Featured Member: Jennifer Zwagerman

Headshot 1

Work:  Associate Director, Agricultural Law Center at Drake Law School, Director of Career Development at Drake Law School, Des Moines, IA


Education and Experience: Bachelors in Agriculture Communications, Michigan State University, Agriculture Food and Law Certificate, Drake Law School, LLM in Agriculture Law from University of Arkansas – Fayetteville.


How did you find agriculture law?

I grew up in a very small town in the thumb of Michigan and have just always been around agriculture.  At Michigan State, I just kind of fell into agriculture communications and absolutely loved it.  After getting my undergraduate I spent a few years working in the beef industry at Michigan Cattlemen’s Association and Michigan Beef Industry Council.  I kind of stumbled into law while looking at public policy programs, and realized it had everything I was looking for.  I found the program at Drake and it was like it was meant to be.  I loved the agriculture industry and the people I worked with and Drake having this agriculture law focus has been the perfect fit for me.


What is your current role and what type of work are you doing?

I practiced for a number of years at Faegre Baker Daniels, which is an ag law practice and moved to Drake almost exactly 5 years ago.   Now I am the Associate Director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake Law School and the Director of Career Development at Drake Law School based in Des Moines.


On the food and ag side I primarily teach classes in food and agricultural law courses.  This spring I’ll teach a course on food and law, and then I do a class on current issues in food and agriculture litigation.  I support our center’s projects and then I also work and counsel students who have interest in food and ag law.


On the Career Development side, I work with a combination of students, alumni and employers to develop skills that get those students ready to be professionals.  We connect them to job opportunities but also want to make sure they have are prepared for interviews but also to succeed as professionals.


Why do you choose to be a member of AALA and what keeps you active in the organization?

I joined AALA as a first year law student in 2001 and from the minute I went to AALA meetings, it just fit.  The people I met were involved in so many aspects of agriculture and food from regulation to the legal process.  As a student it was eye opening to see all the opportunities.  I still think one of the best things about AALA is their support for the next generation.  The student programing and the support for students to attend is amazing.  Some of the people I met as a first year student at AALA have become lifelong friends.


AALA is a place to share ideas, to learn, and a great resource for practitioners and attorneys who have questions.  Its amazing resource, a great group of people, and all of those people make AALA what it is today.


What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities do you see coming in the next years?

One of the biggest challenges in AALA is that we have so many members who are so incredibly passionate about the issues and areas of law that we discuss at AALA.  I think it’s going to be vitally important for AALA to continue to be respectful of all those view points while recognizing that there is a great diversity of opinions and passions among our members.  It’s tough to find that middle ground of providing information, being respectful, and still acknowledging all the different sides of an issue.


Food law is definitely one of those hot topics.  I think food safety, and its impact on farm level regulations from FDA is something we’re going to see coming up more and more.  That tie between food and agriculture is definitely going to continue to grow in the coming years and be something that AALA needs to stay up on.


You’ve been selected as President-elect for AALA.  What motivated you to seek that position and what do you hope your time in this role can accomplish?

I love and believe in this organization so much that it always felt natural to be more involved.  I’ve worked my way up, serving on the communications committee, then the board and now as president elect. I want to support its work and to help it grow and adjust to the issues so that we can make sure AALA is the same type of strong, valuable organization as I’ve found it to be over the years.


Looking ahead, AALA is definitely in a transition period and we have quite a few new resources we’re trying to figure out.  We’re trying to get a little more tech friendly, a little more into newer communication tools.  We really need to be nimble, current, and up to date so we are providing a great forum for people to share information and connect their ideas.  We really want to be a resource for our members, and we want to be all-inclusive to the sectors that are involved in the food and agricultural industry.


I really do encourage communication and want members to know they can contact leadership and members of the board directly to share ideas and frustrations or concerns.  Particularly as we are transitioning new ideas and programs, we really want to hear from our members and make sure we’re serving them effectively.


It’s always been amazing to me that as big an industry as food and ag is, and the national span of AALA, just how small our world really is.  People in the agriculture industry are really so interconnected, and I think that’s an amazing thing.