A joint degree student in both the Juris Doctor and Master of Food and Agriculture Law and Policy (MFALP) programs, Lauren Wustenberg now serves as Counsel on the Majority Staff for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry under Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
The light of the autumn morning streamed in through the windows of Barrister’s Book Shop, illuminating a smattering of tables and chairs set up amongst the shelves. Inside, Lauren Wustenberg, a JD/MFALP student and Food & Agriculture Law Society (FALS) Board member, was working hard to serve community members at the FALS “Barrister’s Brunch.”
It was the fall of 2019, and Wustenberg and her cohort had worked hard to source ingredients for the meal from local farmers, harvest kale from the community garden, and cook the fundraiser brunch, the proceeds from which would support the South Royalton Community Garden.
“We had no idea, at the time, that it would be our last full semester on campus before we graduated,” said Wustenberg, referencing the Covid-19 pandemic that shut down the Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS) campus in the spring of 2020. “I spent three wonderful years serving on the FALS Executive Board, and it was such a fun process to work with my fellow FALS members to feed our friends, faculty, and community members.”
Graduating from the program in 2021, Wustenberg’s experience at VLGS was shaped by the pandemic—but she is living proof that sometimes, when things don’t go to plan, other opportunities present themselves.
The pandemic delayed Wustenberg’s plans to do an externship in the summer of 2020, leading her to instead earn her final MFALP credits as Legal Fellow with the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry in the fall of 2021, after she had graduated from the JD program and completed the bar exam. Today, she works as one of the Committee’s full-time counsels under Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Most recently, Wustenberg was tasked to work as counsel on Title II (Agriculture) of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, a major piece of legislation in which the role of food and farming on both the economy and the climate is addressed.
Her current work on policy issues related to conservation, climate, environmental regulation, pesticides, and more has been greatly informed by her studies with VLGS. At the end of the day, Wustenberg’s work is driven forward by two overarching questions: how do we improve the economic and environmental sustainability of American agriculture livelihoods, and how do we address the global impacts of Americans’ consumer appetites?
“Having a joint-degree from VLGS helped me specialize within the legal field and develop early expertise in niche issues that made me more qualified and more competitive as a candidate,” Wustenberg explained. “My time with the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems and the Food and Agriculture Clinic gave me the legal and policy analysis tools I need to dive more deeply into answering complicated questions that require multifaceted answers.”
One of the biggest draws of VLGS, for Wustenberg, was the top-quality staff and faculty—not only to learn from, but to help build a network of changemakers in the food and agriculture policy space.
“VLGS attracts a vibrant community of scholars, advocates, and legal practitioners that work within niche fields of environmental, land use, social justice, and food and agriculture law that serve as your professors, mentors, and fellow students,” she said. “It was honestly shocking to realize how quickly my professors at VLGS turned into close collaborators in the professional field.”
"There is interest across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors in addressing sustainability and equity issues in our agricultural system, and we need attorneys and policy professionals to help do that work."
–Lauren Wustenberg JD/MFALP'21
While Wustenberg credits these relationships with helping to make her more effective early in her career, it’s not the only advice she has for upcoming and recent graduates.
“There is interest across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors in addressing sustainability and equity issues in our agricultural system, and we need attorneys and policy professionals to help do that work,” she stated. “My best advice is to cultivate not only specialized expertise, but also curiosity, adaptability, resourcefulness, and a strong work ethic. The world needs more people like that as we navigate the complicated problems that face us ahead.”