In Muskegon, Michigan, urban gardeners will wait to hear the outcome of a discussion pertaining to the Michigan Right to Farm Act and a gardening ordinance. The meeting will be held on December 8 and will not open to the public. Only the City of Muskegon’s staff members and invited guests will be permitted to attend the discussion, according to the Michigan Small Farm Council. One invited guest, who has agreed to attend, is MDARD’s Wayne Whitman.
Muskegon resident and urban gardener Joshua EldenBrady wrote an editorial featured on the Michigan Small Farm Council’s website on Monday. EldenBrady said that the new ordinance in Muskegon pertaining to gardening allows individuals and groups to grow produce, provided they abide by certain conditions, but Muskegon residents are currently not allowed to sell any of the produce that they grow.
Muskegon City Commissioner Ken Johnson wants to see community gardens become self-sustainable by allowing the sales of the produce grown within the city limits, but at this time that is not permitted.
“Some jobs might even be created in the process,” Johnson wrote, pointing out that Muskegon features a large farmers market where Muskegon residents themselves cannot even sell produce. “Furthermore, were this ordinance enacted, produce grown in the city could again be sold at the Muskegon Farmers Market. Ironic isn’t it, produce cultivated here currently can’t be sold at our very own farmers market … Let’s remedy that soon!!”
EldenBrady says that the Muskegon Zoning Board of Appeals “stated that they could not allow a farming operation because it might spread to other areas of the city and farming in the city was ‘unacceptable.'” EldenBrady said that the previous city manager, city legal counsel, and the Muskegon staff would not even consider allowing urban gardening, because it was “not the direction the city wanted to go.” He pointed out that it’s not even a matter of urban livestock, the residents are fighting for their right to garden and sell their surplus produce.
“Rather the issue is a city whose staff views the growing of produce as a blight,” EldenBrady wrote. “A view shared by many on the Commission and the Planning Commission who have lamented that if they allow gardens to sell, then there might be more gardens and that would destroy residential neighborhoods.”
In October, MLIVE‘s Lynn Moore explained that all community members at an earlier public hearing agreed that the commercial sales of produce from the urban gardens in Muskegon should be allowed.
“But city Planning Director Cathy Brubaker-Clarke said the concern is that if commercial sales are allowed, some aspects of the city’s ordinance could be legally challenged under the state’s Right to Farm Act,” Moore wrote. “That could result in such issues as people spreading manure on crops right up to property lines or operating farm machinery in early morning hours, she said.”
Anna EldenBrady told Michigan Small Farm Council that the area has food insecurity and a high rate of out-of-work residents. Almost a fifth of Muskegon households are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census data. She stated that average incomes in certain areas are between $6,000 and $16,000.
“Given that the majority of the people asking to sell are poor and minorities, and that we are one of the most racially divided cities in the nation, he might want to reconsider what it sounds like to tell a group of minorities to get out of town if they want to make work with the skills they have,” Anna EldenBrady said.
The Michigan Small Farm Council provided the Commissioners of Agriculture’s email address on a Facebook post for Michigan residents who wish to request that the urban gardening discussion meeting in Muskegon be made open to the public.
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