With Michigan’s Right-To-Farm Act rendered essentially useless to most small farmers earlier this year, an Air Force veteran in Bay County has been told he has to get rid of the turkeys and chickens that he has been raising on his nine-acre homestead. Eugene Stalsberg served his country in the U.S. Air Force, then worked 30 years at the Saginaw General Motors Powertrain plant, according to WNEM. These days, he is living the dream he’s always wanted on his nine-acre homestead where he has built a small farm and raises chickens and turkeys. “All I ever wanted to do is be a farmer,” Stalsberg told WNEM. Soon, living that dream may be coming to an abrupt end. Pinconning Township officials told Stalsberg that the chickens and turkeys on his nine-acre property are a violation of a township ordinance.
Earlier this year, Michigan small and urban farmers were infuriated after an MDARD ruling essentially rendered Michigan’s Right-To-Farm Act useless to a majority of small or urban farmers. Previously, small farmers were able to fall back on that protection. Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) claims their new rulings have only refocused Michigan farming protection back to the way it was intended to be used. On his nine-acre farmstead, the veteran has been caring for 14 chickens and three turkeys. Unfortunately, a neighbor complained.
The homestead in question is reportedly zoned residential in a township where over half of the area is zoned agricultural. Stalsberg contacted the State of Michigan, and hopes that a site evaluation by the Michigan Department of Agriculture will support him in his belief that he should still be protected under the Michigan Right-To-Farm Act. MDARD was scheduled to inspect his property Saturday. Wendy Banka of the Michigan Small Farm Council said in an email that Stalsberg reported that a conflict forced MDARD to cancel their Saturday appointment. According to Banka, Stalsberg’s farm, while zoned residential, may not even meet the definition of “Primarily Residential.”
Banka wrote in an email:
“MDARD has made it very difficult for small farmers to operate in Michigan by inventing a new term called ‘Primarily Residential’ to give townships and cities leeway when they want to exclude small farmers from Right to Farm protection. My understanding of this case, however, is that Mr. Stalsberg does not meet the definition of ‘Primarily Residential’, so it should be easy for MDARD to confirm that his farm is protected by Right to Farm, even though his 9 acres are zoned residential.”
When the owner of Sweet Peas Farm, another Michigan small farm, requested a formal site verification, an inspector never ended up going to the farm. The family ended up losing all of their animals. Even before the MDARD changes to GAAMPs, some small farmers in Michigan were still punished by their townships for ordinance violations, despite previously believing they were protected by the RTF Act. So, the outcome of the inspection at the Pinconning Township farm is still essentially anyone’s guess, according to activists fighting for Michigan’s small farmers. The Michigan Small Farm Council called Eugene’s situation “a case to watch” on the organization’s Facebook page.
Mike Beers, a member of the Michigan Small Farm Council, told Inquisitr that the ambiguity of the rules leave Michigan small farmers uncertain of their rights. Stalsberg told Banka that his property is large enough that his coops could remain on his property and still be 260 feet from the only house that neighbors his homestead, which would mean he could still qualify for RTF protection, regardless of his township ordinance against animals.
In the meantime, Pinconning Township officials gave Stalsberg 30 days to comply with their demands to remove his livestock, or he will incur fines and court fees.
In an email to Inquisitr, Eugene wrote:
“I was told to ‘get rid of the chickens, turkeys.’ My two hen turkeys and a hen are setting on eggs. I asked the Zoning board, ‘What am I to do with the fertile eggs?’ ‘Do what you got to do,’ the Zoning board chairman, Brian Keith, replied.”
Stalsberg told Inquisitr, “According to the Pinconning Zoning Board Meeting held on July 14, 2014, any property in the township East of M-13 is zoned residential and any property West of M-13 is Agriculture. It was brought up at the meeting, that other people are in violation, too.” Inquisitr will update this developing story as new information becomes available.
What do you think of the township’s demands? Should the Air Force veteran farmer hold out and fight for his own liberties and his apparent right to keep his turkeys and chickens?
[Property photo via Google Maps – Backyard chickens photo via City Chickens Gone Country]