Keeping even one “farm animal” in residential neighborhoods could soon be illegal in Michigan. That’s because a proposed change to state regulations could strip property owners of the right to keep and raise small numbers of poultry or livestock .
Michigan’s Right to Farm Act  currently extends to all property owners in the state, including those in areas zoned residential or commercial. The state Agricultural Commission is considering a change to the regulations  – called Generally Acceptable Agricultural And Management Practices (GAAMPS) — that would strip property owners of that right.
“It would exclude a whole bunch of people who are seeking Right to Farm protection,” Randy Buchler of the Michigan Small Farm Council said of the proposal, “and strip the small farmers of their right to be protected by a state law.”
The change would allow local governments to bar people from keeping small numbers of animals such as one cow or pig or a flock of chickens  on their property. The law does this by labeling certain kinds of property, such as lots in subdivisions or small homesteads , as unacceptable for livestock.
Currently, Strong Legal Protections For Farms
Currently, Michigan property owners such as Buchler can go to court and get restrictions on livestock ownership overturned. The changes to the law would restrict that right to farmers with more than 50 animals.
“What they are trying to do is to take away Right to Farm protection from people trying to be self-sufficient  but not able to do agriculture on any level according their local zoning,” Buchler said of the commission.
That could effectively strip most residential properties in Michigan of Right to Farm protections. It would also give local governments the power to stop people from raising small numbers of animals on their property.
“Small farms are protected the same way any farm is,” Brad Deacon of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development noted. That protection has upset some residents who don’t like the idea of livestock in rural areas.
Farmers Are Threatened
Michigan’s Right to Farm Act (RFTA) is the strongest legal protection for individuals’ right to grow food in the nation, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund noted. The Fund is one of a number of groups that believe the proposed changes threaten property rights.
“The protection that Michigan’s RTFA provides to suburban and urban farms on non-ag zoned land is now in jeopardy,” the Defense Fund said in a press release.
“The agency can’t rewrite the law,” Buchler said of the Agricultural Commission. He accused the commission of trying to usurp the powers of the state legislature and overturn the legislature’s decision. “They have only the authority to carry it out as the legislature intended. If they’re going beyond that, they’re violating the separation of powers. Period.”
The farm of at least one family is already under threat  from the proposed changes. Kelly VanderKley and David Hunter received a letter giving them 90 days to get rid of most of their farm animals because their land is zoned residential. According to MLive.com, they have a horse, two donkeys, five ducks, a flock of chickens and 11 young turkeys. The letter said they could have only “only one horse and one donkey; or one horse and 3 fowl; or 13 fowls.”
In the end, they won the right to keep the animals under the Right to Farm Act. The proposed changes would give the Township the right to force the couple to get rid of their animals.
The Michigan Small Farm Council asked all of the state’s residents to contact the Agricultural Commission by Jan. 22 and complain . The Commission hasn’t approved the changes.
“A great deal is at stake here, and I hope each of you will appeal to the Michigan Commission of Agriculture for continued Right to Farm protection for small farmers in Michigan,” Council President Wendy Lockwood Bank wrote in the press release.
The battle in Michigan is only the latest example of efforts by local governments to restrict the growing of food on residential properties. For instance, cities in Florida have tried to force residents to remove vegetable gardens from their front yards .