Anyone who has followed the work of the Michigan Small Farm Council knows that one of our firmly held beliefs is that the Michigan Right to Farm Act protects farms of all sizes in the state, regardless of size or place, and that this protection preempts local regulations such as zoning. We think this is true because the law states this clearly, because the Michigan Court of Appeals has three times ruled that farms in residentially-zoned areas are protected by Right to Farm (see Village of Rothbury, Papesh, Papadelis), and because scholars from MSU and MSU-Extension have come to this conclusion in multiple publications.
Indeed, the only party who appears to be uncertain about this is the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In 2011 the Director of Environmental Stewardship at MDARD, Jim Johnson, said that "The difficulty of the issue, in terms of legal versus non-legal issues, is that the RTF Act itself does not place a restriction in any way on land use or land zoning. It has been very clear from the beginning that the RTF Act applies across the entire state." But then in 2012 MDARD told Forsyth Township that Randy Buchler was not protected on his property that is zoned Lake Residential. This led to a court case in which Randy Buchler prevailed. The confusion and ongoing Right to Farm court battles in the state are a direct result of situations like this in which MDARD sometimes advises local governments and citizens that they are not protected by Right to Farm, in situations in which all other authorities - the law, the courts, the legal scholars - all come to the opposite conclusion.
Since 2012 the Michigan Small Farm Council has engaged in repeated interactions with MDARD and with the Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development over this issue. We have been told repeatedly that Right to Farm does not protect folks who live in residentially zoned areas of the state. So it is with surprise that we read this new letter written by Chief Deputy Director Gordon Wenk, which states quite simply, "Since zoning is not a requirement for Right to Farm coverage, the Right to Farm Act applies across the entire state, regardless of zoning." We agree. You can find the letter from Mr. Wenk here, and the letter from Brady Township that he was responding to, here. A longer history of these events is here.
The only question that remains, then, is whether the changes to the 2014 Site Selection GAAMP have the authority to strip the legal protections provided by the legislature: can five appointed members of the Michigan Commission of Agriculture take any action that would un-do the work of the legislature to provide Right to Farm protection to all Michigan citizens? We think not, but the battle continues.