All posts by kcox68

The Role of the State In Urban Agriculture Policy

In May of this year, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development changed the state’s livestock siting guidelines. The change created a sizeable controversy. Many questioned the agency’s authority to make this change at all. The Right to Farm Act prohibited, without exception, a farm from being found to be a nuisance as long as it complied with generally accepted agricultural and management practices (GAAMPs). The new livestock siting guidelines essentially removed the protection the Right to Farm Act provided regarding nuisance lawsuits from urban farms that involved livestock.

However, the new regulations didn’t leave urban farmers completely high and dry. Instead, they placed the regulatory control firmly in the hands of local municipalities. The legality of this regulation is questionable. A Right to Farm Act provision expressly preempts any local ordinance, regulation, or resolution that extends or revises any part of the Act. Therefore, some have argued that the livestock siting guidelines appears to be an instance of a state agency rewriting a piece of legislation.

Questions regarding administrative law and the extent of agency power involve serious ideological questions regarding how our democracy functions. However, of equal importance for many is the question of what role the state will take in developing urban agriculture. The answer that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development seemed to give back in May was that it didn’t care, and Michigan cities could do what they wished. This, quite frankly, is not good enough. Other states, such as California with the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, are creating innovative policies that incentivize urban farming. Michigan should be following suit.

Perhaps in response to the outcry in May, the Department has convened a 20-member Urban Livestock work group that will continue to discuss the issue of livestock on urban farms with the goal of providing recommendations that will stimulate and support livestock production in urban areas. The meetings of the work group are not open to the public, but the 20-member work group was described as a cross-section of agriculture, municipal, food, and community groups. The list of participants can be seen here.

What will come of the Urban Livestock work group is anyone’s guess. However, the state should take a hint from other legislatures and realize that creating an innovative policy at the state level could go a long way to incentivizing the proliferation of urban agriculture throughout the state, which would effectively amplify the great work already being done by urban farmers in Michigan.

Equal Justice for Detroit Urban Farmers

Nick Leonard

As an Equal Justice Works fellow with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, I am excited to be work and live in the community I’ve always loved.

In 2008, I worked as an unpaid and curious urban agriculture intern in Detroit. I loved the experience so much that over the course of six years, I have been unwilling to let it go. What has continuously drawn me to urban agriculture in Detroit is that it recognizes Detroit’s flaws and creates a solution. The city is plagued with abandoned properties, a lack of access to fresh foods, and a lack of services from the city government and the private sector. Many urban farmers imagine a Detroit where those abandoned properties are turned into garden or farm that not only provides a point of access to fresh food, but also an empowering space for the community itself.

The last point may be the most powerful. Urban agriculture is often a community solution to community problems. In Detroit today, there is a discussion about whom the city is being redeveloped for and many people have valid concerns that it is not being redeveloped for the great majority of Detroit residents. It is important to remember that economic development does not necessarily equate to community development, and it is important to realize just how unique and powerful of a force urban agriculture can be for this city.

However, many people involved in urban agriculture do their work with scarce resources. One such area where resources can be scarce is in professional services, and legal services are certainly in this category. Due to costs, the great majority of the urban agriculture community in Detroit cannot afford a lawyer. As an Equal Justice Works fellow with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, I am hoping to close that gap as much as I can by providing legal services to those in the urban agriculture community free of costs. It is my hope that through my work I can empower the urban agriculture community to do the work they love.

As for this blog, I hope to provide education regarding the basic legal issues that are common for urban farmers that is easily accessible to everyone that has access to a computer and to keep people updated on the latest urban agriculture policies that are being adopted by cities and states across the country.