Backyard farmers to lose Right to Farm protection?

Feb 13, 2014

Life could soon get a little harder for backyard farmers.

A law passed in 1981 protects Michigan farmers from nuisance lawsuits. It’s called the Right to Farm Act.  It was created to protect farmers from angry neighbors who were moving out into rural areas from cities.

At the moment, the law also protects people who raise chickens and other animals in their backyards.

Wendy Banka lives in Ann Arbor.  She has seven chickens with orange feathers living in a coop in her backyard.

“These are like show-quality salmon faverolles. They're a rare heritage breed; just beautiful birds. They're a very pleasant, nice breed."

The chickens get noisy when I step into the coop.

"They're very quiet usually; they’re unaccustomed to company,” Banka says.

She says she sits at a desk all day and wanted to get outside more.

“The connectedness you get from having just a few livestock is really enormous and it makes a big difference in my life. I just think it's a terrific hobby; much more enriching than I would’ve expected.”

Banka is the president of the Michigan Small Farm Council. She’s worried about proposed changes that would remove Right to Farm protection from backyard farms like hers.

State officials say the changes would not make it illegal for people to keep chickens in their backyards. That decision would fall into the hands of local zoning boards.

Wendy Banka argues it could put some small farmers out of business.

"The authority to make that choice will be in the hands of the townships and cities and many, many, many of them will say 'no agriculture in our borders,'" she says.

Yesterday, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development held a meeting on this issue.

Jake Neher is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network and he was at that meeting. You can listen to our conversation above.