Gordon N. Merrick JD’20 currently serves as Policy & Programs Manager for the nonprofit Organic Farming Research Foundation, an organization focused on advancing organic agriculture through scientific research.
Gordon Merrick has some unconventional advice for students looking to pursue a career in food and agriculture law and policy: gain experience in a field you don’t want to work in.
The Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS) alumnus currently serves as Policy & Programs Manager at the Organic Farming Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing organic agriculture through scientific research. But it was a summer internship working in trial law during his time at VLGS that helped round out his qualifications.
“[That internship] exposed me to things that make me a better advocate,” explained Merrick. “So, put simply: don’t be afraid to take unorthodox opportunities.”
Merrick is no stranger to unusual career paths; before pursuing his JD, he held a variety of jobs from farmhand and line cook to food hub delivery driver and political organizer. Through experiences in many lifecycle stages of food, his perspective on the food system widened.
Merrick suggests that upcoming graduates should also not limit themselves to experiences they think will lend themselves specifically to agricultural law jobs, which can often be competitive. Instead, he advised, find a variety of skills that can round out your point of view: something that was a particular draw for Merrick, leading him to decide to pursue his higher education in South Royalton.
“Vermont Law and Graduate School is just one of those places that clearly thinks about things differently, and that attracted me to the place,” said Merrick. “The ability to have multiple hands-on experiences doing legal work while also being exposed to thoughtful and robust classes seemed like a no-brainer when compared to other programs.”
He credits his work at the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) with helping him augment his writing and legal research skills, while building a working knowledge of food and agriculture law and policy that would make him a competitive job candidate.
And competitive he was: despite graduating amidst the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Merrick quickly found a fellowship with CAFS and the Conservation Law Foundation’s Legal Food Hub, while also taking an advocate role in Vermont’s Climate Plan. Before joining the team at the Organic Farming Research Foundation in April 2022, Merrick clerked for the Vermont General Assembly Legislative Counsel office, focusing on natural resources, agriculture, and municipal law.
Today, Merrick’s work centers around supporting organic farmers through research and policy support. “My interest is in how the current business model and economics of agriculture don’t serve farmers or the landscape, and how legal frameworks and public programs can change that,” said Merrick.
"I was grappling with difficult concepts and subjects in a community of gifted, passionate people."
–Gordon N. Merrick JD'20
According to Merrick, one solution proposed by many is “payment for ecosystem services,” a concept that would provide financial compensation for the qualitative benefits of sustainable agriculture, such as clean air, pollination, aesthetic enjoyment, and more. Merrick was able to build upon research on this topic, conducted during his fellowship with CAFS, in his current position.
Merrick credits his life experience with leading him to agricultural law and Vermont Law and Graduate School for fostering the environment to build his future career. “There are few times in a person’s life where your only real responsibility is to learn, build connections and friendships, all with a purpose.”
“I just loved the whole experience of being back in school,” Merrick concluded. “I was grappling with difficult concepts and subjects in a community of gifted, passionate people.”