April 29, 2014 at 2:22 PM, updated April 29, 2014 at 4:55 PM
As reactions begin, a Sierra Club representative said the vote is a blow to small farmers by stripping them of state protection afforded other farmers; Michigan Farm Bureau said it strengthens protection of all farmers by trying to reduce land use conflicts.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development administers the Right to Farm Act, and the state law trumps local zoning, protecting compliant farms from being zoned out of business.
But in recent years, agriculture officials have said, suburban and urban farmers have increasingly argued that Right to Farm protects their rural lifestyle from neighbors who object to living next door to farm animals.
Michigan Sierra Club Chapter Assistant Director Gail Philbin Tuesday that she believes the action will "effectively remove Right to Farm Act protection for many urban and suburban backyard farmers raising small numbers of animals."
"The Michigan Agriculture Commission passed up an opportunity to support one of the hottest trends in food in Michigan--public demand for access to more local, healthy, sustainable food," Philbin said via e-mail Tuesday.
"The commission is essentially taking sides in the marketplace, " she said.
She credited commissioners with listening thoughtfully to dozens of people who commented in opposition of the changes.
"However, in the end," she said, "the commission made only minor modifications to the rules that, for the most part, won't change the reality facing the growing number of citizens around the state who seek some control over the quality of what they feed their families.
.She said the changes favor large farming operations and leave thousands of people who simply want to grow their own food "to fend for themselves."
Michigan Farm Bureau members, though, endorsed the proposed changes at the group's annual state meeting in December, said Matthew Kapp, government relations specialist with Michigan Farm Bureau and a member of the Site Selection Committee that wrote the proposed changes."Our members weighed in and said if someone is raising livestock in a residential area they need to conform to local zoning," Kapp said in a telephone interview. "So we are supportive of the change."
The concept of achieving conformance to local zoning through the siting GAAMP is not new, he said, but "before yesterday the GAAMP only applied to those farmers who owned more than 50 animal units."
"Farmers are reasonable people and the Right to Farm Act was created because people were moving to the nuisance, moving to the country," Kapp said. That was true back in 2000 when the siting guidelines were first drafted, but now, he said, "here we have a case where the nuisance (of farm animals) is coming to the people.
"This helps to ensure new and expanding farms are sited in appropriate locations."
He said Farm Bureau members are concerned about the integrity of the Right to Farm Act and would not want to see it weakened.
"Michigan Farm Bureau does believe opportunities exist with urban agriculture, and we would be interested in exploring those opportunities in the future," Kapp said. "It’s a way to remove this divide between city and country, and whenever we can remove that divide, we’re all in favor" of doing so.
Michelle Regalado Deatrick blogs about organic farming and gardening from her family's 80-acre farm in an agricultural district of Washtenaw County.Changes in the new GAAMP could directly affect her ability to farm livestock, she said, because about half the farm, or 40 acres, falls into "Category 3" land.
"Category 3 sites may be zoned for agriculture, but are generally not suitable for livestock production facilities," the GAAMP states. "They may be suitable for livestock facilities with less than 50 animal units."
She said the GAAMP fails to explain how or by whom it is determined whether she "may" or "may not" have those animals, a "complete regulatory limbo" that has left her with no idea "who will decide if we can have livestock on the 40 acres or even whom to ask.
"We're building up a mixed production farm, planning to farm during retirement, and we have a permit in hand for a livestock facility," she said, "but have waited with building until we were sure of what the GAAMP changes would be. Now we're having to reconsider our business plans and may sell the farm and buy a farm in a more rural area with definite RTF protection, or move to another state that's more welcoming and protective of small farm rights."
If you would like to review the short "Arizona Right to Farm Enabling Statutes", click here.