Who Has ‘Right To Farm’ Protection? Changes To The Rules Affect Farms Of All Sizes And Locations

MUSKEGON, Mich. (May 8, 2014) – Some farmers in West Michigan said recent changes made by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development will level the playing field for all farmers when it comes to the Right to Farm Act.

Some ‘urban farmers’ said the new rules take away valuable protection for small farmers who own or keep livestock in city settings.

FOX 17 spoke with farmers who support the changes as well as those who are concerned about the implications of the new rules.

Cheryl Strautz runs what you might think of when you picture a traditional farm, with horses, goats and crops on 120 acres in Montcalm County.

Strautz is also the president of the County Farm Bureau.

She said the Right to Farm Act is designed for protection.

“The folks from the city moving into the country and maybe not liking the smell and sounds of agriculture and as long as the farmers know a set of guidelines known as GAAMPS, generally accepted agricultural management practices, then they were protected from nuisance lawsuits.”

The rules apply to things like how far from someone’s property you can build a barn for example.

Up until the end of April these rules only applied to farms with more than 50 animal units.

“They came up with the animal unit because it’s easier than saying ‘x’ number of hogs or ‘x’ number of cows,” said Strautz.

The rules now apply to anyone who owns even a single farm animal, something Joshua EldenBrady found out first-hand dealing with the city of Muskegon.

“I got in the mail today a ticket that I got for having the goats last summer should be upheld because of the GAAMPS that were passed,” EldenBrady said.

EldenBrady and his family are in the process of turning a number of vacant lots in Muskegon into working farms.

“One of the things that drew us here is that Muskegon has some of the most open ordinances when it comes to having pets other than dogs and cats.”

Strautz said urban farmers like EldenBrady have nothing to worry about if they follow the regulations in place.

“The idea that it is taking away people’s right to farm,” said Strautz.  “No, it just means that we all have to follow the same rules now.”

EldenBrady said when you are in a city setting.  It’s impossible to follow rules designed for large scale farms and therefore urban farmers will lose the Right to Farm Act protection putting them at the mercy of local governments.

“It’s putting more local control back into it,” said Strautz.  “There are some place that don’t want livestock.  I get that.”

But EldenBrady doesn’t have optimism that local control will work in his favor, “The result of that in most locations isn’t local control it’s prohibition.  It’s just outlawing it entirely.”

As for advice for future farmers, no matter how big of an impact you are looking to make, both farmers agree the best idea is to know the zoning ordinances and rules in the city or town before you decide to own livestock or start a farm.

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