Business-in-residence Spotlight: Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (Part 1)

nick leonard

Protecting the world’s greatest freshwater resource and the communities that depend upon it.

What do they do?

Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (GLELC) is Michigan’s only nonprofit legal service focused on environmental issues in the state of Michigan.


GLELC was founded by Noah Hall, a professor in Wayne State’s law school, and its executive director is Nick Schroeck, also at Wayne Law. GLELC is actually based out of Wayne State, but two members of their staff work out of the Green Garage: Stephanie Karisny, Staff Attorney, and Nick Leonard, Equal Justice Works Fellow. In this spotlight, I’ll focus primarily on Nick’s work providing free legal assistance to Detroit’s urban agriculture community. In Part 2, I’ll look more closely at Stephanie’s work.

When and How?

In the year 2008, Noah Hall, GLELC’s founder,  noticed a lack of environmentally-focused legal non profits that could be a resource to those concerned about water issues and water quality in their neighborhoods. More recently, they turned their attention to Detroit’s environmental justice issues.

The Goals & the Work:

As a small organization, GLELC attempts to remain flexible in order to meet the goals of the communities they serve. They work on issues such as Detroit’s practice of burning trash, water quality in southwest Detroit, and empowering local environmental justice groups. Nick, in particular, works to help urban farmers navigate the complexities of the legal system. He noticed that in Detroit, it’s difficult to purchase land for urban gardening, considering selling land for farming is not thought of as permanent or ideal. He wants to figure out a way that urban agriculture can work in every neighborhood, as well as give people the opportunity to plant urban gardens and better their neighborhoods. Nick has worked with over 50 organizations, both nonprofit and for profit, by helping them start up or educating them on the intricate workings of the legal system. He has also worked in every corner of Detroit, aiding in the development of urban gardens.

Education Background:

Considering Nick is a purpose-driven person, he knew he wanted to help Detroiters drive the revitalization of their own communities. He wanted to invest his time in Detroit residents. During his undergrad years at Kalamazoo College, he had the purpose, but no clue of the “what.” Thus, after graduating in 2008, he became involved in urban farming. He loved that urban agriculture seemed to touch so many critical issues (blight, food management, and land use). He began thinking about how he could get involved. He thought that it would be redundant to start his own urban farming and gardening business; but when he noticed a lack of legal services for this specific area, he realized how he could help. As a result, he went to law school with the goal of helping Detroiters reshape and remake their communities.

Nick’s Words of Wisdom

“Pursue what you find interesting as much as you can. Expose yourself to every environment.” In college, Nick was advised by professors to develop a five year plan, but he never took that advice, seeing as how he always wanted to be open to new experiences. “Explore! Even if they seem strange, just hold onto your dreams.” – Nick Leonard

Want to learn more about GLELC’s environmental projects? Check out

Green Garage business-in-residence spotlights are written by Nehe-Miah Scarborough, a student at Detroit Cristo Rey High School who’s working with the Green Garage during the 2015-16 school year.

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