Small-scale farmers could be forced to shut down their operations if they’re producing goods in an area zoned as non-agricultural. Smartly written Right to Farm laws could help these producers stay in business. 

By Peter Kennedy
August/September 2013

Shady Grove
Shady Grove Farm in Gwinn, Mich., is owned by Randy and Libby Buchler. These small-scale farmers are protected by the state’s Right to Farm act.

Photo By Randy Buchler

If we want true food security — defined as the ability of a country, region, state or community to be as self-sufficient in food production as possible — then we need a legal system that supports local, small-scale food production.

Farms that fit this bill turn out healthful food, guard against shortages, stabilize local economies and instill community camaraderie.

As suburbs spread steadily across our continent, however, small farmers are continually facing problems with local zoning codes and nuisance complaints, even when their operations have not caused any injury to their neighbors. Although state Right to Farm laws are sometimes written to protect Big Ag, Right to Farm laws that support small-scale farmers can be a key aspect of creating sustainable, local food systems.

Michigan is ahead of the curve when it comes to setting up legal protections for small-scale farmers, and the state’s Right to Farm laws are making a real difference.

Case in point: Randy and Libby Buchler of Shady Grove Farm, who raise chickens and sheep, and sell eggs and wool locally. Their 6.5-acre property is zoned as “Lake Residential.” In 2009, Forsyth Township in Michigan filed a lawsuit to shut down Shady Grove Farm, citing it as a nuisance because its existence violated the local zoning ordinance that prohibited any type of agricultural activity. In December 2012, however, a Michigan judge ruled that the Buchlers’ farming operations were protected by the Michigan Right to Farm Act (RTFA), and denied the township’s lawsuit.


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