Michigan Fails Food Growers

On April 28, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development amended the Michigan Right To Farm Act in such a way as to strip protections the act offered to individuals living on non-farm properties who wish to raise small livestock for food purposes. These protections, with long standing legal precedent, had essentially banned local jurisdictions from bringing nuisance complaints against those partaking in small livestock operations. Being as this legislation, in its original form and surely to be updated, is now on the legislative buffet available to lawmakers across the country via the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, anyone who eats food in this country needs to pay attention to what is happening in Michigan right now for it may soon be coming to your backyard.

In essence, by amending the act, the state of Michigan has now rendered countless small farmers, those raising limited quantities of livestock for food, as criminals. Literally. Imagine, one day you are a gardener with a chicken coop in your backyard with a few laying hens, collecting eggs in the mornings on your own land to feed your own kids. You are fully aware that your local zoning ordinance does not allow this use, but you continue as there is legal precedent for your activities under your states's right to farm act. The next day you are arrested and thrown in the clink, a criminal. That is the scenario a department of gubernatorial appointees under Michigan Governor Rick Snyder just made possible.

At the local level, many communities are quickly recognizing the overwhelming desire of the general public to regain control of their food sources out of the desire to live healthy and sustainable lives. Headline after headline spotlighting the negative effects on our overall health born of industrial food production systems, insanely toxic pesticides infiltrating our land and water systems, tumorous lab rats fed a diet of GMO laden food, bio-cumulative antibiotic use, on and on it goes. Out of sheer fear for the safety of ourselves, our neighbors and our children, individuals across the country, both urban and rural are taking control of their own food sources through gardens, community sustained agriculture and individual small livestock production. We are actively returning to food ways and traditions once prolific in my state and around the country, traditions that formed the very cornerstone of this country.

The act of self-determination in sourcing one's food locally is a solution to two facts that converge in profound ways: An exploding interest in safe, locally sourced food as a result of questionable industrial farming practices, and the exploding cost of agricultural land now that Wall Street has deemed it an institutional investment vehicle.

Solution: Farm where you are.

That is exactly what we are doing here in Michigan and now, according to a panel of appointees with public ties to corporate agricultural entities, entities whose income is threatened by the food self-determination of citizens, our neighborhoods are full of manure covered, hoe-totin, egg-gathering criminals.

Long before the United States became a nation of multi-national corporations, we were a nation of tillers. Before we became a nation of war profiteers, we were a nation of barn builders. Before we we became a nation of scientists playing God with the gene pool, we were a nation of farmers. We cleared, we dug, we planted, we harvested. We fed and we mucked. We watered and we grazed. We birthed and we slaughtered. We canned and we stored. We relied on our neighbors to help us with the labor of growing and harvesting food. We shared combines, callouses, conversation and corn-on-the-cob at the harvest supper. That interdependency created a community not only dependent on the cycles and laws of nature but a community dependent upon one another, for survival. The social structure of community itself as we know it in America was in large part born of the activity of farming. Most importantly however, as farmers, we knew not only where our food came from but what our food was comprised of.

There are certain inalienable rights and they include the right to breath clean air, the right to drink clean water and the right to grow and raise food for yourself and your family. To live in a state where the exercise of one of these rights has become a criminal act requires action. We can sign petitions, we can march, we can write letters, we can make phone calls.

In the meantime, go ahead and pick up a hoe, buy some hens, gather your eggs and farm where you are. Just be prepared, if you live in Michigan, to spend some time in the clink with rapists, murderers, drug dealers and of course, your fellow farmers.

Update: The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Resource Development will testify before the Michigan Senate Agriculture Committee Thursday, May 15 about the recent changes to the requirements farmers must meet to be assured of protection under the state's Right to Farm Act. The public is encouraged to attend.