Sarah Doyle didn’t envision the typical path to law school for herself when it came time to select a major for her undergraduate studies.
Political science didn’t interest her. But animal science? That could be fun.
After all, she had spent much of her youth delivering lambs on her family’s Red Lion farm, Family Tree Farm, getting up before the sun in zero-degree weather to welcome little ones to the world.
She didn’t see the connection at the time, but now her years on the farm are more a part of her career than she ever anticipated.
Doyle is an agricultural law attorney with Stock and Leader. She is among several agribusiness attorneys at the firm who will accept the York County Agriculture Business Council’s 2017 Ag Industry Award on March 30 at the organization’s annual gathering.
“When we got the news we were like, ‘Really? Us?'” said Doyle, 27, of Manchester. “As it kind of sank in, we were like, ‘You know, we really have been a part of this community for so long and what a blessing it is that we have been able to provide our resources to this community for so long.”
Her farming background, no doubt, has helped distinguish her as an agribusiness attorney.
Planting the seed
Doyle’s maternal grandfather was a dairy and crop farmer. When he retired, Doyle’s parents decided to plant Christmas trees to give her grandfather something to mow, “because he always had to be outside.”
The tree business took off, marking her family’s first foray into farming.
When she was 11 years old, Doyle joined 4H, raising market lambs for her first project. After the York County Fair, where the animals were sold at auction, the Doyle family realized how much they missed their sheep, so they got into the production business.
“I think at one time we probably had close to 100 sheep on the property,” she said.
Ag and academics
Fast forward a few years, and Doyle fell in love with agriculture policy at Penn State University.
“When you’re thinking food regulations, anything from labeling to food safety to meat grading – that’s all kind of regulated,” she said, “And I was interested in that and how environmental policy was very much at odds with the ag industry, which is interesting because farmers are typically seen as stewards of the land, not damaging it, but that’s just kind of the reality that we’re in.”
It was a nice tie-in to law school. She earned her degree from Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law and landed a job with Stock and Leader, moving back to York and affirming her desire to stay in the agricultural field.
“I just find it fascinating,” she said. “I love the concept of ‘everybody shakes hands with a farmer three times a day.’ Every time you open your refrigerator you are connecting with that person, wherever they are across the world. It’s something that people are always going to need – food and fiber. Other than that, I really just like the people, and it was a community that welcomed me at a young age.”
Land versus the law
Surprisingly, there are many similarities between farming and the law, according to Doyle.
Both industries can be frustrating but rewarding. Both are stressful, high stakes and dependent on a lot of variables that can’t be controlled.
“People, I think, look at lawyers and they look at farmers, just your average consumer, and they say, ‘Oh those people are just out to make a buck,'” she said. “It’s sad because it’s just not true. We choose this lifestyle because we love it.”
And Doyle’s love for the farming lifestyle fits perfectly in her career.
Clients feel like she understands where they’re coming from. They can talk to her about a horse-boarding lease, and she knows the ins and outs of the process without clients feeling like they have to explain every detail.
One case she enjoyed – an environmental-municipal issue – came down to the definition of agricultural production. Doyle had to go to oral argument to explain the definition as it pertained to a specific structure.
“It was like the ultimate ‘what I was made to do’ moment, and we did have a favorable outcome for our client, so that made it all the better,” she said.
A recognition of Stock and Leader’s efforts
At least a third of Stock and Leader’s staff come from farming backgrounds, Doyle said, whether it be through parents or grandparents. It seems like they have always been there for the agriculture community, but they’re starting to recognize it within themselves, she said. They want to know how they can do better, how they can expand their services.
About Sarah Doyle
Favorite farming task: Lambing (delivering baby lambs). “I didn’t like getting up at 1 a.m. in zero degrees but to be honest, it’s something not very many people get to experience. It was very special.
Least favorite farming task: De-icing water buckets.
Favorite Pennsylvania Farm Show event and food: The sheep show, and “definitely the cheese cubes.”
Last book you read: “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” by Sheryl Sandberg
Female role model: “My mom. I feel it’s cliche, but it’s so true. She’s my best friend.”
“To receive this award is kind of a recognition of that effort,” she said.
Reflecting on her days of delivering baby lambs and 4H projects and how far she’s come, Doyle recalled a time in college when she received the Tony Dobrosky Future Leaders Award from the Penn State Extension. Dobrosky, a beloved agent with the extension who worked in York’s 4H community for many years, had passed away, and Doyle was the first recipient of the scholarship created in his memory.
“I got up in front of everyone, and, you know, they expect you to give a little speech,” she said. “I said, ‘I’m coming back to York. I’m going to be an agricultural attorney, and I’m going to support agriculture that way.'”
“Now I’m here doing it,” she said. “It’s kind of crazy that A, the community built me up to that point and B, it allowed me to come back and participate in a different role. It’s pretty overwhelming.”