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Changes could be on horizon for backyard farmers

Josh Larios

Many small and urban farms could lose the protection of Michigan's Right to Farm Act.

The Act protects farmers against nuisance lawsuits if they follow Michigan's Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPS).

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development wants to exclude farms with fewer than 50 animals from Right to Farm protection if those farms are in areas zoned exclusively residential.

"We're simply saying to the locals that you need to work through your local unit of government to determine what is acceptable within that community," said Jim Johnson of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Johnson said the proposal would not ban farm animals from residential areas. Instead, he says it would leave it to local zoning boards to decide whether to permit them and how to regulate them.

Johnson said there is so much variation among different communities that "one size fits all" state regulation doesn't make sense.

Opponents of the proposed changes say they would seriously weaken one of the nation's strongest Right to Farm laws.

"Living in a residential area – all by itself – means that you can't win Right to Farm protection" under the proposal, said Wendy Lockwood Banka, president of the Michigan Small Farm Council. "So it's a major shift in agricultural policy in the state of Michigan. And I think there are many, many, many people who are now interested in engaging in agriculture who will not be able to do so if this change goes forward."

She said the proposed changes would threaten small farms and backyard farmers,and impede the local food movement and the wish of many to raise backyard chickens and grow their own food.  She said most of the state is zoned residential – even  areas that look rural and have large lots.

A public input meeting on the proposed changes will be held at 9:00 a.m. on Wed., Jan. 22 in Dimondale, Michigan. The deadline for written comments is also Jan. 22. Details may be found in the department's press release.

Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom