Michigan Small Farm Owner Requests $14K Reimbursement For Legal Fees From Township

A Michigan small farm owner is requesting reimbursement for legal fees from Richland Township and a dismissal of fines after receiving a letter from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development confirming that his 3-acre goat and vegetable farm is compliant with proper management practices and protected by the Michigan Right To Farm Act.

Ben Martin, the farmer requesting reimbursement from the township, explained one reason why he feels farmers committed to sustainable agriculture are important on the website for Soil Friends.

“Shopping at farmers markets and roadside stands are great ways to meet farmers and ask questions about how the food was produced,” Martin explained. “They take this food home and feed it to their families also. It is important to understand that all food in agriculture is not created equal, it is known that high quality fruits and vegetables can contain up to 1,000 times more nutrition than low quality produce.”

Rosemary Parker, of MLivve, has been covering the Richland Township small farm story as it has developed, as well as other stories surrounding the changes in rules affecting Michigan’s small, urban, and backyard farmers. Parker recently reported that Michigan’s commissioners of agriculture voted 4-0 to adopt changes to the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). The changes deem any animals, such as backyard chickens, located within an area which is zoned “primarily residential” ineligible for livestock verification and a “significant hazard.” However, Martin’s farm is not zoned residential at all.

“Kalamazoo District Judge Robert Kropf ruled last month that absent proof that Ben Martin’s farm on Martin’s uncle’s property at 7030 EF Ave. was compliant with management practices detailed in the Right to Farm Act, it was subject to township zoning regulations,” Rosemary Parker wrote. “Martin, 23, a recent graduate of Western Michigan University, raises goats and vegetables on 3.3 acres of his uncle James Nieuwenhuis’s property, which is zoned A-1—agriculture-residential.”

Still, according to Parker, Richland Township’s zoning officials cited Martin this spring because he owned and maintained more than three goats on less than five acres, and because he was using a portable hoophouse. The township had denied Martin a special use permit for his portable cover that he used to protect rows of plants in his food garden.

The Michigan small farm was already MAEAP verified. Compliance with Michigan’s Right To Farm management practices is a prerequisite for MAEAP verification, according to MLive’s Rosemary Parker, but a judge ruled in August that the verification is not the same thing as “proof” that the Richland Township goat farm was “in current compliance with the applicable Right to Farm rules.”

Martin’s lawyer said the documentation provided by MDARD that states the Richland small farming operation is in compliance with all the detailed practices should resolve the judge’s questions. Martin’s lawyer assembled a renewed motion for reconsideration, and asked that the Michigan farmer be reimbursed legal fees and township fines in the amount of $14,500.

To see more images of the small farm at the center of controversy in Richland Township, Michigan, check out the Soil Friends’ Facebook page or a gallery of images from MLive.

[Photo via Soil Friend’s public Facebook page]