combination of agricultural and food law that explores our food system, is an emerging trend. It recognizes that while we produce and sell an abundance of food, our food system is at the center of many problems. Current practices are warming our planet, polluting our water, and depleting our finite water resources. White farmers own 98 percent of U.S. private farmland. We still have millions who go to bed hungry, and obesity rates continue to rise. We have to do better. Consumers, forward-looking food companies, and some policy leaders are coalescing to drive law and policy reform.
How has the Covid pandemic impacted this field of Law, and are there any long-term changes that are likely to happen as a result?
COVID exposed problems within our food system. Obesity is a serious public health issue. “Essential workers,” frequently people of color and immigrants, are often treated more like disposable workers. Concentration in the meat industry may produce efficiency but not resilience. Regional food systems based on sustainable practices and with opportunities for BIPOC farmers and food businesses are needed to bring about positive change.
What advice would you give to a law student who wants to make a career in this field?
Go for it. It’s important work that can be personally satisfying, intellectually challenging, and truly make a difference. Come to our LL.M. Program—either in beautiful Fayetteville, Arkansas or by distance. Full- or part-time. Practice what you eat.
How do you like to spend your free time?
My husband and I both teach at the law school, so work and free time tend to merge. We live in a cabin in the Ozark Mountains with a houseful of rescued dogs and cats and a woods full of wildlife. Relaxing on the deck with a beer and no sound except for the birds is heaven on earth.
What are a few interesting items one might see on your desk or hanging on your office wall?
My Minnesota connections are dear to me. There’s a framed tribute to Paul Wellstone with his green bus and the quote, “We all do better when we all do better.” And there’s a map of Minnesota counties, each with a designated hotdish!
Anything else that you would like to share?
My grandparents and my parents were farmers, and they essentially practiced regenerative agriculture even though they would not have recognized the term. We can learn a lot from the past. I still get to spend my summers on our farm, which just hit century farm status. I’d like to think that they are proud of the work I am doing. I thank Minnesota Law for introducing me to a topic that became my life’s work.
For more about agricultural & food law and the ways in which Minnesota Law alumni are leaders in this growing field, check out our cover feature .