Ray Swan owns a 70-acre farm in Erie Township, Michigan. He owns and collects antique farming equipment that he often uses on his property. Some residents don’t like looking at the antiques or the condition of his yard, however. Earlier this year, Erie Township decided to take Mr. Swan to court to force him to make his land more presentable. Swan has been told he needs to cut his grass and remove the garbage. The garbage they are referring to, Swan says, is his farming equipment.
“In the lawsuit it’s called ‘garbage,’ ‘refuse’ and ‘trash,'” Swan told Farm World. “They wouldn’t give me the respect of calling them antiques. This is historical machinery; it’s not a junkyard and it’s not trash.”
The Erie Township farmer has until September 18 to remove his antique farm equipment from his 70-acre farm, or the township will come onto his farm, hold an auction, and sell the equipment they don’t feel should be on his property.
According to Township council meeting minutes, Mr. Swan tried to discuss the matter publicly at a council meeting in February. He does not use social media and can not spread the word the way other Michigan Farmers have when their township residents complained. Swan is not the only farmer in Michigan who has to battle neighbors’ complaints.
In July, an Air Force vet in Bay County had to fight for the right to raise chickens on his nine-acre farm. This summer, a Williamston Township farmer was held in contempt of court for failing to remove her livestock, citing her “Right To Farm” and apparent GAAMPs compliance.
Erie Township Supervisor Bill Frey told Farm World that Swan’s property has been a problem for the township for two years. The Erie Township Supervisor Frey said the farming equipment is “quite old. He has a lot of it sitting in his front yard. His grass isn’t mowed.”
A judge ruled that, at that time, Swan wasn’t protected under Michigan’s Right to Farm Act because he hasn’t proven that he was using the Michigan standards covered under the Generally Accepted Agriculture and Management Practices.
“The township said they’d allow one tractor, one disc and one sprayer for my operation,” Swan told Farm World. The judge sided with the township, except told the Erie Township farmer he could have three tractors for his 70-acre farm instead of just one.
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) official Tim Kwiakowski refused to talk with the journalist Kevin Walker about Swan’s case, citing confidentiality issues.
Erie Township has a website with contact information and township news. It also has the new Erie Township Master Plan uploaded. Adopted in 2012, the plan still places Swan’s property in an area zoned “Rural Agricultural.” The Master Plan states that it seeks to protect and maintain the culture of the township’s history and to actively encourage “the continuation of local farming operations and the long-term protection of farmland resources.”
The introduction to the Erie Township Master Plan explains surveyed residents mostly believed that “rural places represent history, tradition, family, culture and nature.” The summary states that the “one clear message” from the Erie Townships survey was that the rural character and historical farming atmosphere of Erie Township were exceptionally valued.
[Photo via the Monroe library archive]