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Backyard Farmers Lose Statewide Protection


A state agriculture commission has adopted a new rule on livestock in residential areas. It gives local governments more authority to ban or regulate raising farm animals in backyards.

The new rule means backyard livestock farmers can no longer automatically claim they’re protected under the state’s Right to Farm Act if their chickens, goats, and other livestock are in an area defined by the state as “primarily residential.” The new regulation would apply if there are 13 homes within an eighth of a mile where chickens, goats, or other livestock are kept, or there’s another home within 250 feet.

“I believe we have over 100 communities in Michigan who have ordinances on the books against chickens and bees and other things, and they will be able to continue to move forward with those.” Jamie Clover Adams, the director of the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “We’ve seen this huge interest in local food and in urban agriculture. There are different situations that occur when you have people closer together, and people have expectations when they live in the city or when they live in town and this allows those conversations to happen at the local level.

Adams and commission members say they expect to adjust the regulation as time goes on. They says the city of Detroit is in the process of adopting a livestock ordinance that could serve as a model in some cases.

Kim White’s not buying it.

“It’s all ‘Big Farm,” and it’s ‘Big Farm” deciding against the little farm,” she said after the commission vote.  White said she has about 20 chickens she raises for eggs, as well as a couple of rabbits.

She says changing the rule later won’t help backyard farmers who are forced to get rid of their animals.

“They don’t want us little guys feeding ourselves. They want us to go all to the big farms,” she said. “They want to do away with small farms and that and I believe that is what’s motivating it.”

Department officials say they were concerned that residential farmers claiming Right to Farm protections could force wholesale changes in the law, which was enacted to protect industrial-size farmers in rural areas from nuisance lawsuits filed by urbanites and suburbanites who move to the country not knowing what to expect.

Some backyard farmers say they haven’t ruled out a legal challenge to the new rule. 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.