Recently we’ve seen a lot of criticism on social media about the updated Right to Farm Act from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). Our first thoughts on the subject were not positive after hearing secondhand information from what I often refer to as ‘Generation OH,’ Organic Hipster, a peoples in which I would sometimes consider myself grouped with. It was implied that MDARD would be enforcing the right to search peoples land and shut down small self-sustainable home farming. On news reports we read comments saying that in downstate Michigan home farmers were being brought to court by MDARD and that the Farmers Markets and Co-op stores were going to be effected to the extent of going out of business. Our immediate response was “When will we lose the right to grow our own gardens, that is socialism at it’s finest.” After researching the updated law directly from the legal source we realized this was a brilliant opportunity as food bloggers and prior Michigan residents to take up a public forum and see how you feel about the subject, so here we go!
What does the law actually say?
According to Michigan.gov and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) The Michigan Right to Farm Act, P.A. 93, was originally enacted in 1981 to provide affirmative defense to nuisance lawsuits.
- Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) provides an umbrella of protection for home farmers from nuisance litigation.
- Through adhering to GAAMPs, Michigan residents will benefit through environmental protection of natural resources; sound management of agricultural inputs; and sustaining a strong and stable agricultural industry.
The 2014 GAAMP does not apply in municipalities with a population of 100,000 or more in which a zoning ordinance has been enacted to allow for agriculture, provided that the ordinance designates existing agricultural operations prior to the ordinance’s adoption as legal non-conforming use.
- Our Assessment: The law is used in court as a means of defense against improper home farming practices. As long as you continue to abide by the health and safety practices that have been outlined in GAAMP for the past thirty years you will be protected from the city or your pesky neighbor, because admit it we all have a neighbor we would call the cops on if the opportunity was presented to one’s self. We think it would be a relief as a home farmer to have a set list of black and white regulations in the event of needing protected in the court of law; it’s practically litigation insurance.
Is this beneficial to residents?
There are 8 areas of interest that this law provides protection for through organized farm management practices:
- Manure Management/Utilization – Careful storage, handling, and land application of manure is needed to utilize nutrients, control odors and protect water resources. These manure procedures and regulations help manage the handling of things like livestock and poultry manure, milkhouse wastewater, silage leachate, and barnyard runoff.
- Our Assessment: This seems like a great way to protect the streams and creeks from polluted toxic water because our children play and swim in them as well as the many nights we (the collective we) get sustenance from the fish that we catch in the aforementioned waterways.
- Pesticide Utilization/Pest Control – Steps to manage worker safety, application procedures, transportation, storage, disposal of unused pesticides and containers, record keeping, and utilization of pesticides only as needed.
- Our Assessment: We need to fully research the list of approved pesticides to have a strong opinion about this because the topic is a very heavy with issues of all of the junk that the government allows in our food, however we would love to hear your opinions or any facts.
- As nationally certified Manager Level Food Handlers we are always in favor of record keeping and a regulated list of safety procedures i.e.; safe storage and disposal. Also we think government regulating of what pesticides are being used can be positive because without regulations any home chemist can come up with a pesticide for his home garden then sell his product at a public Farm Market, only to later find out that his “Breaking Bad” chemistry lesson causes adverse health effects.
- Nutrient Utilization – Nutrient management practices include regular soil testing, manure nutrient analysis, and realistic crop yield goals for on farm fertilizer storage/ containment, land application of fertilizer, soil conservation and erosion control, irrigation management, and container grown (greenhouse) plants.
- Our Assessment: This sounds like a solid way to avoid potential mismanagement of nutrients which will causes environmental degradation through nutrient depletion of soil. Also if you defer from testing soil your home grown crops may end up being just as nutritiously useless as the GMO filled, picked before ripe, big box grocery store produce.
- Care of Farm Animals – A sound animal husbandry program provides a system of care that permits animals to grow, mature, reproduce, and maintain health that is essential for the well being of farm animals and the financial success of livestock operations. Animal care includes nutrition, manure management and sanitation, animal handling and restraint, transportation, facilities and equipment, health care and medical procedures, and recommendations for the environment.
- Our Assessment: By no stretch of the imagination are we vegetarians, or members of PETA, but humane treatment of animals and avoidance of suffering should definitely be regulated and taken with the utmost seriousness. If your cow is not kept healthy why would you ever consider serving the milk to your child or feeding the meat to your family? Isn’t the freedom to raise livestock ideal because we control how well we can raise it?
- Cranberry Management – Construction of cranberry beds typically involves activities in wetlands and because of this unique situation, both technical and regulatory practices were adopted for cranberry production in 1996. Producers need to follow sound pesticide utilization/pest control, nutrient utilization, and other technical management practices in order to minimize the environmental risks associated with cranberry production.
- Our Assessment: I can’t say that we have much to add to this since we have no experience with cranberry, has there been any changes that have affected any cranberry producers you know?
- Site Selection/Odor Control for New And Expanding Livestock Facilities – Through careful planning, livestock farmers can increase productivity while developing or continuing good relationships with their surrounding community. The Commission approved the addition of a Category 4 for site selection within the GAAMPS, this affects sites that are primarily residential and don’t allow agricultural uses by right. Under the Site Selection GAAMP MDARD still will determine whether a site is primarily residential, which by definition are sites with more than 13 non-farm homes within an eighth of a mile of the livestock facility or a non-farm home within 250 feet of the livestock facility. The purpose is to provide guidance for effective odor management, protection of our natural environment, and economic viability for livestock facilities.
- Our Assessment: After living in West Virginia and smelling the horrendous fetor of turkey farms we see odor control as a valid concern. Many people live in areas not accessible to affordable or local food sources so they are forced/have the ability to raise their own livestock but if they fall within these non-rural guidelines they will be subject to being shut down which will affect their livelihood. If this affects you, you need to get involved with your local unit of government because they can decide to allow livestock in those areas that are not currently “suitable” under the Site Selection GAAMP. Agricultural development for personal or local sale and distribution is supported by MDARD as long as it is carried out under a set of regulated procedure that makes sense for all community residents, as well as the overall care of farm animals and livestock.
- Irrigation Water Use – Stewardship in irrigation management includes conservation of water quantity, protection of water quality, and productivity of soil, plant quality, and crop yield. Water quality means being careful to apply water at a rate that will infiltrate uniformly into the soil/substrate, stewardship of the crop means managing water to promote plant establishment, sustain plant development, and foster the long-term sustainability of the managed landscape system. Stewardship of the agricultural sector of the Michigan economy means producing high-quality crops that maintain and enhance Michigan’s reputation as a superior supplier in the marketplace.
- Our Assessment: This sounds like a environmentally positive step to use water as efficiently as possible, and it promotes long-term sustainability of soil. We like high quality produce so being respectful of the effects water plays on crops, present and future, is of high importance to us.
- Farm Markets – As the consumer trend toward buying locally produced products continues, so does the importance of direct marketing to local communities. The Michigan Right to Farm (RTF) Act defines a “farm operation” as meaning the operation and management of a farm or a condition or activity that occurs at any time as necessary on a farm in connection with the commercial production, harvesting, and storage of farm products. These GAAMPs for Farm Markets were developed to provide guidance as to what constitutes an on-farm market and farm market activities. At least 50 percent of the products offered for sale at a farm market must be produced by the farm that is owned or controlled by the person who owns and controls the farm market.
- Our Assessment: As far as we can tell the main point of this regulation is that at least 50 percent of the products sold at Farm Markets must be from the producers farm whether it be commercial or private. As farmers markets were established to provide consumers with local products at their freshest, we don’t see why this would be an issue. That is truly the only regulation in this category, nowhere does it state that home farms cannot provide products for Farm Markets, however you need to abide by the previously stated regulations to be permitted to sell to the public, as it should be.
Who will be enforcing these procedures?
Nuisance protection under the Right to Farm Act is, continues to be, and always has been something that’s determined by a judge – not the Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development or MDARD. The GAAMPs are a voluntary set of standards which help provide guidelines for using the Right to Farm Act as an affirmative defense in court.
Basically we see it like this, Right to Farm Act has applied for over thirty years and continues to apply to farms which are defined by the Act. The precautions and procedures are established to protect farmers in litigation. You have the right to abide or resist these standard procedures. If you get sued and you are not following state regulations you will pay the piper. These laws are set to protect the overall health and wellbeing of your community. If your community is a unique case you maintain the right for your local government to step in and make changes that suit it, because again, the precautions and procedures are established to protect the overall health and wellbeing of your community.
Our assessments are strictly opinions, not fact. We reserve the right to our opinions. We don’t currently live in Michigan nor do we participate in home farming but we are consumers and food activists. We hope you will enlightened us through your opinions and experiences with the Right to Farm Act.
We invite you to leave opinions or facts in the comment section.
This is an open forum that promotes positive debate from people experienced or passionate about the Michigan Right to Farm Act. We receive our information from published documents on Michigan.gov however let us know if you feel any of our information is misrepresented. Warning: All harassing or vulgar comments will be removed immediately, we are mature adults, let us be civil.Michigan.gov. Right to Farm Brochure. N.p.: Michigan.gov, n.d. Department of Agriculture and Rural Developement. Web. 12 May 2014. <http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdard/Right_to_Farm_Brochure_412506_7.pdf?20140512123247>