Urban agriculture is one of those things that virtually everyone recognizes as a powerful way to strengthen Michigan.
Urban agriculture brings healthy food to neighborhoods without quality grocery stores. It brings neighbors together, which strengthens investments that families and businesses make in a community’s future. Urban agriculture also brings opportunities to young people who can get started farming at relatively low cost on vacant lots.
Right to Farm Question
To move forward, however, Michigan’s city governments need to be comfortable with agriculture in their densely populated areas. One of the first challenges they’re facing is a state law called the Michigan Right to Farm Act, which supersedes any local say in the matter of how a farm operates.
“The Right to Farm Act didn’t anticipate farming growing in the city,” says Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. “What’s appropriate for a traditional rural farm may not be appropriate in the city, with houses right across the street.”
Yakini is among those eager for a solution to the confusion that the Right to Farm Act’s power over local government action is creating for cities like Detroit.
James Johnson, Environmental Stewardship Division Director with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, is working on it.
“The Michigan Commission of Agriculture (which administers Right to Farm) is very clear that it’s not interested in being an impediment to people growing their own food, whether home gardens, community gardens or full-blown agricultural operations,” he says.
The Commission attempted to solve the problem in late 2011 with a revision to its Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices, or GAAMPS, which the Commission uses to determine whether a farm’s practices can be protected under Right to Farm. The revision would allow cities with more than 100,000 people to develop their own ordinances for agriculture but also require those cities to exempt any farms that have started operating in the meantime from new city rules.
The city of Detroit finds that approach inadequate and contends that allowing existing operations to continue practices that would be nonconforming is unacceptable.
Michigan residents and lawmakers may want to consider a more comprehensive proposal set out by planning and zoning experts in the winter 2011 edition of the Michigan State Law Review.
The article’s authors recommend taking the legislative steps needed to fully hash out how large a city must be to gain exemption from Right to Farm. In addition they suggest amendments to the state’s key planning and zoning enabling acts. State government could encourage communities to plan and zone for urban agriculture by including such direction in those laws.
The authors further suggest that lawmakers could actually make planning and zoning for urban agriculture a condition for gaining exemption from Right to Farm Act’s preemption of local control. In this way, the state could spur more urban agriculture zoning action.
Blog also appears at Michigan Good Food.