Michigan Small Farm Found In Contempt Of Court, Forced To Remove Livestock

The owners of a small rural farm located within Williamston Township, Michigan were found in contempt of court by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina this week, because they did not remove livestock from their property. Jeremiah and Jessica Hudson, owners of Sweet Peas Farms, were found to be in contempt of a Feb. 26 injunction which banned livestock on their residence. Their backyard farm struggle began before the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development ruled that the Right to Farm Act protections no longer apply to many homeowners who keep small numbers of livestock.

Last year, Williamston Township sued the Hudsons for violating a township ordinance because Sweet Peas Farm, a small commercial farm, was located in an area zoned for residential use. According to The Lansing State Journal, Sweet Peas Farm is located at at 3920 Williamston Road and is a “small urban farm.” Williamston Township is considered 65 percent rural and 35 percent urban. A Google Street View of the address is available. The farm backs up to a school and sits across the street from vast acreage:

Michigan small farmers held in contempt of court.
A Michigan small farm, located in a mostly rural area, backs up to a school. The court ordered the animals must be removed from the property. If located in the city limits, the Hudsons would have been protected by the city’s right to farm ordinance.

Williamstown Township attorney Gary Bender told the Lansing State Journal that the Hudsons removed animals late Tuesday night. Williamston Township is reportedly relieved that the Hudsons are now complying with the court’s order to remove the livestock. The judge ordered another hearing to determine how much the family will have to pay Williamston Township, because Judge Aquilina said that the township was forced to seek contempt proceedings when the animals were not immediately removed.

Sweet Peas Farm is a small commercial farm that has offered the Williamston, Michigan area healthy food options. The farm specialized in meeting the needs of families dealing with food allergies. The largest benefit the Hudson’s gained from their farm is the assurance that the foods at their own family dinner table were safe. Mrs. Hudson said that her family’s food sensitivities and allergies are so extensive that together, they can not tolerate 47 different common foods. The Hudson family and some of their customers’ families even suffer if they ingest the meat from livestock that has consumed the foods they are allergic to. The couple kept goats, pot-bellied pigs, chickens, ducks and rabbits in their backyard farm which sits on nearly one and a half acres.

Township attorney Gary Bender argued that to keep their animals, the Hudsons needed to prove that they were operating within Michigan’s rules for farm practices (such as manure management) to support their defense under the Right to Farm Act. Bender said, “They had the burden of proof and could not satisfy that burden.”

Court documents from February state the judge’s ruling that the couple was not permitted to have livestock. Judge Aquilina heard a partial argument from the Hudsons’ lawyer, then said:

“I’m not an expert on this but after studying this, all these trees you people have killed and all the records from the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, these various cases, even the Attorney General, my conclusion is we have to look at all of the various pieces, and if we did not, then it would be very easy, we’d look at one piece and they would be good to go, but we have the various pieces of the GAAMPs in order to protect the citizens, and so when I read all of this together, I think it all runs together, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. That’s how I read the law, and my ruling stands, so you may appeal me.”

According to an earlier article in the Lansing State Journal, Wendy Banka, President of the Michigan Small Farm Council, said the Hudsons were never given a chance to fully state their case before the judge declared her ruling in February. A formal site verification that was requested to confirm the Hudson’s property was operating safely never happened, because according to Banka, an inspector would not go to the farm. The Michigan family reportedly had requested a stay while the case was being appealed. The stay was denied on Monday. The Michigan small-farming family plans to appeal the court’s decision.

[Photos used with permission from Sweet Peas Farm]