(NaturalNews) For nearly 15 years, the state of Michigan has had special laws in place that protect small, family-scale farmers from being driven off their land by local zoning ordinances, nuisance lawsuits, and other legal measures often used to prevent individuals from growing and raising their own food. And even after all this time, the Michigan Right to Farm Act (MRFA) still serves as a model template for protecting and encouraging local, sustainable food systems that work.
The law, which was passed back in 1999 and came into effect in 2000, essentially protects individuals who wish to farm or otherwise use their land to produce food from being targeted by their cities and townships for elimination. Backyard chicken farmers, for instance, or families that grow their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs, are recognized as having the freedom to do so by MRFA, so long as they follow generally accepted agricultural and management practices.
There has been no shortage of cases in recent years where local cities and townships have mowed down vegetable gardens or even driven homeowners to suicide over the issue of farming in residential zones. All of these cases have occurred outside of Michigan, where right-to-farm legislation has never been enacted. But things are different in Michigan, where honest, hard-working farmers who follow proper sanitary and noise guidelines are free to produce food, even in areas generally recognized as "urban."
"The Michigan RTFA protects from nuisance complaints any farm that is engaged in 'the commercial production, harvesting and storage of farm products,' regardless of sales volume, so long as the farm operation conforms to Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices as established by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD)," writes Peter Kennedy for Mother Earth News about the law.
"The Michigan RTFA is a template for the defense and encouragement of local food production and the restoration of agriculture to its rightful place -- integrated into communities."
Many small farmers in Michigan have been protected by MRFA
Take the case of Randy and Libby Buchler, owners of Shady Grove Farm in Forsyth. The couple raises chickens and sheep on their 6.5-acre property, and they sell eggs and wool locally. In 2009, the Forsyth Township attempted to shut down the farm by claiming its existence violates a local zoning ordinance -- Shady Grove Farm is located in an area zoned as "Lake Residential."
Three years later, a judge ultimately ruled that Shady Grove Farm is not in violation of local zoning ordinances because it operates within MDARD guidelines and is ultimately protected by the provisions of MRFA. MRFA's guidelines, after all, were carefully designed to override local laws that might try to sidestep them, including those of Forsyth.
Local farmers in Midland, which is located in Michigan's Tri-Cities region, are also grateful for the sweeping protections of MRFA. The township's zoning ordinance recently had to be amended to align with the provisions of MRFA, as it restricted people like resident Jenny Lowe from raising backyard chickens. Though the actual text of Midland's zoning ordinance has yet to be amended, the township has realigned its position to the benefit of family farmers.
"Michigan has the best Right to Farm Act in the nation," says Pete Kennedy, an attorney and President of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF).