RICHLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. – A farm in Richland Township is being told to pack up its greenhouse and livestock, despite its popularity, after a judge ruled they are not protected by the Right to Farm Act.
Jim Nieuwenhuis and his nephew Ben Martin are well-known in the Richland area for their fresh produce and local goat meat. However, the underlying issue is that they are operating a farm smaller than five acres that has livestock and an installed “hoop-house” or greenhouse. According to court documents, their farm set-up violates a Richland Township zoning ordinance.
Martin told FOX 17 that he is passionate about farming on his Uncle Jim’s 3.3 acre farm. He plucked a tomato off a bush in the hoop-house while he said they grow to be much higher quality there than the nearby field.
"We've been picking tomatoes from the high tunnel for a few weeks now,” said Martin. “Disease resistance in the high tunnel compared to the field, it's just a night and day difference. We’re not even sure if we’ll make our money back from the tomatoes in the field.”
The trouble started about a year ago, when he and his uncle applied for, and then did not receive, a special exception use permit to install the hoop-house. When they built it anyway, Richland Township officials said neighbors complained.
As of Aug. 15, Judge Kropf at the 8th district court ruled that the farm violates a zoning ordinance for having too many “accessory buildings” and livestock on land less than five acres.
"We are a commercial operation; we sell the goat meat locally,” said Martin. “In the Right to Farm Act, of course if we were protected by that, there's no minimum acreage for a parcel."
Township officials told FOX 17 the court fined the farm $400 and ordered them to remove their goats and hoop-house. Martin holds firmly that they should be protected by the Right to Farm Act.
However, court documents show the farm’s cropping system has been verified under the Michigan Agriculture Environment Assurance Program (MAEAP), but it does not have its Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPS) certification. Effectively, their farm is not protected under the Right to Farm Act.
"With our MEAEP verification we have an outline of what we need to do here at this farm, and what we need to be in compliance with GAAMPS,” said Martin. “So we've already met that criteria it's just up to somebody to come and verify that we've done that."
As of the ruling Aug. 15, Martin and his uncle have 28 days to appeal the decision. Martin said they plan to continue farming.
"I think we're going to fight for what we believe in,” said Martin. “Right now we're going to keep on trucking with it."
Richland Township officials told FOX 17 that it is not their goal to drive this farming family from town; they just want them to follow the rules.
Martin said their farm’s GAAMPS inspection is scheduled for Wednesday Aug. 27; if it passes, Township officials said Judge Kropf may revisit the ruling.