Monday, May 5, 2014

Michigan did NOT lose the right to farm this week!!!

This week there were changes made to the Michigan Right to Farm Act.... and a lot of misinformation is spreading across the internet like wild fire on a prairie. Folks are all freaked out that the end of their backyard "farming" is coming. Well folks I am here to set you all straight and relieve your worries. Now what I am about to say may not sit well with a few who are intent on whipping up emotions for their own agenda but everyday folks need to know the truth.

For a while here in Michigan, folks who have been illegally keeping critters have been scream "But I'm covered by the Right to Farm Act!!" No, no you aren't and you never were! While some folks have successfully loop holed local laws (including zoning) because of a judges interpretation of the Right to Farm Act, all those folks did was succeed in forcing the state of Michigan to revamp the Right to Farm Act to reflect what it was originally meant to cover, which was never backyard farming!

Last year I wrote a piece on keeping backyard chickens legally and responsibly. I wrote that piece because the winds of change were already blowing. I have been in contact with the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development over the years and they have always stated that the Right to Farm Act was NEVER meant to cover "backyard farming." And since so many folks were attempting to use it to loop hole laws, they had to revisit and change it so that the act protected who it was originally meant to.... rural farmers in areas zoned for agriculture.

What does this mean to you and me? What does this mean to backyard farmers and urban chicken keepers? Well that all depends.... are you following your local laws? My town is small (pop around 1,400) in a rural area of Michigan. Up until a few years ago, our city ordnance read that you could not keep any fowl inside the city limits (aka zoned residential.) That law was changed and we are now legally allowed to keep chickens. This does NOT change just because the Right to Farm Act has changed.

Now if you live somewhere where it is against the law to have (fill in the blank) the changes to the act DO mean something.... you either follow the laws of your area, face prosecution for breaking your local laws, or that you work WITH your local government to change those ordinances. It is not that the Right to Farm Act was taken from folks... it was never theirs to begin with. The state has simply stated you can no longer use this act to violate laws which apply to you. 

 From The Detroit News:
But when the law passed in 1981, state lawmakers worried about shielding Michigan agriculture from over-regulation as urban sprawl gentrified the countryside outside big cities, said James Johnson, environmental stewardship division director with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Legislators in 1981 didn’t anticipate the current movement with tiny “farms” popping up in cities, Johnson said.
The new policy defines “primarily residential” as any farm animal site that has 13 or more homes within one-eighth of a mile, or any one home within 250 feet. They won’t be protected from local rules.
Johnson said the shift allows for governance based on local feelings toward farming.
“There’s a huge variety of communities in Michigan and that huge variety of communities has a huge variety of tolerances as to what they’ll allow,” he said. “There are many that have no problem with animals.”

Now maybe I am a simple person, but having laws keeps order and people need to follow them (or work to change them.) No one is above the law and to rabble rouse and disseminate misinformation does nothing but create panic and a hostile environment where cooperation between citizens and the local government becomes even harder.  When people try to change things through emotions, not facts, not much every comes of their attempts. People need to remain calm.

If you are violating local laws, it is time to put on a smile (even if it is forced) and start talking nice to your local government about possibly changing the laws. Just remember, The Right to Farm Act was never meant to cover you (aka the backyard or urban farmer) when it was written.... so really you have lost nothing. The local laws have not changed. If you live in a residential area and are in compliance with your local laws, no one is coming to take your chickens or whatever else you have or are doing. Keep collecting those eggs, plant that garden and carry on.... nothing has changed.

The changes in the Michigan Right to Farm Act are NOT a farewell to backyard chickens and beekeeprs, gardeners or whatever else you are legally doing on your property.


24 comments:

  1. Why was the act needed for the rural areas in the first place?

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    1. As urban folks began to move "to the county" they got the real country (cow poo and all LOL) and not their Norman Rockwell version. So the state made the right to farm act to protect family farms from urban residents who moved in and complained about smell, site, sounds.

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  2. Actually, I can answer that. We are a rural neighborhood of mostly 1-3 acre lots with a few larger lots and a couple of farms. I have chickens. I live on a 1 acre property that sits on a hill perpendicular to our road. Our property is on the lower end of a string of about 9 properties that line the road. There are about 3 properties below us and 4 or 5 above us. Each of us receives ground water spill-off from the property above. So EVERY ONE of those property-owner's activities affects the ones down-flow. Those who we elect to write and pass our ordinances cannot cater to only our desires. And I would be willing to bet that even in bigger farm areas farms can impact their neighboring farms adversely without such acts. I can also guess that those areas have had farms sell to developers whose clients were not accustomed to farm practices, and were attempting to curtail them. Perhaps Country Girl has more particular info, but basically it's about making sure that things are handled fairly for ALL concerned. I know some people don't like the "politics", but wherever you have people in community, you have to have "policies", and Politics sure beats the Hatfields and the McCoys for setting them!

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    1. Julia the Right to Farm Act is actually different then the situation your talking about with the run off issues. The Right to Farm Act provide farmers with nuisance protection. Run off issues are covered by the GAAMPS (Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices). I agree with you, laws apply to EVERYONE, even if they don't like them. And if they don't like a law then they need to work to change it, not try to find protection for their violations in an act that was never written to protect them in the first place.

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  3. Correct me if I am wrong, but local townships could change a person's zoning from Ag to Residential and they would then have an illegal farm. It was my understanding that the RTF Act protected against this, that is what has been lost.

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    1. Local townships can change zoning.... but it is a process in which the land owners can and SHOULD voice their issues. Townships can change any ordnance they please! If the land is rezoned to residential then the land owner must follow those laws. The RTF act has nothing to do with what local zoning does. Violating zoning laws is a local, not a state matter. The RTF was intended to cover rural farms, not urban farms..... the state just clarified that matter with the changes. If your land is being rezoned, you better fight like heck, show up at ever meeting, and place your concerns on the table because if your zoning changes you either follow the law if you can't get your placed "grandfathered in" or face legal action. :(

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    2. RTF was never meant to trump local zoning changes.

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  4. I think this is a great piece, Mindie! I saw a lot of, "the sky is falling" stuff after this legislation was passed. I can't tell you how many people called or emailed us saying, "Oh, no! You just bought that house and now you can't farm!" Which, of course, is not the case. As you know, I have issue with anyone having to ask permission for the "right" to put food on the table. I also think the state needs to provide more protection for small farms and these changes put some of those farms in a very vulnerable place. That said, I am glad that you wrote this to counter some of the over-the-top freak-out going on.

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    1. There was a LOT of over the top freaking out wasn't there LOL

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  5. Although this doesn't effect me (I'm in California), it's good for everyone to know what is going on in our neighbor's (in other states) backyard. Thank you for telling it like it is! I know that many times people just like to wallow in their own drama for no reason at all, and that sometimes a level head is needed for these situations. Thank you for being a level headed person! :)

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    1. Oh no you didn't call me level headed! *wink* LOL Thank you for saying so. :) I just think people need to step back and look at the facts not the emotions.

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  6. Great post! This really cleared up what actually happened. As someone who lives in the city, I pay close attention to our municipal ordinances as I don't want to lose what I have spent time and effort creating (with bees and chickens).

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    1. I am glad it helped! So many people where screaming so many conflicting things and honestly it was just a bunch of hype and scare tactics to get people riled up over nothing. Obey the law and your fine... same as before.

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  7. I am glad you are blogging about this....people need to hear all sides of these issues...thanks for sharing it on the Thursday Blog hop!

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    1. Thanks Pam, I agree, people need to look at facts not emotions when dealing with issues and I hope I calmed a few folks in the process.

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  8. Thanks for a bit of clarification on the subject. I too had seen things on FB regarding this and as I'm hoping to permanently move back to Michigan this is a big deal to me. Whatever happens....we must be more supportive to small farms and farmers....the ones who bring us wonderful organic produce at the farmers' markets. I think that these are the ones who may be in jeopardy and the very ones who supply us city-folk with excellent food for our table.

    Thanks for sharing your informative article with us a Project Inspire{d}!!

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    1. I know I was a bit disappointed when I checked with my zoning law that I was not allowed to keep bees. We will work on getting that changed. I live in such a small town that folks do break the rules but as long as your neighbors don't say anything, the town doesn't come looking LOL

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  9. Excellent information! I too was caught up in the hype of the situation until I red the FACTS. Thank you for sharing at Tuesdays with a Twist. YOU have been featured at Back to the Basics this morning.

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    1. Thank you! And yes, a lot of folks were very emotional, but I think once people calm down and work with the laws (that were already in place) they will realize, not much has changed and the thinks that should, they need to work on. For us, we will be trying to get bees passed in our town next :)

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  10. Living in Michigan, I was surprised by some of the headlines myself. No More Backyard Chickens etc...
    I live in an agricultural area, and people have had people move in next door to their farm and complain about farm smells,
    I think RTF has its place.
    I also think people need to fight for their right to provide their own food. I have heard some areas limit garden space, etc. That seems ridiculous to me.
    Thanks for sharing your post at the HomeAcre Hop

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    1. Some of those headline were shocking (and off mark) weren't they. Nothing like scaring the crap out of folks LOL We are limited in our livestock choices but we are working on that *wink*

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  11. I see. So if a judge makes a ruling that you disagree with, they're automatically wrong.

    Fact of the matter is, until the recent changes to the Site Selection GAAMPS, RTFA did trump all local zoning ordinances, your opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. I'll take legal precedent over your opinion every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

    You are correct in your assertion that RTFA was not originally intended to apply universally. However, court rulings on more than one occasion have confirmed that it did. So for you to unequivocally state that no one in Michigan has lost the right to farm as a result of recent changes to the act is disingenuous, at best.

    Have all the opinions that you like; just don't attempt to substitute them for the facts.

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    1. First of all, Mr or Mrs Anonymous, if I have an "opinion" at least I am willing to state it with my name attached, thank you very much. You snippety attitude, hid behind anonymity is so empowering to you, isn't it. Let me ask you this, if someone makes a law you don't like and can't loop hole, then it is automatically wrong? See, two can play the word game.

      Secondly it is not my "opinion." I spoke to lawyers and the state on the matter. A judge's ruling is their INTERPRETATION (oh wait, is that an opinion!?!?) of the law. Just because a few judges interpreted in the favor of individuals who were breaking local zoning ordnances does not mean that the law was applied as it had been intended when wrote. I do my research before spouting off so I can unequivocally state that no one in Michigan has lost the right to farm. I mean those folk who actually follow the laws. You can't loose what was never intended for you. I speak facts, not emotions, which you obviously have in spades.

      Third, and again, these are not my "opinions" but legally supported FACTS. I could continue, but I have better things to do with my time then try to explain to you, a rude anonymous individual who already has their heart set on their beliefs, who turns a blind eye to LAWS and has their panties in a twist because I bet you were one of those folks who were breaking your local laws and trying to loop hole the system but got busted.

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