Michelle Regalado Deatrick: Michigan Small Farm Rights
ACTION ALERT: Attend the 5/15/14 Michigan Senate Ag Committee Meeting in Lansing (details below)
Michigan Agriculture Commissions 4/28 Vote & Small Farm Rights
On April 28, 2014, by a 4-to-1 vote, the governor-appointed Agriculture Commission approved sweeping changes that profoundly affect thousands of small farms in urban, suburban, and rural Michigan.
What's at Stake and What Can You do?
If you’re thinking this is a Big Ag versus Small Ag issue, unfortunately, you’re right.
Right to Farm laws exist in every state. Michigan’s Right to Farm Act, enacted in 1981, was meant to slow the loss of farmland and stop nuisance complaints and lawsuits against farmers resulting from urban sprawl into rural areas. In fact, the way the law was written and has been interpreted by the court system, it also provides protection against nuisance claims by neighbors and local units of government for farms of any size in urban, suburban, and rural areas--so long as they are "commercial" (selling a few eggs is enough to be considered commercial, per case law) and adhere to "generally accepted agricultural management practices."
The April 28th, 2014 vote by the Michigan Agriculture Commission has been repeatedly described by Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) officials as "closing a loophole" in regulations promulgated by MDARD related to Michigan's Right to Farm law. Those changes, to the 2014 Site Selection GAAMP (Generally Accepted Agricultural Practices), are basically a disaster for urban and suburban farms, and not much better for many small rural farms, too.
MDARD claims the changes prevent only farms in residential areas from claiming the protection of Right to Farm, which prevents local governments from forbidding farming in any place so long as the farm follows certain rules so that it isn't a nuisance. That’s simply untrue. If MDARD believes it, they don’t understand their own GAAMP. "The commission is essentially taking sides in the marketplace," says the Sierra Club's Gail Philbin
Reduced Oversight of Factory Livestock Farms.
The changes to the GAAMP relax oversight over the big factory farms, allowing many of them to "self-assess" their compliance with regulations for dealing with manure, a major environmental and nuisance problem.
Urban and Suburban Small Farms Targeted.
The changes completely remove small urban and suburban farmers' rights under Right to Farm to raise livestock if there are more than 13 houses within a eighth mile OR if there's a house other than the farmer's within 250 feet of the livestock facility . That's an average housing density of about 1 house/2.4 acres--which is pretty darn sparse for being allowed a bee hive, a few chickens or a 4-H kid's turkey or rabbit. After all, many people on two acres have a couple of cats and dogs.
MDARD Director Jamie Clover Adams announced the day after these changes, "“I believe we have over 100 communities in Michigan who have ordinances on the books against chickens and bees and other things, and they will be able to continue to move forward with those” (Michigan Public Radio).
Why would the director of agriculture support enforcement of ordinances that will shut down beekeepers when hive colony collapse is threatening farms' need for pollinators across the nation? Why would she support shutting down any kind of farm? Isn't that the mission of MDARD, to support agriculture?
If you can have dogs and cats, you should be able to have some hens. Already, as of May 8, many small farms cross Michigan are being targeted for shutdown.
Many of the people who've written to MDARD depend on these animals for part of their livelihood--they are disabled vets and seniors, single parents and the unemployed. Many wept or came close as they begged MDARD not to do this at hearings.
Rural Farms Affected Too.
Hundreds, possibly thousands of small rural farms like mine are affected, too. 320 agricultural-zoned parcels in my Township no longer have any Right to Farm GAAMP protection for raising livestock, including some 80-acre parcels--that's 35% of my Township's agricultural land.
Effects on Consumers are Statewide.
Small farms all over the state will be affected. The farms of 5 to 100 acres are the ones that belong to the vast majority of organic farmers, and the farmers who supply CSA boxes, roadside stands and small farmers' markets.
It’s startling that the GAAMP changes are formulated by a committee selected by one Michigan State professor. The committee meets behind closed doors, with no publicly available minutes. This committee has no representatives of consumers or small farms. It is mostly government employees, plus representatives of the Michigan Farm Bureau and two representatives of factory livestock farms. They make a recommendation to the governor-appointed MDARD Commissioners. And the Commissioners vote.
So, to recap: an appointed committee votes on a major public policy change recommended and formulated by a secretly selected committee representing government, bureaucratic and large business interests. No oversight. No checks and balances. Almost no transparency.
Is it surprising that the GAAMP is incredibly ambigous, difficult to use, and internally contradictory? That it leaves many landowners--those whose land falls into "Category 3"--in regulatory limbo, not knowing if their land has RTF GAAMP protection or not, or even whom to ask or what standards will be applied to make the determination? (This is the case for half my 80 acre farm). And that the second paragraph on p. 15 of the GAAMP "allows" MDARD to apply the new standards to already existing farms in certain zoning areas--so existing farms are not "grandfathered."
What's happened is that a regulatory process--which under the Right to Farm Act is supposed to be crafting "generally accepted agricultural management practices--is being subverted in an attempt to completely undermine both case law and the Right to Farm Act itself. If an appointed commission is allowed to vote to take away Right to Farm Protection from anyone, then they can vote to take it away from all. That's not the way the division of powers is supposed to work. The Agriculture Commission has overstepped its bounds by a wide margin.
No Policy Impact Report. No Benchmarks.
There is no evidence that MDARD officials assessed or documented the projected consequences of these changes--a step that is both customary and advisable for even a much less sweeping policy change (and this is a policy change in the guise of regulatory change). No benchmarks have been established for future assessment of the changes' success or failure. As the commissioner who voted against the changes stated, "I don't fully understand the potential impacts these changes are going to have on small-scale farmers."
What's being done? What can you do?
The Michigan Farm Bureau is apparently dominated by agribusiness and has not only openly and strongly supported these changes, but suggested them to MDARD in the first place.
The Michigan Small Farm Council is working on this issue. We are actively working to support the rights of small farmers. Membership is free. Friend us on facebook or visit our website: http://www.michigansmallfarmcouncil.org/
ACTION ALERT: Attend the Michigan Senate Ag Committee meeting: 5/15/14, 8:30AM in Lansing.
MDARD has been asked to testify before the Michigan Senate Agriculture Committee about their recent changes to the 2014 Site Selection GAAMPs. This is a significant event, since it means that the conversation about small farm rights has moved from MDARD and the Agriculture Commission, to the Legislature and the Senate Agriculture Committee. This meeting is public, and provides an opportunity for each of us to address the senators to inform them how harmful the changes made to the GAAMPs in April are to small farmers in Michigan. Lobbyists from Big Ag may be there early to fill the seats, so get there early if you can, or get there later and stand in back.
The important thing is that you get there, to record your opposition to the GAAMP changes by fillings out a card, by submitting written testimony, or by requesting to testify at the hearing. All of these efforts then become part of the official public Committee record.
Senate Agriculture Committee Meeting
Thursday, May 15th, 8:30 AM
Senate Hearing Room, Ground Floor, Boji Tower
124 W. Allegan Street, Lansing
Sign a petition.
- Petition to Michigan State House, Michigan State Senate, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder:
- Petition to Michigan Commission of Agriculture:
Write a Letter or send an email.
Please write peacefully, politely and passionately, to any or all of these:
- The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD):
- If you’re from Michigan, contact your state representatives and senators:
- Michigan Department of Agriculture Commissioners
(Note: Dr. Dru Montri voted against the changes and should be thanked):
- Your local paper
Suggestions for what to write:
-Title your email something like :
MDARD Commission's April 28th Vote to Change to the Site Selection GAAMP or Michigan Small Farm Rights
- There is no wrong way to write. But please feel free to borrow or adapt from the material above.
- Links to the documents in question are below, if you want to dive into them yourself.
Huffington Post (5/9/14): Michigan Fails Food Growers
Backyard Poultry (5/8/14): It's Not Just Michigan: The Importance of Knowing Your Local Laws (part 3 of a 3-part article)
farmgirlmedia (5/7/14): What's Wrong with Michigan?
TruthFarmer (5/7/14): Growing Food Gets a Smackdown in Michigan
Detroit News (5/4/14): New Michigan Urban Farm Policy Creates More Uncertainty
The Blaze (4/30/14): State Rule Change Challenges Protection of Some Residential Farmers
Mlive (4/29/14): Change in Rules for Michigan Farm Animals Creates Confusion
Links to Relevant Documents:
Right to Farm Act:
Site Selection GAAMP (4/28/14):
The previous Site Selection GAAMP (January 2012):
The draft Site Selection GAAMP with proposed changes as of March 6th 2014 highlighted:
Return to Michelle's Writing/Poetry Website here
Disclaimer: Nothing on this webpage or site is legal advice; I am not an attorney.
© Michelle Regalado Deatrick 2011-2016