2014 07/05

Did we really lose our rights to farm in Michigan?

Earlier this week a new ruling came out by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development regarding backyard farmers. Of course articles and online buzz ensued.

I should pause for a minute here and say that I am not a farmer, by any definition. And I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs or how government and farming has gone to blows over the years. We just recently got three chickens who have yet to produce any eggs and my garden is currently 6 bean plants growing in cups of dirt in my kitchen. So, while my farming experiences are ranking at 0 right now, I am a big proponent of individual rights and understanding what the laws really say.

So, let’s unpack what this new legislature says or means to the backyard farmers.

First, please do not take what you read in one article and assume that is it. Do research. Look at what you think are the facts, what someone else says are the facts, and then keep asking questions.

After reading the article on the Inquisitr.com, I decided to go to my friends at the Michigan Agriculture Council who then put me in contact with the people at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. I wanted to know what they thought this new ruling or what they thought it meant for small, backyard farmers. They referenced two more articles for me to check out (article 1 and article 2), with a little more information, and the newly revised Michigan’s Right to Farm Act FAQ.

Here’s what I learned ::

  • The Michigan Right To Farm Act doesn’t necessarily give you the right to farm. Crazy, I know. It simply protects farmers who are complying with the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) against nuisance lawsuits and complaints from neighbors.  Specifically, it was set up to protect commercial farmers farming in agriculture zoned areas from being pushed out by people locating to the city and wanting that land rezoned residential only. Your right to farm on your property is regulated by township and city ordinances and laws.
  • This new ruling, Category 4, within the GAAMPs specifically deals with residentially zoned areas that have more than 13 non-farm homes within an eighth of a mile of the livestock facility or a non-farm home within 250 feet of the livestock facility. Thirteen houses within an 1/8th of a mile is packing in those houses pretty tight. And 250 feet is smaller than the length of a football field.
  • The new ruling does not take away your right to have chickens on your property or a cow or horse or turkeys or ducks or whatever livestock you fancy. It simply says that if your neighbors complain and take you to court, you are not protected under the Right To Farm Act. You are, however, protected by your city’s ordinances which I’m sure you are complying with, right? If not (and even if you are),  it’s ultimately up to a judge to decide your farming fate.

Does this mean that you should or should not sign the petition circulating around? I can’t tell you that because I’m not trying to change how you feel. I’m simply shedding some light on the issue. I’m a firm believer in knowing what you’re signing and why you’re signing it before you put pen to paper.

I don’t believe MDARD is trying to stifle the backyard farmer with this new ruling. I do believe they are trying to add some clarification to a pretty ambiguous Act in light of backyard farming growing in popularity.

The moral of the story ::

  1. Ask for permission, don’t wait to ask for forgiveness! Check your local city or township ordinances on keeping livestock or bees on your property. Educate yourself. Know what types of livestock you may keep, sizes of pens based on your location and property, how many animals you may have. Don’t just assume!
  2. Make nice with your neighbors! If you live in a neighborhood where the houses are pretty close together, you might want to rethink your decision to get a noisy animal. Keep your pens clean to avoid complaints of odors. Make sure your pens/yard are set up to keep your animals safe from your neighbors and your neighbors safe from your animals. And then, every once in a while, check in on your neighbors with a special delivery of fresh eggs or honey.

For the record, this is not sponsored or endorsed by anyone or any special interest group. Just me and my thoughts. And I’d love to hear yours!

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