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Right to Farm Archive

Urban Farming and Michigan’s Right to Farm Law

October 2, 2012

There are some nice legal perks to being a farmer, like the laws known as  “right-to-farm” laws that can protect farmers from being sued by neighbors for nuisances typically caused by ordinary agricultural activity. Got some smelly swine? Loud farm equipment? Want to have a DJ blast obnoxious music at your winery and call it “agritourism“? Your state’s right to farm law can protect you.

RTF laws also strengthen farmers’ legal positions against anti-nuisance ordinances and unreasonable controls on farming operations. The laws provide notice to non-farmers that generally accepted agricultural management practices (“GAAMPS”) are reasonable activities that should be expected in certain agricultural communities. In many states, every commercial farming operation following GAAMPS are covered by right to farm laws laws—thus, everyone from large-scale farmers to small backyard and urban farmers are afforded a form of legal redress.

Via Taylor Reid at Beginning Farmers, Michigan is about to change its right to farm laws in a way that could deny as many as 10 million people of right to farm protection in Michigan.

Such broad protection has become increasingly important in our country today, when urban farming has gained great popularity. Growing Power, Will Allen’s urban farm and community food center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin serves as the perfect example of how urban farming transforms communities for the better. Will trains community members to become community farmers capable of growing secure sources of healthy food, free from political or economic oversight. Right to farm protection, extending into urban areas, give people like Will the ability to carry out these types of innovative, profitable, and nutritious programs.

However, across the lake in Michigan, right to farm protection may soon be completely removed for projects like Growing Power. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is changing the language of Michigan’s right to farm laws so that state-wide for protection for farmers is no longer  guaranteed. Instead, local governmental units will exercise control over farming operations through local zoning regulations.

The switch may not seem devastating at first, but consider the possibilities. If neighbors cause a big enough fuss over a nearby farm’s practices, a county can place unreasonable restrictions and regulations on farmers in an attempt to make them leave. Even worse, the county can rezone agricultural property to actually force a farmer from his land. Urban agriculture depends on a higher level of intimacy between producers and consumers, to a much greater extent than other types of agriculture. Under the new Michigan regime, the whim of neighbors will dictate the direction of the urban farming movement, especially in those parts of town that are unfamiliar with the less attractive aspects of the business of farming.

Right to farm laws provide farmers with a sense of security that farming is a valued and accepted activity in their communities. By removing this stamp of protection from farmers, we are creating yet another disincentive to farm in America today.

After the jump, check out the comprehensive source for Right to Farm Laws in the United States provided by the National Agricultural Law Center your local and state laws to investigate your level of protection.

By Gabriella Agostinelli. Follow me on Twitter at @FoodLawGal