Kelly VanderKley and her husband, David Hunter, sought Right to Farm protection for their Antwerp Township hobby farm last year when neighbors complained about their animals and manure on the 4.8 acre of land. The farm underwent strict scrutiny by the state inspector to assure practices were in compliance with all applicable environmental requirements, VanderKley said, and were judged to be in compliance with current standards.
The Michigan Right to Farm Act provides nuisance protection for farms and farm operations which are in conformance with GAAMPs. Right to Farm was originally designed to protect commercial agriculture operations from being pushed out by changes in local zoning or land uses that conflict with common agriculture practices. GAAMPs are reviewed annually by scientific committees of various experts, revised and updated as necessary, according to a recent news release from the Michigan Department of Agriculture announcing this year's deadline for public comment is Wednesday, Jan. 22.
The proposed revisions worrying the Michigan Small Farm Council are tweaks to the GAAMPs for Site Selection and Odor Control for Livestock Production Facilities.
The Site Selection GAAMPs have never applied to most small farmers, the council alert explained, because "Livestock Production Facilities" have been defined as having 50 animal units or more, far greater than the number of animals held by most small farms in Michigan.
"In the proposed changes, MDARD defines a new term, Livestock Facility, as one with any number of animals - including a single animal," a step, the alert warns, that "for the first time brings small farm operations under the control of the Site Selection GAAMPs. And then in a second step, MDARD creates a new class of sites - Category 4 sites - that are not ever acceptable sites for Livestock Facilities."
Category 4 sites are defined as those exclusively zoned for residential use.
Those changes could be the kiss of death for enterprises such as backyard chicken flocks, or small acreage hobby farms such as VanderKley's that keep a few animals on suburban acreage, said Michigan Small Farm Council member Randy Buchler, of Shady Grove Farm in the Upper Peninsula community of Gwinn.
"It would exclude a whole bunch of people who are seeking Right to Farm protection... and strip the small farmers of their right to be protected by a state law."
A circuit court judge ruled in Buchler's favor when he cited Right to Farm to protect his own farm's existence on residential property in Marquette County, the largest county in the state, he said.
"What they are trying to do is to take away Right to Farm protection from people trying to be self sufficient but not able to do agriculture on any level according their local zoning.