The Michigan Small Farmer:

Michigan Small Farm Rights Information




What's at Stake

If you’re thinking this is a Big Ag versus Small Ag issue, unfortunately, you’re right.

Right to Farm laws exist in every state. Michigan’s Right to Farm Act, enacted in 1981, was meant to slow the loss of farmland and stop nuisance complaints and lawsuits against farmers resulting from urban sprawl into rural areas. In fact, the way the law was written and has been interpreted by the court system, it also provides protection against nuisance claims by neighbors and local units of government for farms of any size in urban, suburban, and rural areas--so long as they are "commercial" (selling a few eggs is enough to be considered commercial, per case law) and adhere to "generally accepted agricultural management practices."

The April 28th, 2014 vote by the Michigan Agriculture Commission has been repeatedly described by Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) officials as "closing a loophole" in regulations promulgated by MDARD related to Michigan's Right to Farm law.  Those changes, to the 2014 Site Selection GAAMP (Generally Accepted Agricultural Practices), are basically a disaster for urban and suburban farms, and not much better for many small rural farms, too.

MDARD claims the changes prevent only farms in residential areas from claiming the protection of Right to Farm, which prevents local governments from forbidding farming in any place so long as the farm follows certain rules so that it isn't a nuisance. That’s simply untrue. If MDARD believes it, they don’t understand their own GAAMP.  "The commission is essentially taking sides in the marketplace," says the Sierra Club's Gail Philbin

Reduced Oversight of Factory Livestock Farms.

The changes to the GAAMP relax oversight over large factory farms, allowing many of them to "self-assess" their compliance with regulations for dealing with manure, a major environmental and nuisance problem.

Urban and Suburban Small Farms Targeted.

The changes completely remove small urban and suburban farmers' rights under Right to Farm to raise livestock if there are more than 13 houses within a eighth mile OR if there's a house other than the farmer's within 250 feet of the livestock facility . That's an average housing density of about 1 house/2.4 acres--which is pretty darn sparse for being allowed a bee hive, a few chickens or a 4-H kid's turkey or rabbit. After all, many people on two acres have a couple of cats and dogs.

MDARD Director Jamie Clover Adams announced the day after these changes, "“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” (Michigan Public Radio).

Why would the director of agriculture support enforcement of ordinances that will shut down beekeepers when hive colony collapse is threatening farms' need for pollinators across the nation? Why would she support shutting down any kind of farm? Isn't that the mission of MDARD, to support agriculture?

If you can have dogs and cats, you should be able to have some hens. Already, as of May 8, many small farms across Michigan are being targeted for shutdown.

Many people who've written to MDARD depend on these animals for part of their livelihood--they are disabled vets and seniors, single parents and the unemployed. Many wept or came close as they begged MDARD not to do this at hearings.

Rural Farms Affected Too.

Hundreds, possibly thousands of small rural farms like mine are affected, too. 320 agricultural-zoned parcels in my Township no longer have any Right to Farm GAAMP protection for raising livestock, including some 80-acre parcels--that's 35% of my Township's agricultural land.


Effects on Consumers are Statewide.

Small farms all over the state will be affected. The farms of 5 to 100 acres are the ones that belong to the vast majority of organic farmers, and the farmers who supply CSA boxes, roadside stands and small farmers' markets.

The Process. No Checks and Balances. A Lack of Transparency.

It’s startling that the GAAMP changes are formulated by a committee selected by one Michigan State professor. The committee meets behind closed doors, with no publicly available minutes. This committee has no representatives of consumers or small farms. It is mostly government employees, plus representatives of the Michigan Farm Bureau and two representatives of factory livestock farms. They make a recommendation to the governor-appointed MDARD Commissioners. At the 4/28 meeting, after last-minute major changes on which no public comment is allowed, the Commissioners vote.


So, to recap: an appointed committee votes on a major public policy change recommended and formulated by a secretly selected committee representing government, bureaucratic and large business interests. No oversight. No checks and balances. Almost no transparency.

Is it surprising that the GAAMP is incredibly ambigous, difficult to use, and internally contradictory?  That it leaves many landowners--those whose land falls into "Category 3"--in regulatory limbo, not knowing if their land has RTF GAAMP protection or not, or even whom to ask or what standards will be applied to make the determination?  That MDARD's "flowchart" which conflicts with the language of the GAAMP is not precisely reassuring as to the competence of its makers? (This is the case for half my 80 acre farm). And that the second paragraph on p. 15 of the GAAMP "allows" MDARD to apply the new standards to already existing farms in certain zoning areas--so existing farms are not "grandfathered."

What's happened is that a regulatory process--which under the Right to Farm Act is supposed to be crafting "generally accepted agricultural management practices--is being subverted in an attempt to completely undermine both case law and the Right to Farm Act itself.  If an appointed commission is allowed to vote to take away Right to Farm Protection from anyone, then they can vote to take it away from all.  That's not the way the division of powers is supposed to work. The Agriculture Commission has overstepped its bounds by a wide margin.

No Policy Impact Report. No Benchmarks.

There is no evidence that MDARD officials assessed or documented the projected consequences of these changes--a step that is both customary and advisable for even a much less sweeping policy change (and this is a policy change in the guise of regulatory change). No benchmarks have been established for future assessment of the changes' success or failure. As the commissioner who voted against the changes stated, "I don't fully understand the potential impacts these changes are going to have on small-scale farmers."

What's being done? What can you do?

The Michigan Farm Bureau is apparently dominated by agribusiness and has not only openly and strongly supported these changes, but suggested them to MDARD in the first place.

5/22 Action Alert: Contact the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture

Re:  The formation of a working group on urban and suburban agriculture, and farm animals, as called for by the Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Hune. Ask for small farm representation and for rural farms to be included.

       - The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD):

       - The Michigan Senate Agriculture Committee:

            Senator Joe Hune (R), Committee Chair:    (517) 373-2420

            Senator Darwin L. Booher (R), Majority Vice Chair:     (517) 373-1725

            Senator Virgil Smith (D), Minority Vice Chair:    (517) 373-7918

            Senator Goeff Hansen (R):     (517) 373-1635

            Senator Judy K Emmons (R):     (517) 373-3760

     Michigan Small Farmer suggests these talking points:

         * Include representatives of small farmers (Michigan Small Farm Council, Mich. Farmers'

                        Market Assoc) on the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture's Right to Farm working group

           * Include rural farms as part of the working group's focus as well as urban and suburban farms:

                        Right to Farm changes negatively impacted thousands of rural farms of all zoning types.

                        These 5-100 acre farms are vital to consumers buying local organics, CSAs, farmers' markets

           * Title your email "Represent Small Farmers on Working Group & Remember Rural Farms"

         * Want to learn more? 5/22 Mlive article, Working Group Forming to Talk Farm Animals, Urban Chickens


Attend a Meeting:  Upcoming Michigan Ag Commission Meeting. Wed. May 28, 9am  Lansing.

Lansing Community College West Campus, Michigan Technical Education Center, Rm. M119-120, 5708 Cornerstone Drive, Lansing, MI 48917.  Those wishing to address Commission are allowed up to 3 minutes during Public Comment period. Details & Map here.

Attend a Meeting:  Third Mich. Senate Ag Committee Meeting on Right to Farm: Date TBD.

Follow up meeting to that of 5/15/14 and 5/22/14, when MDARD testified before the Michigan Senate Agriculture Committee about their recent changes to the 2014 Site Selection GAAMPs. Afterward, some small farmers were able to testify as well. Updates were posted as the testimony proceeded and can be seen on the facebook page of the Michigan Small Farm Council.

Join the Michigan Small Farm Council.

Michigan Small Farm Council is doing crucial work to support the rights of small farmers. Membership is free. Friend MSFC on facebook or visit the website to join.

Sign up to Receive Michigan Right to Farm Action Alerts.

- The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund sends action alerts by state. Considering joining as well: they do great work.

Sign a Petition.

 -  Petition to Michigan State House, Michigan State Senate, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder:

                 The strongest petition circulating, with nearly 41,000 signatures as of 5/22/14

- Petition to Michigan Commission of Agriculture:

                   Over 1,250 signatures as of 5/22/14 and growing

Write a Letter or Send an Email.

Please write peacefully, politely and passionately, to any or all of these:

  - Governor Snyder: 


  -   Members of the Michigan Senate Agriculture Committee:

                    Senator Joe Hune (R), Committee Chair:    (517) 373-2420

                    Senator Darwin L. Booher (R), Majority Vice Chair:     (517) 373-1725

                    Senator Virgil Smith (D), Minority Vice Chair:    (517) 373-7918

                    Senator Goeff Hansen (R):     (517) 373-1635

                    Senator Judy K Emmons (R):     (517) 373-3760

  - The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD):


  - If you’re from Michigan, contact your state representatives and senators:



  - Michigan Department of Agriculture Commissioners


 - Your local paper


Suggestions for what to write:

  -Title your email something like :

                    MDARD Commission's April 28th Vote to Change to the Site Selection GAAMP  or Uphold Michigan Small Farm Rights

  - There is no wrong way to write. But please feel free to borrow or adapt from the material above.

  - Links to the documents in question are below, if you want to dive into them yourself.

Want to Learn More? Read the Documents Yourself?

Links to rebuttals of the MDARD positions are here.

Links to all the relevant documents are here.

Links to all the press coverage are here.

Page Contents


What's at Stake

What You Can Do

What's at Stake & What You Can Do

The Michigan Small Farmer does not provide legal advice. Any information provided on this website is not intended to be legal advice, nor is it a substitute for legal services from a competent professional.


© The Michigan Small Farmer 2014