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Backyard Farmers Upset with State Proposal

Backyard farmers blast proposal to exclude them from "Right to Farm" law
By Jake Neher

A state board is expected to decide next month whether to strip protections from Michiganders who raise chickens and other livestock in residential areas.

Dozens of "backyard farmers" and their supporters blasted the proposed rule change Wednesday at an agriculture commission meeting in Lansing. It would exclude them from Michigan's Right to Farm Act, which protects farmers from nuisance complaints and lawsuits.

Michigan Small Farm Council President Wendy Banka says agriculture officials are trying to protect large corporate farm operations at the expense of small farmers.

"Why they aren't on the side of folks everywhere who want to participate in agriculture is curious and unfortunate because these people should be fighting for our rights because they know how important it is," said Banka.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) say the proposal is not meant to attack small farmers.

"The local food movement is certainly something that is happening, certainly something we support," said MDARD Chief Deputy Director Gordon Wenk. "And I think this - though it may not seem like it - I think this provides a clear pathway forward."

Wenk says the rule change would not outlaw backyard livestock - it would just leave it up to communities to decide. He says state officials are interested in crafting new protections for residential farmers if the measure takes effect.