Many Michigan residents will lose their right to keep livestock on their own property due to a new ruling from the state’s Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The Commission ruled April 28 that local governments have the right to ban livestock from any area zoned residential in the state.
The action will “effectively remove Right to Farm Act protection for many urban and suburban backyard farmers raising small numbers of animals,” Gail Philbin of the Michigan Sierra Club told Michigan Live. The Right to Farm Act is a state law designed to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits and zoning regulations. The Commission ruled that the Right to Farm (RTF) Act does not apply to homeowners who keep small numbers of livestock.
“It’s all ‘Big Farm,’ and it’s ‘Big Farm’ deciding against the little farm,” Kim White, who raises chickens and rabbits, said of the Commission’s vote. “They don’t want us little guys feeding ourselves. They want us to go all to the big farms. They want to do away with small farms and I believe that is what’s motivating it.”
“The Commission is essentially taking sides in the marketplace,” Philbin said.
Bees, Chickens and Goats Now Illegal?
Governments could ban goats, chickens and even bee hives on properties where there are 13 homes within an eighth of a mile of a livestock property or another home within 250 feet of the property, under the Commission’s ruling, Michigan Public Radio reported.
“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,” Jamie Clover Adams, the director of Michigan’s Department and Rural Development, told Michigan Radio.
The rationale for the Commission’s action is that officials are afraid there would be political pressure to repeal the Right to Farm to Act in order to stop backyard farming, Michigan Radio reported.
Opponents of the rule change have not laid out a course of action yet, although some backyard farmers are considering a legal challenge. Other possible courses of action include legislation in the state legislature and a ballot initiative.
Some homesteaders in Michigan could find themselves in a complete regulatory limbo because of the Commission’s action. Blogger, writer and organic farmer Michelle Regalado Deatrick does not know if she’ll be able to keep her livestock, because about half of her 80-acre farm may not be zoned for farm animals.
“We’re building up a mixed production farm, planning to farm during retirement, and we have a permit in hand for a livestock facility,” Deatrick said, “but have waited with building until we were sure of what the GAAMP changes would be. Now we’re having to reconsider our business plans and may sell the farm and buy a farm in a more rural area with definite [Right To Farm] protection, or move to another state that’s more welcoming and protective of small farm rights.”
GAAMP refers to the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices, a set of guidelines put out by the state of Michigan. The current GAAMP designates many small farms as Category 3 lands where livestock might not be allowed.
“Category 3 sites may be zoned for agriculture, but are generally not suitable for livestock production facilities,” the GAAMP states. “They may be suitable for livestock facilities with less than 50 animal units.”
Another problem is that local governments in Michigan are under no obligation to follow the GAAMP. It is simply a set of guidelines.
Michigan is one of several areas where property owners have had to fight for the right to raise food on their own land. Off the Grid News has reported that property owners in Florida and Quebec have been barred from planting vegetable gardens.
What do you think about the new Michigan rule? Let us know in the comments section below.