Should All People Have The “Right To Farm?”

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Should All People Have The "Right To Farm?" | LazyHippieMama.comShould all of the residents of Michigan have the “right to farm?” That is the hot question around town this week as it became known that the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development made significant changes to the state’s “Right To Farm” legislation.

Here’s how it breaks down (skipping many details and hitting the highlights):

30(ish) years ago people began leaving the cities for a quieter rural life. After making the move they realized that, with the quiet of country living comes dust and mud, smells and noises from the neighboring farms. The newcomers would then file lawsuits against the long-standing farms to try to force them to be perfectly clean and silent which just wasn’t possible.

The “Right To Farm” laws were born.  They said that people had a basic right to raise livestock animals and grow food as long as they were meeting the state standards for safety and cleanliness.

Over the following three decades the urban/suburban farming trend hit big. People in downtown Detroit (and downtown everywhere else) started saying they wanted to grow a garden and raise a few small farm animals.

Some municipalities were all for it. Others banned every aspect of “backyard farming.”

At some point someone read the “Right to Farm” bill and realized that the wording left a loophole. It didn’t specifically say anything about rural settings or zoning regulations. They spread the word and people began taking their cases to court, forcing their cities to allow them to raise farm animals on a residential lot.

The MDARD, with significant backing and support from Michigan Farm Bureau, decided it was time to put an end to the loophole.  The closed it as follows:

Local governments may now choose to ban goats, chickens, beehives and other farm animals on any property exclusively zoned (by their local municipality) as residential or where there are 13 homes within one eighth mile or a residence within 250 feet of the property, or with any home within 250 feet of the proposed facility.

The new guidelines also relaxed oversight of CAFOs (very large farming operations), but that’s a can of worms for another day.

Social media exploded with headlines that said things like, “Michigan Residents Have Lost Their Right To Farm.”

That isn’t really the case.

The state did not take away the right to own farm animals. Rather, they put it in the hands of local government.

Here’s the problem that many are having with that:  Local government can be flakey.  They can change zoning. They can, much more easily than state government, create new laws, rulings and restrictions. Further, the cities are sprawling into the suburbs which means that there are a good many parcels of land that have been farmed for 100+ years that are now surrounded on all sides by shiny new suburban tract housing. Those long-standing farms now have no legal protection from their neighbors deciding they don’t want to smell cow poop or listen to roosters crow in the morning.

My, how times have changed!

My, how times have changed!

If you’ve visited this site before you know that I’m biased. I think every family should have a hand in growing their own food, even if that just means a Topsy-Turvey strawberry planter hanging in a window.  My village does not allow farm animals (though they should!). I was aware of the “Right To Farm” loophole but chose not to push the point because in a town this small being the one who forces the hand of your neighbors rarely yields happy results.  Rather, we decided to buy a house outside the village limits.  Our new house sits on about 2 acres and it has been part of a family farm for 140 years.  It is the FIRST house outside of the village limit.  In fact, we are on a sort of peninsula, surrounded on three sides by village land. We do have neighbors within 250 feet and there are 13 homes in a 1/8 mile radius. As things currently stand it is perfectly legal for my family to farm our little homestead. We fully intend to do just that, but we now have zero protection from the state if our township decides to change something.

Here’s what I can’t help but wonder, silly Hippie that I am:  Why does anyone need to fight for the “Right to Farm?”  Why is it perfectly acceptable to have a dog but not a pygmy goat? Why is it OK to have a parrot but not a chicken?  Who decided that cats are alright but rabbits are not?

You say farm animals are noisy? I say dogs are noisy, too.

You say farm animals are stinky? I say cats are stinky, too.

Every town, big or small, I have ever lived in has ordinances in place that state residents must respect their neighbors by keeping noise to a reasonable level, keeping their yard tidy, safe and free from foul odors, and by keeping their pets contained so they don’t harm any person or property.  There are guidelines about pollution, waste management, composting and every other aspect of life.  When many people live in close proximity there needs to be a system of guidelines in place for what is acceptable or you end up with an Old West type of situation.

Why should people be forbidden to have a garden or raise animals of any kind (so long as it is safe for all of the people and animals involved)?

In a country where formerly prosperous business people are now holding down two and three full time minimum wage jobs just trying to survive wouldn’t it make good sense to encourage folks to raise their own food as much as possible?

In a nation where we are being told one of our primary concerns should be the fact that our children are severely overweight and under-nourished, wouldn’t we want to promote allowing those children a hand in raising healthy food for themselves?

I see the point of those who say that “Right To Farm” was never intended to protect urban farmers.

On the other hand, laws evolve as society moves forward and this law did come to be a protection that many valued and counted on. Now those individuals have been “hung out to dry” by their own government while the same board of decision makers has offered more special allowances for huge corporations.

Michigan Farm Bureau has stated, “We support the development of a separate set of management practices unique to new and expanding urban agriculture, which also include provisions for local zoning requirements, livestock, care standards, crops and cropping standards, and environmental protection standards.”

I hope those new management practices are fair and quick in coming because I can’t imagine anything good coming from the weird limbo that has been created by the recent changes.

I would so love to hear your input on all of this!  Tell me – what do you think? About all of this… the old laws, the new laws, the changes, the rights of individuals vs. the good of the community.

Should All People Have The "Right To Farm?" | LazyHippieMama.com

For more information from both sides of the debate:

MFB (Michigan Farm Bureau) Statement Regarding Changes To Right To Farm GAAMPs

Michigan Loses ‘Right to Farm’ This Week: A Farewell to Backyard Chickens and Beekeepers

Michigan Did Not Lose The “Right To Farm” This Week

Changes in Rules for Michigan Farm Animals Creates Confusion For Some Farmers, Satisfaction For Others

Michigan Agricultural Commissioners Define How Close Is Too Close For Livestock Facilities

Removing Michigan Right To Farm Protection From Suburban, Hobby Farms ‘Closes A Loophole,’ Agriculture Official Says

No More Farm Animals In Residential Neighborhoods, Michigan Agriculture Committee Advises

If you would like to take action against the recent legislation:

Michigan Small Farm Council

MoveOn.org petition to revoke changes

What’s At Stake and What Can You Do?

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13 responses »

  1. I never really thought about it before, but think that responsibility should play a role in all of this (just like in anything else). If you want to farm, farm responsibly. If you want to raise animals, you have to properly research your town’s laws (and farming guidelines) to make sure you are abiding by all rules and regulations. I also think that personal farming without the intention to sell is also important to include. But I see absolutely no harm in growing your own food and raising your own animals (again, safely)~the food tastes infinitely better!!

    That’s SO cool that you live on a peninsula of sorts and with so much acreage! I’m totally jealous 🙂 My dog hoarding would reach epic proportions if I lived there, LOL.

    • Maybe the country is calling you. I can hear the song now, “We’ll have a dalmatian plantation…” 😉

  2. I love you, you know this…. but this act never was for urban farmers. You say it came to be? “this law did come to be a protection that many valued and counted on” No it didn’t. It was used by a few to loop hole the fact they were breaking laws. Society needs laws. If you don’t like a law, work to change it, but don’t thumb your nose at it. From day one the Dept of Ag has stated it was being grossly miss used and that is why it was tightened… to reflect it’s original intent. They were forced to do so by folks who thumbed their nose at laws. Instead of screaming foul…. people need to work together WITH their LOCAL governments to find the protection and acceptance they want. It wasn’t legal for me to have chickens when I first looked into it, but guess what? It is now! Why? Because of instead of mounting and emotional attack on my town, people brought facts and worked together to make a community we can all enjoy. When someone asked about a horse in town, the answer was no. The lots are to small for properly raising a horse. But it was given consideration. People need to stop complaining about loosing what they never had and start working to build what they want.

    • I agree with you about working with local government. That’s why we chose to do things the way we did. However, it is a little scary to me that the state has washed their hands of it. I’ve seen villages like Lambertville and Temperance being swallowed by cities like Toledo and I wonder where things will stand in another 10 or 20 years. Do you think that the state should stay out of it altogether or do you just feel that THIS law doesn’t apply to the issue of backyard farming and different laws should be written for urban/suburban circumstances?

      • I don’t think the Right to Farm Act applies at all to the backyard issue. If the state could pass laws regarding backyard farming that would be helpful but I honestly don’t see that happening. I believe that backyard farming will stay a local, city by city issue.

    • Mindie, the law actually does protect folks in residential areas, as interpreted by the courts. Right to Farm protection in residential areas isn’t a loop hole, it is the existing law. If MDARD doesn’t like the way the law works, we agree that they have every right to try to change it – and that would be fair, because each of us is represented in the legislature and we can all make our case to our legislators. But that isn’t what is happening here. MDARD is the one trying to skirt the law, by getting the changes that they want by making changes to the GAAMPs, instead of to the law.

      We aren’t complaining about losing what we never had. We are trying to maintain an important legal right that has just been taken from us improperly, by a state agency whose mission it is to support the work that we want to do: agriculture.

      The fact that our state agricultural agency is working against agricultural rights should be a red flag to everyone, that something here is seriously amiss.

      Wendy Lockwood Banka

  3. I live in a rural area in Michigan – the Upper Peninsula in a small town. Not even 1/2 mile down the road in either direction are small farms. These farmers are great. They keep up their farms. Smells – occasionally you may smell the manure when they spread it. But if you’re a gardener, you also can get manure from them to help with your garden as a great fertilizer. Would I have animals – I would love to, but I work full-time outside of the house. I feel that everyone has the right to farm. Where do people think they get their bread and butter from? Where do they get their meat from? I personally purchase my meat from the small farmers as I don’t have to worry about chemicals that are injected into “factory farm animals”. Personally I think that has a lot to do with people being obese – the chemicals from these animals to make them grow quicker are also in the meat we eat from the factory farm animals; and I think the same can be said for suddenly all of the cancers that have started to pop up and other such diseases. I believe that if the animals are treated well, have the space to raise them and give these animals a good quality of life scenario, why make the farmers give up these animals. Also the farmers should be covered under a grandfather clause so that the citified people who came out to the country and built could not make the farmer lose his establishment.

    • I agree with you about the grandfather clause and, originally, that was sort-of the intent of “right to farm.” However the new wording excludes a lot of smaller farms. I hope that they get it all worked out quickly and fairly!

  4. Heck yea everyone should have the right to farm. Years ago it was common for everyone to have chickens running around their yard. We totally need to get back to that since the feed animals hormones that we then in turn end up eating. We then scratch our heads wondering why our daughters are growing breast and getting their cycles at 9 years old. Don’t even get me started on processed foods and cancer!

  5. I think you make a good point with the comparison of traditional “farm animals” and traditional pets. We’ve had neighbors with dogs who continually come onto our property–I’d consider them much more of an annoyance than useful animals with better fences!

  6. We left Michigan ten years ago to move to our current home in Oklahoma. When we left, our county had decided that we would need a permit to dig a garden larger than 10×10′. I’ve been watching this issue with interest. Thank you for sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop; I hope you’ll join us again this Thursday.
    Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead

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