« Karl's Comments

Right to Farm

by Jeremy Lawrence

Dateline Richland: The picture shows goats being fed vegetables, and the caption tells the story of a RossTownship farmer in KalamazooCounty, whos run afoul of the township zoning ordinance. He went to court, and the judge ruled against him. Without having all the facts and circumstances of challenged decision, its hard to arrive at an individual conclusion in which I am totally confident. But, if I were to speculate, Id guess the judge is right and the would-be farmer is off on a wrong track.

The judge has ruled that an agricultural endeavor is not protected from a township ruling denying the right to farm in that particular location. Why? Because, the judge ruled, the operation is not protected by Michigans Right to Farm Act. Theres the mention of Right to Farm twice in two consecutive sentences - and thats the point of this dissertation. There are two things that go hand in hand here - the Right to Farm Act, and Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices - almost always expressed in the acronym GAAMP. The farm at issue here is called a Produce Farm, which implies fruits and vegetables, and there might not have been a problem with the Township Board, but there are also goats on that farm. Without knowing the whole story and background, Im only guessing that it is the animal part of the equation that got the Boards goat.

The proprietor in question here says hes at least contemplating appealing the judges ruling against him, but unless theres a factor here that we dont yet know about, Id guess the judge is spot on. He says the farm is not protected by Michigans Right to Farm Act, because the farm does not comply with GAAMP, or at least the proprietor, in challenging the township officials ruling, did not provide evidence that his farming operation conforms to GAAMP. GAAMP and Right to Farm are linked - - that is, if you are not in compliance with GAAMP, Right to Farm is not your protector. Its like Love and Marriage - - you cant have one, without the other, as the song goes.

Theres another flaw in the farmers argument, as I see it. He contends local township ordinances should not be allowed to trump his right to do business. It is true that agricultural endeavors, including this one are business operations. This one happens to have run afoul of a zoning ordinance. Generally speaking local governments do designate zones in which businesses can operate. Generally, they are zones that separate that kind of activity from such endeavors as education, hospitals, single family residences, multi-dwelllings and so on. Farming, however, is a rather different kind of business, and does not fall under the general discussion of business.

And that is why Michigan agriculture lives by the directives in Right to Farm, and the Generally Accepted Agricultural Practices.

Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at khguenther@att.net . He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. (Accompanying Image Midwest Communications, Inc. 2014)